Friday, January 16, 2009

Vegan lemon bars

I am not a fan of citrus. I won’t touch anything orange, and I tend to be wary of lemon- or lime-flavored foods. That trepidation evaporates, however, when lemon or lime (but still never orange) marries with sugar in baked goods. Lemon poppyseed muffins? I’m there. Key lime pie? Count me in. Lemon bars?! Yes, please! I finally got around to trying the lemon bar recipe in Veganomicon, and I can now concur with everyone else that it is a jewel.

But boy, did I take some liberties. First, I lightened it up: I decreased the crust amount by 1/4 (thus the funny flour measurement), and I’m glad I did—mine still had more than enough crust, especially considering the amount of filling. Secondly, I substituted ingredients: whole wheat pastry flour for all-purpose in the crust, and cornstarch for arrowroot in the filling (but feel free to use the original ingredients called for). Thirdly, I altered the crust-making method: I made it by hand instead of with my food processor (too many dishes!). Finally, I adjusted the flavors to my taste by adding a pinch of salt, decreasing the sugar just a tad (2T), and using water in place of a portion of the lemon juice to tone down the citrus (more on that below). I won’t lie, these bars are pretty time- and labor-intensive, but just remember—patience is bitter, but its fruit (lemon, in this case) is sweet.

For the crust:
1 1/4 cup + 1T whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup (sifted) powdered sugar
3T cornstarch
3/4 cup Earth Balance

For the filling:
1 1/3 cups water
3T agar agar flakes
1 cup + 2T sugar
Pinch of salt
1/8 tsp turmeric
1/2-2/3 cup lemon juice
3T cornstarch
1T lemon zest (from 1 lemon)
1/4 cup soymilk

A couple tips...
– If you use Earth Balance in stick form, you can rub the empty wrappers on your baking pan to grease it.
– You can make the crust in a food processor by whirring the dry ingredients together and then pulsing in the Earth Balance.

Stir together the flour, powdered sugar, and cornstarch in a large bowl. Cut in the Earth Balance with a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

Dump the mixture into a greased 9x13 baking pan. Press firmly into an even layer with slightly raised sides to hold in the filling.

Refrigerate for 15-30 minutes. (I stuck with 15, since I was using a glass pan and after working in a dishroom in college, I am paranoid of cold glass dishes shattering when put into a hot environment.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, soak the agar in the water for 15 minutes. While it soaks, zest and juice the lemon. I got 1/3 cup of juice from my lemon, and I used bottled juice for the remainder, but you can juice two lemons if you want. I put “1/2-2/3 cup lemon juice” in the ingredient list because the recipe calls for 2/3 cup, but to make it less citrus-y, I measured out 1/2 cup and then added enough water to equal 2/3 cup. Use all juice for the 2/3 cup, though, if you want stronger lemon flavor. Mix the cornstarch into the lemon juice to dissolve.

Remove the crust from the fridge and bake for 20-25 minutes (mine took 22) or until golden brown. (See below for what to do while it bakes.) Remove from the oven and let cool.

While the crust bakes, turn the heat up on the soaked agar and bring it to a boil. Boil for about 10 minutes, or until the agar is completely dissolved. Add the sugar, salt, and turmeric and boil until dissolved, about 3 minutes. Lower the heat to medium and add the lemon juice/cornstarch mixture, then add the lemon zest and soymilk.

Whisk constantly until the mixture thickens, about 5 minutes. Pour the mixture into the prepared crust and let cool for 20 minutes.

Then comes the hard part: refrigerate the bars for at least 3 hours or overnight. Sadly, this recipe is lacking the instant gratification factor—no dough/batter/etc. to sample, no option to dig right in as soon as they’re done. But again, be patient. When you pull these out of the fridge later on or the next day, you’ll find a fully jelled pan of bars so atomically yellow it probably belongs in a Lisa Frank ad.

Slice these babies up, sift some powdered sugar on top, and enjoy. The crust is delicate and melt-in-your-mouth buttery. The filling is akin to lemon jell-o, but with a softer, more substantial texture. Though not identical to egg-based ones, these vegan lemon bars are delicious in their own right.

Ahh, sweet success.

Yield: 24 bars. Per bar: 117 calories, 5.6g fat (1.8g sat), 16g carbs, 1g fiber, .7g protein.

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