Today is a day that you are going to be glad you’re reading my blog. Yes-sir-ee! Good day in the kitchen! The Meyer Lemons in my fridge have been begging me to use them, so I went for the lemon bar. Having tried a sweet lemon bar recipe a while back from Isa C. (who is a phenom in the vegan kitch world), I had a plan. I am also pretty particular with my sweets. I don’t like anything too sweet… so there’s that! I like my lemon bars lemony rather than super sweet and I need a base that’s gluten free… it’s a bit of a departure from a normal lemon bar recipe! I need something worthy of a cuppa tea.
Right, the result of my crust experiment is nothing short of buttery, amazingly flaky shortbread that you totally should write home to mom about. Actually, I suggest you make a batch and bring some to mom and have an afternoon of tea and biscuits! If she’s not close, mail them! If she’s no longer with us, grab your bestie and share! So much potential for this shortbread biscuit crust. I can’t wait to experiment with it and share more ideas with you!
The lemon layer is akin to jelled lemon curd. Getting the right level of jell is the tricky part. You don’t want something that’s wiggly like unset jello, but you don’t want something with no give at all. Enter agar agar and arrowroot! These guys are like a dream team when it comes to vegan jelling. If you haven’t worked with agar agar before, know that it’s a great thing. It has jelling properties that rival gelatin but it’s seaweed based rather than animal based. Eden Foods brand of agar agar is what I use.
GFV Lemon Bars
1 cup amaranth flour
1 cup almond meal
½ cup powdered sugar
½ cup arrowroot powder
1 cup vegan margarine, like Earth Balance
1 1/3 cups water
3 Tbsp agar agar flakes
1/3 cup sugar + 4 packets stevia or 2/3 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon turmeric (gives the brilliant yellow color while not adding any flavor)
2/3 cup fresh lemon juice (I used meyer lemons ~ yum!)
3 Tbsp arrowroot powder
1 Tbsp finely grated lemon zest (from two large ORGANIC lemons)* OR 1 tsp lemon extract if your lemons are not organic
1/2 cup almond milk
*I only zest my citrus if I can find organic because of the high level of pesticide use on non organic citrus fruits. Do what makes you comfortable.
Preheat your oven to 400 F. Lightly grease a 13 x 9 inch baking pan.
To prepare the crust:
Pulse the flours, sugar, arrowroot and Earth Balance in your food processor. The dough is not crumbly, it is moist but not pourable. You will need to scoop the dough out of the food processor and scrape the sides to get it all out! Moisten your hands and press the dough into the corners of your prepared baking dish. Then try to get an even layer that covers the bottom of the pan. Bake at 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and let it cool.
To prepare the luscious lemon filling:
Start by soaking your agar agar flakes in the water for 10 minutes. I sprinkle mine over the top of the water and walk away. Get your lemons zested and juiced. Measure out 2/3 cup of the fresh lemon juice and mix your arrowroot powder until it dissolves.
When the agar has been soaking for 10 minutes go ahead and put the pot on the burner. We are looking to boil this mixture so the softened agar dissolves. This usually takes me 10, sometimes 15 minutes. When the agar is dissolved, add the turmeric and your sugar/stevia or whatever combo you’ve chosen to use. Stir this wildly yellow mixture until everything is dissolved and there are no lumps.
Now it’s time to lower the heat so we’re just barely bubbling… anything more than a light bubble and we’re going to end up with a mess! Add the arrowroot/lemon juice mixture and whisk. Raise the heat a hair and keep whisking. You will feel the mixture start to thicken as it comes to a low boil. Again, AND I STRESS, we are not aiming for a bubbling cauldron here! Do that and the arrowroot will lose its gelling power. Exercise a little restraint with the heat… go slow and your labor will pay off! Otherwise, you will have a super tasty lemon sauce that you can drizzle over berries and such, but you won’t have anything that will thicken worth a dime! Okay. Back to business: Add your zest or lemon extract and the almond milk. Whisk these into the thickened mixture. You may want to taste this now. The safe way to do it is to get a clean spoon and dip it into the hot lemon liquid, then take it out, blow on it for a moment and then swipe your finger over the spoon… then lick your finger. You should have cooled your sample enough that you won’t burn yourself. If you need to adjust the sweetness, go ahead. You know your tastes. I like my lemon bars lemony with a bit of a kick.
Remove your pan with the cooked lemon mixture from the burner. It’s time to cool this a bit. Give it about 10-15 minutes to come to room temperature. Cooling happens quicker when we’re not near the residual heat of the stove. I put mine on a metal trivet on the counter in the coolest part of my kitchen.
Pour the cooled lemon mixture over the cooled crust, refrigerate. We’re aiming for 2 hours of chill time minimum to ensure that the filling sets. If you can leave it for a bit longer that will be better. Also, if you used a smaller baking dish than 9 x 13 you will have to chill longer to accommodate the thicker lemon layer.
If you want to make the tops of these bars look fancy you can sprinkle powdered sugar over top through a fine mesh strainer. You just tip in about 3 Tbsp of powdered sugar and then tap the side of the sifter to get a snow like dusting. Not necessary by any stretch, but it sure does look pretty!
You’ve done well and are in the home stretch… it’s time to slice the bars into squares and serve them. Size is your choice. Sometimes I go the dainty one bite square root. Today I am slicing tea worthy bars. You should make them the size that makes you smile. (Heck, if you just took a fork to the pan and scooped out a bite I won’t tell!)