When I was a child, my grandmother used to do a mile-high meringue lemon pie. Every time, she'd let my tiny hands whipped the egg whites until the peaks were just perfect. Recently, a friend brought me a bag full of freshly picked Meyer lemons. To satisfy my childhood food cravings, I knew I had to do a vegan version of my gandma's lemon pie. I chose to do bars instead of a pie so my kids could easily hold them in their small hands and eat them as a snack (though you could still do it as a pie!).
We had so much d'un shooting this recipe! The lemons were just flying all over the house! I love when photoshoots are ending with a big, honest and endless laugh! I just have the best little helper of all and we had a blast!
Speaking of fun... since they have their birthdays at the same time of the year, my husband and I were looking for a special gift so they could play together, regardless of their age difference. We decided to buy a brand new wooden kitchen! The vintage look is simply irresistible and the kids LOVE it! If you're looking for a "cool" way to introduce good cooking and eating habits to your kids, I would totally recommend this KidKraft vintage kitchen! If you're planning on buying one, I also encourage you to buy "healthy food" toys to go with it... even if they are pretty hard to find! Unfortunately, most food toys fall in the "unhealthy/junk" category. Kids need to be exposed to "unprocessed" food, even while playing. Food marketing has shown to influence children’s food preferences, food choices, diets, and health. If you look at the food toys (in t stores or online), you'll mainly find cakes, fries, hotdog, hamburgers, ice creams and only a few healthier foods. After searching for a while, I found cute sliceable veggies and fruits from Melissa and Doug. I couldn't find a lot of toys that would reflect our "wholefoods diet", so we also did our own kale salad, pasta, rice and other condiments with a few simple arts and crafts materials. I also try to keep small spices, tea or vanilla boxes. My kids love them because they can still smell what was in it!
Now back to this amazing recipe! I probably did ten différent versions before I was ready to share it with you.... boy I never thought it was going to be that hard to "veganize" my grandma's recipe... Since eggs and butter are pretty much the main ingredients in the traditionaliste lemon pie, that's not very surprising. Each and every time I came up with a new version, either the crust wasn't great enough for me or the lemon mousse was too thick, or too soft... Somehow, after a few (!) trials, they finally turned out to be the most perfectly tart-sweet, silky smooth, fragrant and fresh vegan lemon bars I've tried so far! Yum!
To replace the traditional "egg-based" lemon curd, I used agar flakes and cashews so the bars could hold well. Working with agar can be kind of "tricky" and I wasn't completely satisfied with the texture of the bars. A special thanks to the coconut milk I decided to add at the last minute ; it adds a nice creaminess and just the right amount of richness I was looking for :)
I also substituted the traditional meringue with coconut whipped to make those soft lemon bars decadent. They still remain delicious without it! If you're more up to a traditional serving, you could sprinkle powdered sugar on top of the bars. My son loves them just as is with nothing on it!
These lemon bars have an nice gluten-free almond crust that reminds me of a "shortbread" cookie. The secret to keep the crust from being too soft is to let it cool down completely before doing the lemon mixture and adding it on top! If you do so, you'll have a crunchy almond crust that pairs perfectly well with the creamy lemon mousse.
Vegan lemon bars
Yield : 12 bars
- 1 1/2 cup blanched almond flour
- 2 tablespoons organic cornstarch
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil or vegan butter (Earth balance)
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup (or honey or agave)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Lemon mousse :
- 1 1/2 cup raw cashews, soaked overnight (or at least 8 hours) - see note
- 1 can organic coconut milk (about 400 ml)
- 3/4 cup fresh lemon juice
- Zest of 2 organic lemons
- 2 tablespoons agar flakes (or 2 teaspoons agar powder)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3/4 cup maple syrup
- 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric (optional - for a bright yellow color)
- Pinch of sea salt
- Pre-heat your oven at 350F.
- Process all the crust ingredients in a food processor until well combine. Don't pulse too much, you don't want a smooth paste. The dough should be moist but not sticky. If you press the dough between your fingers, it should hold well together.
- Lay a 12" x 7" rectangle pan with parchment paper. With your hands, press the crust evenly, especially on the edges.
- Bake the crust for 17-20 minutes, or until slightly golden. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool completely (it takes about 20-30 minutes).
- When the crust is cooled enough, prepare the lemon mousse. You really want to do this step at the last minute, since the mousse begins to thicken very fast! In a small sauce pan, bring to boil the coconut milk and agar flakes over high heat, whisking every minute or so (since agar easily sticks to the bottom of the pan). When boiling, reduce the heat and let simmer for about 5-10 minutes or until all the flakes are dissolved (if you check the mixture with a spoon and you can still see some undissolved flakes, continue to simmer for a few minutes or until no flakes appear). Remove from heat and set aside for about 5-10 minutes to cool slightly.
- Meanwhile, drain and rinse the cashews and add into your high speed blender. Pour in the coconut milk and agar mixture, the lemon juice and zest, vanilla, salt, maple syrup and turmeric and blend until smooth. Adjust the taste if necessary by adding more maple syrup (depending on your lemons). Let mixture sit in the blender for another 5-10 minutes (not more, you don't want it to thick in it!) so the mousse thicken a bit. That way, you're crust will remain crispy!
- Pour the lemon mixture on the crust. Tap a few times to remove the air bubbles. Store in the fridge at least 2-4 hours before serving. Slice and serve as is, with coconut whip or powdered sugar.