Dairy free lemon bars are a sunshiny dessert. They have a tasty shortbread bottom and a bright custard filling. This dessert is easy to make, but never fails to impress.
My family moved to Israel five months after I did into a house with a big lemon tree in the yard.
Having lived in New York from the time I was eleven, I don’t think I had ever seen a lemon tree before.
It was love at first sight.
I couldn’t get over how bright they were.
No matter how cold it was, when I looked at them, it felt like summer was just around the corner.
We had dozens of lemons, and lemonade was always on hand.
I started wondering what recipes I could make with these citrus fruit, other than Lemonade and Israeli Limonana.
Popular desserts like lemon meringue pie and lemon bars came right up.
I also found lemon crinkle cookies, blueberry lemon muffins, and more.
Since then, I’ve been working my way down the list.
HOW TO MEASURE FLOUR AND OTHER DRY INGREDIENTS
The best way to measure dry ingredients is with a scale. However, this is not commonly done in the United States, where dry measuring cups are used instead.
To measure most dry ingredients, first spoon them into a dry measuring cup and then level off the measuring cup with an upside-down butter knife.
Make sure not to pack it down because it can lead to using more of the ingredient than called for.
The exception is brown sugar. To measure brown sugar, pack it into the measuring cup and then level off any excess.
To measure chocolate chips, nuts, or dried fruit, just pour them in and then level them off.
DRY VS LIQUID MEASURING CUP
Dry measuring cups are a set of cups that often come with measuring spoons. Each cup is a different measurement just like each spoon is a different measurement.
Liquid measuring cups, on the other hand, are cups that have measuring lines on the side to mark the measurements.
The problem with using liquid measuring cups to measure dry ingredients (like flour and cocoa) is that they are powders. So, as you shake the cup to level them off, the powders settle and you end up with more than you need.
I tested this with a friend who didn’t believe me and we ended up with a number of tablespoons more than the recipe called for.
WHY sift Powdery Ingredients
There are a number of benefits to sifting powdery ingredients like flour and cocoa.
First of all, flour is often sifted before use to aerate it and remove any lumps. This helps in achieving a lighter texture in baked goods.
Secondly, if you measure flour that’s just been sifted, you can get a more accurate measurement than from flour that’s been packed tightly in a bag.
In addition, sifting dry ingredients together, such as flour, cocoa, and baking powder, helps make sure they’re evenly dispersed.
BAKING WITH OIL
Baking with oil produces a moister and tenderer texture compared to that of baked goods made with butter.
Cakes, cupcakes, muffins, and quick breads also tend to bake up taller with a better crumb and stay moist and tender much longer than recipes made with butter.
Also, since oil weighs less than butter, baked goods made with oil have a lighter texture than those made with butter.
In addition, butter is usually only 80% fat, whereas oil is 100% fat. As a result, the water that’s present in butter strengthens the gluten in the flour, making it more dense and less tender than baked goods made with oil.
Oil is often used in recipes where a lighter and airier texture is desired or in recipes that call for both oil and butter, in order to have the benefits of oil while keeping the butter flavor.
Which Type Of Oil to Use
I use neutral oils like canola oil, safflower oil, and vegetable oil. You can also use stronger oils like olive oil and coconut oil, but they may change the taste somewhat.
Is it better to use canola oil or olive oil?
Canola oil is relatively cheap and, due to its lack of flavor and high smoke point, is very versatile.
Olive oil, on the other hand, is healthier. Also, its stronger flavor makes it preferable in recipes such as focaccia, which require its distinct taste.
Baking with Oil Conversion Chart
If you want to convert your butter recipes to oil recipes, take a look at my baking with oil – butter to oil conversion chart.
How to store Oil
Store oils in a cool, dark place to prevent them from becoming rancid.
If refrigerated, some oils, like olive oil, may solidify, but will return to a liquid state at room temperature.
Coconut oil begins to solidify in temperatures under 76ºF or 25ºC.
The primary role of sugar is to be a sweetener. However, sugar also contributes to the tenderness and moistness of the baked good by absorbing and retaining moisture and helps create the golden brown color when baking as it caramelizes.
Recipes with more sugar often result in softer, moister textures. However, I learned the hard way that too much sugar leads to a sticky mess.
When it’s heated, sugar caramelizes, resulting in a rich, complex flavor and a brown color. This adds both flavor and color to baked goods and is also the process in which caramel sauce, dulce de leche, caramel candies, and regular candies are made.
When used in recipes containing yeast, the sugar is eaten by the yeast, producing carbon dioxide and causing the dough to rise.
Sugar also acts as a preservative in jams, jellies, and fruit preserves by reducing water activity and preventing microbial growth.
