Thursday, September 30, 2010

Gluten-Free Fall Specials: Refined Sugar-Free Lemon Squares from Z's Cup of Tea

On this last day of September, I have the last Gluten-Free Fall Special recipe to share with you. This is a memorable recipe for me because it's one I specifically asked Zoe to convert. Since starting this blog, I have become pretty adept at playing around with recipes that are already gluten-free; trying to adapt regular recipes to gluten-free has been much more of a challenge. Now, I like a challenge, but I've learned something about myself (and if you've been reading The Daily Dietribe for a while, you probably know this already): I don't do very well at eating desserts in moderation. This is fine if I'm making dessert every once in a while, but if I'm making a recipe over and over again, that makes for a lot of dessert hanging around. That means I eat a lot of dessert, which then means I don't feel so great. So as much as I've been wanting to convert my favorite dessert recipe to a gluten-free, dairy-free, refined sugar-free version, I didn't have the guts to try it myself. So I decided to ask somebody who I thought could handle herself better. I chose Zoe, of Z's Cup of Tea, after making her agave sweetened marshmallows. I was so impressed by them, I knew that she could take on this challenge. 

A little bit about these lemon squares. They're a shortbread base with a baked lemon topping, and I've been making them since I was a kid. In fact, the recipe is from an old cookbook aptly titled "Kids Can Cook" by Dorothy Bates. I've been told from people who don't like lemon desserts that they still love these. Personally, I am crazy for lemon flavored desserts, but these are indeed different. The lemon is milder than other lemon squares I've tried, and as Zoe noted, the topping does indeed melt a little into the top of the base. Zoe also mentioned not loving the appearance of her adaptation, but I can tell you from many years of making these that her photo looks exactly like mine always did. They were never that pretty. They were one of those desserts that looked so-so, but was gone the second people began trying them and realized how delicious they were. 

Zoe has agreed to come back and let us know if she comes up with a version that she likes better than this one (although I'm pretty convinced I'm going to love this). I know a lot of you out there are experts in the gluten-free, dairy-free, and refined sugar-free baking arena, so I'm presenting a challenge to all of you to come up with your own version of classic lemon squares. Together, I'm convinced we can come up with the perfect recipe. The only rules are: no gluten, no dairy, and no sugar. Everything else is up for grabs, although there will be extra "points" for anyone who can come up with a vegan version that my new housemate can eat. I'll post a roundup of any recipes we come up with in November, so you have all of October to work on this. Post your recipe by the end of October, and e-mail me at with the link and a photo. And if you don't have a blog, you can send me the recipe and a photo if you like, and I'll include that in my roundup. 

And now I'll be quiet and let Zoe talk. Finally...

Back in July, just for fun, Iris asked me if I’d like to try adapting a recipe for her favourite lemon squares, to make them gluten-free, dairy-free, and refined sugar-free. When this series of Gluten-Free Fall Specials was announced, Iris asked if I would like to be a part of it; I said yes, excited and honoured to be a part of this amazing series and group of gluten-free bloggers.

As it is now the end of September, I’m not sure if lemons could be considered autumnal but for those who aren’t yet ready for summer to end, to me lemons carry a little bit of that summery sunshine or a touch of spring into just about anything you put it in, from a little squirt of lemon juice to perk up a dish to some zest used to add colour.

The flour blend I used is based on the gluten-free puff pastry that Helene of Tartelette created. This flour blend was incredible in that it had the same density like wheat all-purpose flour; it was even more magical when I added the water, because it smelled and felt like wheat dough. As of now, I have not had this with other gluten-free flour blends that I’ve used. To sweeten the shortbread, I ended up using honey and it works wonderfully. No disasters like I’ve had before when trying to substitute confectioner’s sugar.

For the butter, I would have replaced it with half coconut oil and half grapeseed oil, although remembering Iris’ current avoidance of coconut I decided to use something else (in this case, Earth Balance) so that she could enjoy these, too, when she wanted to make them.

