Classic lemon bars get an allergy friendly twist with these Gluten Free Lemon Bars! Our creamy lemon bars with a shortbread cookie crust are also dairy free and egg free as well, and have a vegan option.
When the weather starts to warm up during spring, lemon is a great way to enjoy the lighter flavors of warmer weather.
Even though I was never really a big fan of lemon flavored desserts as a kid (I always preferred chocolate!), I’ve grown to love lemon flavors as I got older.
As an ode to amazing lemon flavors, we remade classic lemon bars to be allergy friendly with these Gluten Free Lemon Bars!
Our lemon bars are not only gluten free, but they’re also dairy free, egg free, and have a vegan option. They’re also completely nut free if you don’t consider coconut a tree nut.
These bars have the texture of thick pudding, they’re so delicious! They hold together when you cut and serve them, but they are creamy and taste a bit like lemon curd.
Even though they have gelatin in them, they do not have the texture of jello. The gelatin helps to firm up the lemon filling in addition to the cornstarch, but they are creamy and silky smooth.
Keep reading for the details on how to make these lemon bars and tips!
How to make gluten free and dairy free lemon bars
Our dairy free lemon bars take a few steps to make, but you’ll be impressed with the results! They are creamy, have the perfect amount of tartness and lemon flavor, and has delicious shortbread cookie crust.
Here are a recap of the steps in this recipe. Remember, the actual recipe card is at the end of the post!
- First you’ll prepare and cook the shortbread crust. Preheat the oven, mix together the crust ingredients, press it into a parchment-lined pan, then bake.
- While the crust is baking, prepare the lemon filling: mix together the filling ingredients and cook it over medium low heat on the stovetop until it thickens.
- Once the crust and the filling have cooled for about 35 minutes, scoop the filling onto the crust, then chill in the fridge uncovered until it’s completely set, about 4 hours.
- Once the filling has set, set at room temperature for about 30 minutes to soften the crust, then cut and serve.
- Store at room temperature.
When you cook your coconut milk lemon filling on the stove, it will have the texture of not-very-thick pudding.
The filling takes about 15 minutes to thicken up for the regular recipe with gelatin, but the vegan version made with agar takes less time to thicken (about 8-10 minutes).
Both the shortbread crust and the lemon filling need to cool nearly completely before adding the filling to the shortbread crust. This will take about 30-40 minutes to cool.
You’ll want to make sure to chill your bars uncovered in the fridge 4 hours until completely set. Cooling them uncovered helps to prevent condensation from collecting over the bars.
I like to serve these at room temperature to keep the shortbread crust softer. Since the lemon bar crust is made with dairy free butter, the crust gets a bit harder/firmer when chilled.
You’ll likely need to set this at room temperature for at least 30 minutes for the crust to soften a bit before cutting.
Once the bars are cut, you can decide if you’d like to keep the lemon bars at room temperature or chilled.
We stored ours at room temperature and they did pretty well. When it was hot outside the filling did get a little soft, but otherwise they held their shape and texture well at room temperature.
Adding natural color
With regular lemon bars, egg yolks give the lemon filling their light yellow color. Since our lemon filling don’t have eggs, they won’t be yellow unless you’d like to add a bit of yellow coloring.
I think these look great without color added, but if you want these to have a yellow color, just add a pinch of natural yellow color. The bars in the photos have just a pinch of yellow natural color powder.
If you use the McCormick natural colors, just a pinch is plenty for coloring these lemon bars. On one of my batches I used 1/4 teaspoon and that small amount was even too much!
The lemon bars ended up a really garish shade of yellow, so after that I only used a pinch to get a nice light yellow color.
We use the McCormick natural color powders, and the sunflower yellow has a very slight greenish tint to it, but unless you use a ton of coloring powder it’s not too noticeable.
Remember when it comes to cooking most things, you can always add more, but not take it out when it’s added, so start small with your food coloring.