There are many different types of sugar, including white sugar, brown sugar, vanilla sugar, powdered sugar, turbinado sugar, and demerara sugar.
When a recipe calls for “sugar” without specifying anything else, it’s referring to regular white sugar.
White sugar (sometimes called granulated sugar, table sugar, or white granulated sugar) is made of either beet sugar or cane sugar, which has undergone a refining process.
It is the easiest to find and most commonly used.
Brown sugar is white sugar with molasses added to it.
It is commonly used in chocolate chip cookie recipes, and it’s rare for a recipe that calls for brown sugar not to also call for white sugar as well.
When a recipe calls for “brown sugar” but doesn’t specify what type (light or dark), it is referring to light brown sugar.
In my recipes, you can use whatever type of brown sugar you have on hand, whether it is dark brown sugar, light brown sugar, or demerara sugar – which is very common in Israel.
Just keep in mind that the flavor and color will be slightly different, depending on what you choose to use.
Turbinado sugar is better known as “raw sugar.” But, despite this name, the sugar is not really “raw.”
Instead, it’s partially refined sugar that retains some of the original molasses.
The term “raw sugar” may also give off the impression that it is somehow healthier.
In reality, turbinado sugar is nutritionally similar to white sugar.
Demerara sugar is very popular in Israel and is especially delicious in tea, but is also used for baking.
Unlike white sugar, demerara sugar undergoes minimal processing and retains some vitamins and minerals.
However, it is still not much healthier than white sugar.
Vanilla sugar is not very common in the States. However, it is common in Israel and parts of Europe.
This is sugar that sat for an extended period of time with vanilla beans, giving it a vanilla flavor.
This type of sugar is common in the United Kingdom.
It has a grain finer than white (granulated) sugar and larger than powdered sugar.
Caster sugar is often called for in recipes for delicate baked goods like meringues, souffles, and sponge cakes.
You can use a 1:1 conversion rate between caster sugar and white (granulated) sugar.
Powdered sugar, sometimes known as confectioners’ sugar, is a sugar with a powdered texture.
This sugar is rarely used for baking. Instead, it is used for dusting desserts and making frosting, icing, and glazes.
In some countries, you can also find powdered vanilla sugar.
It is made the exact same way regular vanilla sugar is made. However, the sugar used is powdered instead of granulated.
Vanilla Extract vs Vanilla sugar
In my recipes, I don’t specify what kind of vanilla to use.
The reason for this is that in the States, vanilla extract is exclusively used.
Meanwhile in Israel, along with many European countries, vanilla sugar is common.
In most, if not all recipes, both vanilla extract and vanilla sugar can be used.
In recipes where vanilla sugar can be used instead of extract, you can replace them 1:1.
Replacing Sugar with Honey
If you’d prefer to use honey instead of sugar, you can do so with pretty good results.
Honey can be two or even three times as sweet depending on the honey, so for every 1 cup of sugar, you can use 1/2 to 2/3 cup honey.
Since honey adds liquid, you need to remove some to balance it out. For every cup of honey, remove a 1/4 cup of liquid.
Also, it burns faster than granulated sugar, so you want to lower the baking temperature by 25 F. In addition, check it early and often to avoid burning or overbaking.
How to Store Sugar
Sugar should be stored in an airtight container to prevent clumping and moisture absorption, and kept in a cool, dry place.
Baking with Humidity
Humidity can have a big impact on how your baked goods come out.
This is because when humidity is extremely high (think 70 percent or more), baking ingredients like flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda soak up moisture from the air.
This can negatively impact the outcome of your cakes, cookies, yeast breads, and quick breads.
There are some things you can do to try to save your baking.
Try to counterbalance the additional moisture
To help counterbalance the additional moisture your dry ingredients soak up from the air, try reducing the amount of liquid in the recipe by about one quarter.
If the batter or dough looks too dry once all the ingredients are mixed together, add additional liquid a tablespoon at a time until you have the desired consistency.
This is not usually possible to do for cookies, but it does work for cakes and breads.
Store Ingredients in the Fridge
If flour and sugar are stored in the refrigerator or freezer rather than in a cupboard or pantry, they are better protected from humidity.
As an added benefit, keeping these ingredients cool also helps keep them fresher longer, in addition to helping them stay bug-free.
For the best results, let them warm to room temperature before using.
Bake for Longer
If you bake your goodies for a few extra minutes, it can help the liquid to cook off.
To avoid overbaking, continue testing for doneness every couple of minutes for breads, quick breads, cakes, cupcakes, and muffins. Cookies, on the other hand, need to be checked every minute.
