Lemon bars: Get started with gluten-free baking


Every home baker falls into a rut eventually.

We make the same recipes, the same way, year after year. Maybe we tweak an ingredient here and there, but we come to know the people we're baking for and their tastes — and how they'll react when a beloved recipe suddenly features something new and scary.

But sometimes we encounter a wrinkle that turns our attention to recipes beyond our trusty go-tos. Having a friend or family member diagnosed with a gluten sensitivity is one of those times. Finding replacement recipes can be a challenge — or it can be an opportunity to explore and stretch ourselves in the kitchen.

If you're anything like me, you love the chance to learn new techniques and play with different ingredients. "The Gluten-free Kitchen" cookbook by Roben Ryberg is 15 years old, but it's a decent source for anyone just starting out in gluten-free baking who wants a tutorial on some of the basic flours and thickeners to replace wheat.

The options have exploded in recent years, with a variety of non-wheat flours coming into the market, but this recipe comes from an earlier generation of gluten-free baking when gums and starches were king.

Lemon bars are a family favorite, so I've started there. The gluten-free version comes together just as easily as the traditional — no, it's neither too crumbly nor too dry — and keeps all of the tart richness for which lemon bars are known.

A quick note: If you've never made lemon curd before, make sure to separate the egg yolks carefully. Any white left in the mix will firm up and create unsightly lumps you'll have to go after with a spoon before pouring the lemon layer over the cookie layer.

If lactose intolerance is also an issue, try swapping in unsweetened almond milk for the traditional dairy milk.

I recommend keeping the bars small, because the crust is sweet and the lemon topping is rich and flavorful. My 8-by-8 pan yielded 16 servings — though once you've tasted these, you might just attack the pan with a fork.

Gluten-free Lemon Cookie Bars

Bottom layer:

1/2 cup shortening

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup potato starch

3/4 cup cornstarch

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 teaspoons xanthan gum

1/4 cup milk

Top layer:

1 1/4 cups water

1/4 cup lemon juice

2 egg yolks

2/3 cup sugar

4 tablespoons cornstarch


1 tablespoon powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease an 8-by-8 or 9-by-9 pan.

In a mixing bowl, combine all of the ingredients for the bottom layer. Mix until a soft dough forms and all lumps are removed.

Press the dough evenly into the bottom of the greased pan. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, until the top is lightly browned.

Set aside.

In a saucepan, combine all of the ingredients for the top layer. Mix well. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the mixture thickens.

Immediately pour the top layer over the bottom layer and allow to cool.

When ready to serve, use a damp knife to cut bars, wiping off the blade between slices. Dust the tops of the bars with powdered sugar.

Store tightly covered and refrigerated.

Recipe from "The Gluten-free Kitchen" by Roben Ryberg (Prima Publishing, 2000).

— Reach Mel Barber at