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“Almost Vegan” Citrus Bars

A few months back, Dave and I took a trip to our local Asian supermarket to get some ingredients for dinner. We ended up picking up delicious pre-made frozen scallion pancakes (one of my favorites) as an appetizer and veggies for what Dave would probably consider to be his signature Thai red curry. It’s delicious every time he makes it, without fail.

While shopping for produce, I spotted something curious: soon tofu. Labeled as “extra silken” or “extra soft” tofu and packaged in a tube-shaped plastic sheath, neither of us had ever seen it before in conventional or other Asian supermarkets. The tofu’s custard-like consistency and general lack of flavor (aside from a faint nuttiness) inspired me to try my hand, once again, at making a vegan dessert that didn’t suck—lest anyone forget the chia pudding and avocado chocolate pudding fails that I’ve mentioned before and still haunt me to this day. (Fail and yuck.)

At that point, lemon bars had been on my mind for a while, so I made vegan lemon bars using soon tofu my challenge. I processed the tofu with cane sugar, coconut cream, citrus zests and juices, cornstarch, and a few other ingredients to form a very smooth filling. The mixture as it cooked resembled a thick, lemon curd-type filling. Success! It needed more sugar than I would have liked to include, though, in order to mask the nuttiness of the tofu and make it taste like a dessert. Otherwise, so far, so good.

When I started to make the crust as the filling cooked, I found that the only cookies I had on-hand were Simply Made Keebler Butter Cookies. As the name implied, they were made with butter and, therefore, not vegan.

Well, damn.

Not wanting to go back to the grocery store that day, I pressed on with making and chilling the crust. Once cooled, I added the filling and put it back in the fridge to chill several hours until well-set. Dave and I ate the bars for dessert that night and they still tasted great!

There’s good news for anyone hoping to recreate these as a totally vegan, dairy-free dessert: Unlike traditional lemon bars, the filling isn’t loaded with eggs and butter. It would be easy to substitute a vegan cookie in the crust and get similar results.

“Almost Vegan” Citrus Bars
Prep Time
30 mins
Cook Time
30 mins
Total Time
1 d

I call these "almost vegan" since the cookies that I used in the original recipe were Keebler butter cookies. As the name implies, these cookies are not vegan, but could be easily substituted to make this a totally vegan dessert. Delicious plain or topped with dairy-free whipped topping, a sprinkling of cookie crumbs, and a sprinkling of lime or mandarin zest or toasted coconut.

Course: Dessert
Cuisine: Vegan
Servings: 9 squares (3")
For Crust:
  • 11 butter cookies, or similar vegan cookie of your choice (Suggested: Simply Made Keebler Butter Cookies)
  • ½ cup unsweetened dried coconut
  • 1 tablespoon cane sugar
  • 2 ½ tablespoons coconut oil melted
  • ½ mandarin orange or navel orange zested
  • ½ lime zested
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
For Filling:
  • 1 package soon (extra silken) tofu
  • ½ cup sweetened coconut cream + 2 tablespoons coconut oil from the can
  • ½ mandarin orange or navel orange zested
  • ½ lime zested
  • ¼ cup cane sugar
  • ½ cup citrus juice (from zested mandarin and lime)
  • 3 tablespoons corn starch
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
To make the crust:
  1. In a food processor, pulse cookies until mostly broken apart. Add coconut, sugar, coconut oil, zests, and salt. Pulse until mixture resembles wet sand.

  2. Press crust into a 9×9 square glass or metal baking dish that has been greased with a very thin coating of coconut oil. Freeze or refrigerate about 30 minutes to an hour until very cold; the coconut oil will re-harden and the rust will be firm.

To make the filling:
  1. Combine coconut cream, tofu, and remaining filling ingredients but reserving 1/2 tablespoon citrus zest in a food processor. Process mixture until very smooth.

  2. Transfer mixture to a pan and cook on low until thick, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. When cooled, stir in the remaining 1/2 tablespoon zest.

  3. Pour filling on top of chilled crust, cover the surface with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least four hours and if possible overnight until set. To serve, cut into 9 squares with a sharp knife.

Recipe Notes

Use the juice from the cut-up lime and mandarin and top off with additional lime juice if there isn’t enough in the two fruits to get 1/2 cup.