Use Air Conditioning
To help lower humidity levels on humid summer days, air condition the room for at least an hour before you start baking.
Cooler air isn’t able to hold as much moisture as warm air.
Store your baked goods in an airtight container
Humidity can also ruin your fresh-baked goods because when they are left out, they can absorb moisture.
To avoid this, store them in an airtight container or resealable bag.
Adjusting for a Convection Oven
Convection ovens blow the hot air around, producing around 25 to 30 percent more heat.
Since convection ovens produce more heat, you need either lowering the temperature or shortening the cooking time to compensate.
When recipes specify temperatures and cooking times, it’s for conventional ovens, unless specified otherwise.
A simple rule to follow is to lower the temperature by 25ºF or 14ºC when baking cookies and pies, and 50ºF or 28ºC when roasting meat and poultry. Some convection ovens offer separate settings for baking and for roasting.
You can also leave the temperature the same and instead, shorten the cooking time by 25 percent. For example, if your recipe calls for 60 minutes in the oven, check the food after 45 minutes instead.
However, keep in mind, some convection ovens actually make a heat adjustment for you. That is, if you set a convection oven for 350ºF, it might actually set itself to 325ºF to compensate. So, check your manual before making adjustments.
HOW TO DOUBLE THE RECIPE
If you double the recipe, you will need a 9 x 13-inch pan.
The area of a square or rectangular pan is calculated by multiplying one side by the other side.
This recipe calls for an 8-inch square pan so an 8 x 8 = 64 square inches, whereas a 9 x 13 = 117 square inches. If you double the 8 x 8-inch pan, it would come out to 128 square inches, which is close enough to 117 square inches.
WHY IS IT TAKING LONGER THAN DESCRIBED TO BAKE?
Over time, the thermostat on ovens gets a little off, causing some ovens to run hot and others to run cool. This is why recipes tend to say things like “10 to 15 minutes or until golden brown.”
So, if it takes you longer than expected, that’s fine, don’t worry about it. Just keep baking until ready.
WHY DID MY RECIPE COME OUT TOO DRY?
Just like some ovens run cool, others run hot. If your oven runs hot, bake these at a lower temperature. Ideally, you should get an oven thermometer to know what temperature you’re really baking at.
The Cookie Bottom came out too crumbly…
Your measuring cups and spoons may be off. Believe it or not, measuring cups and spoons don’t have a standard. They should, but many of them are off. This is why pastry chefs weigh everything.
To best this, take your measuring spoons, liquid measuring cup, and dry measuring cups and compare them to each other. I do this by filling the dry measuring cup with 16 tablespoons of water.
If it fills it perfectly, then I know that it’s right. Next, I pour the water from the dry measuring cup to the liquid measuring cup. If it’s a full cup, no more and no less, then they all match.
To avoid this, it is best to buy sets of measuring spoons and dry measuring cups. This is very helpful because sets are usually made to match each other. However, you still need to make sure that your liquid measuring cup matches as well.
Why don’t my lemon bars have the right texture?
Removing lemons bars too early from the oven can cause them to be runny. Also, not giving them enough time to set after removing them can make them gooey.
Can lemon bars be made ahead of time?
Yes. You can make lemon bars ahead of time. If you are making them up to a few days early, you can store them in the fridge.
However, if you’re intending on storing them for any longer than that, freeze them.
How to store
Let cool and set completely. Lightly cover the lemon bars with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 4 days. After that, the quality begins to degrade.
Do lemon bars have to be refrigerated?
Yes. Since lemon bars are a custard, they should be refrigerated if they are not going to be served the same day.
However, they are fine to keep out at room temperature for a few hours – if the weather is not too warm – while served at a party.
How to freeze
For a whole pan
Let uncut lemon bars cool and set completely. Do not add powdered sugar. Instead, wrap the lemon bars in wax paper and again tightly in plastic wrap. Store it in a resealable freezer bag.
When ready to use, let them defrost, top them with powdered sugar, and cut them into squares. Store for up to four months.
For cut lemon bars
Wrap each lemon bar in wax paper, then wrap each bar tightly with plastic wrap. Place them all in a large resealable plastic bag. Store for up to four months.
Dairy Free Lemon Bars Tip:
If you don’t have a fresh lemon, 1/4 cup of lemon juice will work in a pinch.
Dairy Free Lemon Bars SNAFU:
I forgot to grease and flour my non-stick baking pan before making these. Big mistake they were tough to get out, difficult to clean, and I scratched up the bottom of the pan.
I realized when I was done I should have used plastic to prevent scratching. Also, I was worried a spatula would be too big and ruin them. So, without thinking, I went for the smallest thing I could find.