bars/ Desserts

Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Low-Sugar Lemon Bars

During one of my attempts to give up sugar a few years back, I didn’t crave sweets, but I did feel sad. I missed eating sugar-laden concoctions. Life felt unexciting without the anticipation of eating a delicious dessert or sugary, gooey treat at the end of a meal. I love filled chocolates, chocolate ganache, macarons, cream-filled cookies, s’mores, coffee ice cream. It made me feel sad to tell myself that I would NEVER savor those divine sweets again.

The fact is, I can’t imagine my life without ever eating another of those delightful desserts. It’s impossible, unthinkable. The only way I’m going to quit eating sugar-filled sweets is literally to take it One Day at a Time. All I have to do is get through TODAY without eating refined sugar.

I’ve never been addicted to tobacco, alcohol or drugs, but I’m starting to empathize with those who are addicted to such health-eroding substances. Sugar withdrawal isn’t a terrible ordeal, physically. But emotionally? That’s another story.

I was feeling particularly sad when I made the mistake of searching the innerwebs for a “healthy” alternative to sugar. The answer I found: There is none. Nope.

One blogger said she just gave up eating sweets. How nice for her! ┬áBut “just say no” will NEVER work for me. I want to find a way to eat luscious sweet desserts that substitute for the unhealthy sweets I crave.

After shutting my laptop, I made a decision: I’m going to use sweeteners that don’t make me achy, even if they aren’t all that healthy and aren’t a whole lot better for you than refined sugar. I’m going to use them to help me gradually withdraw from sugar until I can find better alternatives. At least they’re a step away from those addictive white sugar crystals. Not a huge step, but a step nonetheless.

For example, the innerwebs tell me that date syrup and coconut nectar raise glycemic levels just as much as does refined sugar. So does honey. Ditto maple syrup. They’re nearly as bad for you as sugar, the innerwebs tell me.

I’m ignoring all that. I’m going to use these natural sweeteners in combination with questionable sugar alcohols like erythritol and xylitol to make delicious, sweet-as-I-want, desserts and other delights that don’t make me achy, or give me headaches and brain fog, or cause my legs and belly to swell, and make me feel tired and unwell.

One health website I visited even admonished readers to avoid “fattening” fruits like bananas, pineapple, grapes and mangoes because they contain a lot of (fruit) sugar.

Here’s what I say to that: Fruit is healthy. I’m going to eat as much whole fruit as I want in any form I want: fresh, frozen, pureed, dried, dehydrated, powdered. As long as it’s made out of whole fruit, I’m going to eat and cook with fruit of any kind and in any amount.

There. I feel better. I just ate a banana. And no, it didn’t make feel me achy, tired or bloated

I adapted this recipe for low-sugar lemon bars from The New York Times. To sweeten the bars, I used a mixture of sweeteners (erythritol/monkfruit, stevia and date paste). These bars don’t taste exactly the same as the delectable sugary ones, but they taste pretty good. And in my newly sugar-free world, pretty good is good enough for me.

Springhouse Turtle

Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Low-Sugar Lemon Bars

These sweet and tart lemon bars are made without refined sugar.


  • 2 1/4 cups gluten-free flour
  • 1 teaspoon xanthan gum
  • 1/4 cup powdered xylitol or powdered erythritol/monkfruit
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt (I use Diamond Crystal)
  • 1 cup non-dairy butter at room temperature
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup date paste
  • 1/4 cup erythritol/monkfruit or xylitol
  • 1/2 teaspoon liquid stevia
  • juice of four large lemons, about 3/4 cup
  • zest of four large lemons
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • cornstarch or tapioca starch



Preheat oven to 350 degrees F


Lightly oil a 9" by 13" baking pan and line with parchment, allowing the parchment to hang 2" over the long sides of the pan


In a medium bowl, whisk together 2 cups flour, xanthan gum, powdered sweetener and salt


Stir in the melted butter


Press the mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan


Bake at 350 degrees F for 25 minutes


While the crust is baking, make the filling:


In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the eggs, date paste, granulated sweetener, lemon juice, lemon zest, 1/4 cup flour and baking powder


Remove the crust from the oven, and pour the filling into the hot crust


Return pan to the oven, and bake for another 20-25 minutes or until the filing is set


Remove from oven, allow to cool, and cut into squares


If you can't find powdered monkfruit/erythritol or xylitol, use a coffee grinder to grind the crystalized form into powder. For a traditional powdered sugar look without adding sugar, use a sieve or flour sifter to dust the cooled bars with a light sprinkling of cornstarch or tapioca starch

Springhouse Turtle



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