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Vegan Lemon Vanilla Bean Bars

These totally vegan and nut-free lemon bars are a DREAM! Thick, custard-y filling, buttery crust, bright citrus flavor; need I say more?

Image of lemon bars cut into squares on a cutting board with text overlay "vegan vanilla bean lemon bars"

Now, I had a friend ask me if I had some recipes that used A LOT of lemon juice, since she had gotten almost 30 lemons from a (very kind!!!) mutual friend. Short of suggesting that she make limoncello, I poked around on the blog for recipes using lemon. Boozy Mint Strawberry Lemonade was an obvious one, but she was looking for some baking ideas as well.

Ingredients measured out into bowls and small ramekins

I thought back to the blood orange bars I made for a VegNews and sent the recipe over to her thinking the orange juice could probably be swapped out for lemon in a pinch? But, then, I sent myself down a lemon bar rabbit hole and ended up making three versions, changing the cooking style as well, until I formed this LUSH, vegan lemon bar recipe.

Image collage of crumbly shortbread dough and hand pressing it into a baking pan

Though I personally love an almost 1:1 crust to filling ratio, I know that won’t fly for the masses. So, here, I aimed for 2.5:1 filling to crust, where the filling is like a vegan custard-curd love child. As I mentioned, I’d describe it as lush, as it’s smooth and thick but not too firm. And it definitely packs a lemony punch! Though you can adjust that to your preferences a lil’ bit.

Image collage of blending and simmer Vegan lemon curd

Substitutions and tips:

  • Vegan butter – this is used in the crust for a *duh* buttery flavor and fat source, but you’re welcome to use vegetable shortening or refined coconut oil if that’s what you have on hand. I’d add a pinch more salt if you use either of those instead.
  • Cane sugar – this is used in both the crust and filling, and I wouldn’t suggest replacing it with something else. Coconut sugar may turn this into the ugliest dessert you’ve ever seen.
  • Meyer lemons – if you can’t find these, standard lemons will work but it will likely be more tart, so taste and adjust after blending filling mixture.
  • Unbleached all-purpose flour – again, this is used in both the crust and filling. You could likely replace the portion in the crust with a 1:1 Gluten-free all-purpose flour blend. But in the filling, I think replacing it with 2 tablespoons tapioca starch would be a better alternative, since it’s for thickening.
  • Full-fat coconut milk – typically a recipe like this has eggs in it, so here I’ve used full-fat coconut milk for the fattiness and tofu for the protein that would be there. You can use vegan half & half instead if you hate coconut flavor of any kind.
  • Silken tofu – as mentioned this is for protein. You may be able to replace this with vegan liquid egg substitute like Just Egg, but I have not tried it, so I can’t whole-heartedly recommend it.
  • Corn starch – I found that even with the tofu, this still needed some help firming up while still being a very smooth custard. You can use tapioca starch instead but it will be a little looser in thickness.
  • Vanilla bean paste – you can use an equal amount of vanilla extract to replace it if you don’t have this on hand.
  • Lemon extract – I love the extra punch this gives the filling, but if you don’t have it and don’t want to buy it just for this, you can add 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar which I learned from the Pancake Princess’s lemon bar bake-off! (Which is a great read, if you’re curious) Or if you like a more sweet lemon bar, just omit it.
Vegan lemon custard being poured into baking pan

I think that just about covers it, but of course, if you have any inquiries about ingredients, just leave a comment or email me! And as a reminder, if you try the recipe and love it, it helps so much when you leave a star rating on the recipe form below (you don’t even have to type anything out!). <3

Fresh batch of vegan lemon bars being cut on a cutting board

Vegan Vanilla Bean Lemon Bars

Yield: 16 bars/squares
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Chilling Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 2 hours 40 minutes

These totally vegan and nut-free lemon bars are a DREAM! Thick, custard-y filling, buttery crust, bright citrus flavor; need I say more?

Ingredients

Crust

  • 1/2 cup (112 g) vegan butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup (55 g) cane sugar
  • 1 cup + 2 tablespoons (152 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Lemon Bar Filling

  • 1 1/2 cups (365 g) cane sugar
  • 3/4 cup (177 ml) Meyer lemon juice, plus 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 1 cup (210 g) silken tofu
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) full-fat coconut milk
  • 1/4 cup (32 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons (14 g) corn starch
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste
  • 1 teaspoon lemon extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground turmeric, for color (optional)
  • Powdered sugar and lemon zest, for garnish

Instructions

  1. For the crust, line an 8x8-inch baking pan with parchment paper; this will make it much easier to pull out the bars, cut, and serve them.
  2. In a mixing bowl, place vegan butter and sugar in a mixing bowl and using a hand or stand mixer, cream butter and sugar for 1 minute or until fluffy. Add flour and salt to mixture, and mix until there are no dry pockets and the dough is crumbly. It should stick together when you squeeze it in your hand.
  3. Transfer dough to baking pan and press into an even layer all across the bottom, then refrigerate for 20 minutes. Towards the end of the chilling time, preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C, or gas mark 4). Once at temperature, poke some holes in the crust with a fork and bake for 15-18 minutes, or until light golden.
  4. While the crust is baking, work on the filling! Place sugar, lemon juice + zest, tofu, coconut milk, flour, cornstarch, vanilla bean paste, lemon extract, salt, and turmeric in a blender and puree until very smooth.
  5. Transfer filling mixture to a sauce pan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Once simmering, lower heat to medium and whisking frequently, simmer for 7 to 8 minutures or until mixture is almost a gravy consistency.
  6. Once thick, take off of heat, and at just about this time your crust should be ready. If your parchment paper is acting wild, secure the sides with metal binder clips, and pour filling over the crust. Using oven mitts, tap the baking pan lightly on a stable service to remove any air pockets in the filling.
  7. Chill in the refrigerator for at least two hours, though longer is better. Once set, gently pull the sides of the parchment paper up and transfer to a cutting board. Use a butter knife to separate the edges from the parchment, you may need to rinse with water a couple of times to stop the filling from sticking to it.
  8. Then, cut into 16 squares, then dust powdered sugar over the top with a small strainer (or similar) and zest a lil' lemon over the top of that. This will keep in your refrigerator for up to 10 days.

Notes

  • Vegan butter - you're welcome to use vegetable shortening or refined coconut oil, I'd add a pinch more salt if you use either of those instead.
  • Cane sugar - this is used in both the crust and filling, and I wouldn't suggest replacing it with something else.
  • Meyer lemons - if you can't find these, standard lemons will work but it will likely be more tart, so taste and adjust after blending.
  • Unbleached all-purpose flour - again, this is used in both the crust and filling. You could likely replace the portion in the crust with a 1:1 Gluten-free all-purpose flour blend. But in the filling, I think replacing it with 2 tablespoons tapioca starch would be a better alternative, since it's for thickening.
  • Full-fat coconut milk - you can use vegan half & half instead if you hate coconut flavor of any kind.
  • Corn starch - you can use tapioca starch instead but it will be a little looser in thickness.
  • Vanilla bean paste - use an equal amount of vanilla extract to replace it if you don't have this on hand.
  • Lemon extract - if you don't have it and don't want to buy it just for this, you can add 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar, or if you like a more sweet lemon bar, just omit it.

Did you make this recipe?

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Fresh batch of vegan lemon bars being cut on a cutting board

And here are some more treats that you may enjoy!

Hand holding lemon bar that has a bit taken out of it

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