Lemon Cherry Swirl Bars
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There’s a certain person in my life who I love dearly (okay, it’s my Mom) who has what I like to think of as a part-time gluten intolerance. Will she eat a really delicious homemade pasta dish I make? Yes. But, in general, she feels better if she sticks with mostly gluten-free foods.
She’s coming to visit during this Easter weekend to see her rapidly growing grandson and I thought I’d surprise her with a truly gluten-free Easter treat. It took me a few attempts to figure out these lemon cherry swirl bars. I used Bob’s Red Mill Almond Flour for the crust (and a little in the filling) which worked so well. Plus, I used real lemons and cherries. No artificial business in these guys.
I honestly think they are better than a gluten-filled variation of the same recipe. The crust is perfectly tender, but holds up surprisingly well to the filling.
They are a little work, sure. But definitely worth it, especially for a special occasion like a Mom visit!
1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a medium bowl, combine almond meal, brown sugar, and salt. Whisk together and then stir in melted butter. Stir until combined.
2) Line an 8×8 baking dish with foil for easy removal and press the almond meal crust into the foiled pan, working it up the edges a bit. Bake the crust at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.
3) For the lemon filling, zest and juice 2-3 lemons and whisk together all ingredients until well combined. Make sure the cornstarch isn’t clumped together.
4) When crust is done baking, pour in lemon filling and return to the oven. Bake for 15 minutes.
5) While lemon bars are baking, chop thawed cherries finely. Add to a small pot with juice from cherries and sugar. Bring to a simmer, turn heat down to low, and simmer for 5 minutes to thicken. Mash cherry mixture as it simmers with a fork. Then add cornstarch + water mixture and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.
6) When lemon bars come out of the oven, scoop over cherry swirl topping and use a knife to gently swirl it into the bars.
7) Let lemon bars cool to room temperature. Then cover them with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for at least a few hours (or overnight).
8) When ready to serve, remove bars from the pan by lifting out the foil. Peel foil down from the sides of the bars and chop them into 12 even pieces. Dust bars with powdered sugar and extra lemon zest.
Store extra bars in the fridge in an airtight container for 4-5 days.
Lemon Cherry Swirl Bars
Making the Crust
This is similar to a graham cracker crust, but is actually easier to make. No cracker crunching necessary!
I really recommend Bob’s Red Mill Almond Flour if you want to try this. It’s very high quality ground almonds.
Mix in the sugar and salt and then pour in the melted butter. It’ll almost have the consistency of cookie dough when it’s done.
To finish the crust, you need to bake it before you add the filling or it will be too mushy. Line an 8×8 baking dish with foil for easier removal later and then press in the crust. I just used my fingers to work it into the edges and up the sides a bit. Try to make it as even as possible, but it doesn’t have to be perfect.
Bake the crust at 350 degrees F. for 20 minutes until it’s browned and set in place.
The Lemon Bar Filling
Please. Please! Use fresh lemons for this. Don’t use the jarred lemon juice. It’s too acidic. Take the time to zest and juice a few lemons and your efforts will be well-rewarded.
Mix together the filling ingredients in a bowl. Whisk it really well to make sure the cornstarch doesn’t clump up.
Then pour the lemon custard filling into the baked crust. I just love the color here.
This will need to bake a second time for about 15 minutes. Maybe a bit longer.
The Cherry Swirl
Again, I went with real cherries here. In a pinch, you could use cherry preserves, but since you have to wait for the crust and bars to bake anyway, might as well go the extra distance!
Finely chop some thawed dark cherries and add them to a small pot with sugar. Simmer that for a few minutes and continue to mash the cherries as they simmer. Then stir in the cornstarch and water mixture. Anytime you are adding cornstarch to a hot liquid like this, it’s always good to dissolve the cornstarch in water or it will just clump up.
Cook this for another minute or two over low heat and then remove it from the heat. It will thicken nicely as it cools.
Finishing the Bars
When the lemon bars come out of the oven, the filling will still be jiggly and not completely set. Don’t worry about it. It will set up as the bars cool. While the custard is still loose though, add the cherry swirl filling to it so you can swirl it into the filling.
Use a knife to swirl it around and then let the bars cool to room temperature.
Then chill them in a fridge for at least a few hours (or overnight).
Then you can carefully lift them out of the pan and peel back the foil. Perfect!
Chop up the bars into 12 even pieces and dust them with powdered sugar and a little extra lemon zest if you want.
Even if you’re a gluten lover (I am), these are some of the best lemon bars you’ll find. Guaranteed to make friends, especially gluten-free friends!