If you’d rather not use yellow food coloring powder for this recipe, just leave it out and your filling will be white 🙂
I think these bars still look great without the yellow coloring added to it if you chose to leave it out. I had even debated on taking photos of the bars without coloring in it, but wanted some color and contrast so I added the color.
Can I add powdered sugar to the top of these lemon bars?
You shouldn’t add powdered sugar to the top of these lemon bars like you normally would for egg-based lemon bars.
When I tried adding powdered sugar to these lemon bars, it only seems to draw moisture out of the bars, so the powdered sugar disappears and you’re left with a layer of moisture.
I tested this several times and tried adding powdered sugar even after these bars had completely set and the top was dry, but it still didn’t work for some reason.
So instead of topping with powdered sugar, just add a little bit more lemon zest on top to decorate these lemon bars instead 🙂
Making our gluten free lemon bars vegan
If you’d like to make these lemon bars vegan, you’ll just use about 3/4 teaspoon of agar powder instead of 1 teaspoon of gelatin powder.
Everything else remains the same in this recipe, except that it takes less time to thicken the coconut milk on the stovetop with agar powder (only about 8 minutes over medium/low heat).
I personally don’t like the taste of agar powder that much, but it sets up great just like the regular version with gelatin. So if you don’t mind agar, it works great to make these bars vegan.
Check out our recipe roundup of gluten free and dairy free lemon recipes!
This blog post recipe was originally published in November 2011 (my first few months of blogging!) and I completely revamped this post. The recipe has changed, as well as the photos and text.
Gluten Free Lemon Bars (Dairy Free)
- 1-1/2 cup canned coconut milk
- 2/3 cup powdered sugar
- 2 Tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin powder* (or 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon agar powder for vegan)
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- Zest of 1 fresh lemon
- Pinch of yellow natural food color powder, optional** if using the McCormick natural color powder, it doesn’t take much yellow powder to color the batch
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8×8-inch square baking dish with parchment paper and set aside.
- In a medium bowl, stir together the gluten free flour, sugar, and salt (if using).
- Stir in the melted dairy free butter and mix with a fork until it looks like crumbs. Press this crumbly mixture into the prepared pan with a fork or spoon until it’s pressed evenly into the bottom of the pan.
- Bake the shortbread crust in the heated oven for 25 minutes.
- While the crust is cooking, prepare the lemon filling.
- Add 1 cup of coconut milk to a small saucepan and whisk in the cornstarch, gelatin powder, and powdered sugar until smooth and there are no lumps.
- Whisk in the rest of the coconut milk, lemon zest, lemon juice, and vanilla and heat over medium-low heat, whisking regularly, until it thickens (about 10-15 minutes).
- If you’re making vegan lemon bars, the filling will thicken faster, in about 8 minutes over medium-low heat.
- Turn off the heat and allow the mixture to cool completely, stirring occasionally to make sure the mixture stays smooth as it cools. It should be similar in texture to pudding, but not quite as thick (the vegan filling will be thicker at this point than the gelatin filling).
Putting it all together
- Once the crust is done baking, remove it from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool.
- The crust and the filling should both be cooled well before adding the filling onto the crust. It will take about 35 minutes for the filling and crust to cool enough to assemble the bars.
- Pour the lemon filling onto the baked crust, smooth it out, and place it in the fridge uncovered until the filling is completely set (about 4 hours). Leaving it uncovered is important to prevent condensation on the top of the bars.
- Once the filling has set completely after about 4 hours, take it out of the fridge and leave it at room temp for about 30 minutes before cutting (this makes it easier to cut the shortbread crust).
- Once the bars are cut, you can decide if you'd like to keep the lemon bars at room temperature or chilled.
Sarah Jane Parker is the founder, recipe creator, and photographer behind The Fit Cookie. She’s a food allergy mom and healthy living blogger based in Wyoming. Sarah is also an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer, ACE Certified Health Coach, Revolution Running certified running coach, and an ACE Certified Fitness Nutrition Specialist