With that said, I’m not completely satisfied yet with this recipe. The flavour is good - my brother loves the shortbread, even without the lemon filling - but by appearances, it could still use some improvement. (Some of the lemon filling was absorbed by the shortbread, strangely.) So this is a recipe still in progress, but for now we at least have a really good shortbread that my brother wants me to make for him again.

Lemon Squares - Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, and Refined Sugar-Free
Makes 24 squares (or more or less, depending on how you cut them)

For the shortening, I used Earth Balance. If you’re not sensitive to coconut, you could use solid, soft coconut oil in the shortening’s place or half solid coconut oil and half grapeseed oil. Spectrum’s palm oil shortening would also work.


1/4 cup superfine sweet rice flour
1/4 cup brown or white rice flour
1/4 cup millet flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon xanthum gum
1/8 teaspoon guar gum
1/8 cup honey
1 cup Earth Balance Natural Buttery Spread (I used soy-free; for options, see above)

2 eggs, beaten
About 1/4 cup honey
About 1/4 cup coconut or palm sugar
2 tbsp. fresh squeezed lemon juice


  1. Crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. 
  2. Mix the flours together and sift in a bowl. 
  3. Add dry ingredients to the Earth Balance in a separate bowl, creaming until a soft, dough-batter consistency forms. Mix in the honey. 
  4. Cover and chill for 10 to 25 minutes in the freezer. Spread dough into an 8” by 8” pan and bake for 20 minutes.
  5. Filling: While the shortbread is baking, mix the beaten eggs, coconut sugar, honey, and lemon juice for the filling.
  6. Remove the baked shortbread from the oven and cool. 
  7. Pour the filling over the cooled shortbread and return to the oven, baking for 20 minutes more or until filling is set. 
  8. Cool and cut into squares. Enjoy!
 Thank you, Zoe! Everyone, stop by Z's Cup of Tea for her amazing marshmallow recipes and more! And don't forget the lemon square challenge! As another idea for the shortbread, I've also made the base using Carol's All Purpose Gluten-Free Flour, and that worked really well. Zoe was very kind and stayed away from coconut for me, but I've recently been experimenting with adding it back in, and so far so good. So if you like coconut, go for it!


crankylittleredhead said...

holy lemonade, batman! those look fantastic! and i may regret this, as i am moving this month, but i'll accept iris' challenge to convert these to vegan- my sister can't do eggs and she *adores* lemon desserts, so i'll have a handy guinea pig. hopefully, i'll get a dessert that is tasty and not one that threatens a hostile takover of my oven :) thanks! jamie

Iris said...

Jamie, I can't wait to see what you come up with! Taking on a baking challenge while that's gutsy.

gfe--gluten free easily said...

They look good to me, girls! They look very similar to my old lemon bars, which I did try once to make gf and the usual conversion did not work at all. I even thought about doing them for this challenge when I said I'd participate. So I'll definitely join in the challenge. Any due date?

Hugs to you both ... such a fun collaboration!

GF Gidget said...

This is the perfect response to all of those sugar-laden lemon square recipes! Bravo!

Zoe @ Z's Cup of Tea said...

Thank you, everyone! And thank you, Iris, for having me here! It was wonderful to participate in this series and to make the lemon bars - as of writing what I wrote about improving its appearance, I have second thoughts as everyone who tried them loved them and also that, as Iris said, they look so-so but once people try them, they keep coming back for more. That was certainly my case. I will be making these again very soon.

Also, I should mention that if you don't have the pan size specified, spreading the dough on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper also works. (Measure 8 x 8 on the parchment paper, marking it, and spread the dough within those perimeters.) This works because the dough doesn't spread at all. For the filling, you'll have to carefully transfer the shortbread on the parchment paper (this could be tricky as it's quite crumbly after it's first baking) to another pan with edges so that the filling doesn't run over. It's okay if the pan is slightly bigger, just use something(s) to prop the sides of the parchment paper up.

saxifrage said...

Wow! I don't even like lemon squares all that much, but these look good! And just remember, if you ever have the irrepressible urge to make a dessert, I'll be here to help you eat it ;-)


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