A few years ago, my little brother moved into the dorms to start college, just a few days before his birthday. Because very few kids from our high school were accepted, he barely knew anyone, and I felt really badly that he’d spend his birthday with strangers.
So the night before, I stayed up late and baked his favorite lemon bundt cake. After work the follow day, I drizzled it with icing, and once I carefully nestled it into the backseat of my car, my guy drove us 80 miles south to my brother’s university.
During move-in weekend a few days before, I had coordinated with one of his suite-mates. I explained my sneaky plan, we exchanged phone numbers, and he offered to let me in through the locked gate when I arrived.
We eased into the parking garage right across the street around 9 pm, late enough that the boys had finished dinner at the dining hall and were surfing the internet back in their suite. My brother’s roommate met me on the sidewalk and led me back through the winding dorm halls.
When he opened their door, we found my brother staring at his laptop screen with headphones on. His roommate tapped him on the shoulder, and when my brother turned, I popped my head into the room.
“Surprise! Happy birthday!”
After recovering from the momentary shock, my brother literally grinned from ear to ear—bigger than I’ve ever seen him smile! We exchanged hugs, sliced the cake, and passed pieces around the room to various new dorm friends who gathered to sing. When half of the cake had disappeared, I waved good-bye and headed back up to my own house.
That was one of the most priceless birthdays we’ve ever celebrated!
So this year, when we had to move on my brother’s birthday, I baked a batch of these Fudgy Lemon Brownies to send home with my parents instead. Moist, chewy and packed with citrus flavor, these healthier treats barely survived the car ride home. My parents were so tempted to sneak a few tastes! And no wonder… These skinny brownies are gluten-free, vegan and only 74 calories each!
Over the past year, my brother developed an allergy to both eggs and dairy, so I wanted to create a dessert he could still enjoy. I substituted silken tofu for the egg and soy milk for the cow’s, and nobody could taste the difference! The texture was still incredible moist and fudgy, just like my regular (and banana) brownies. Seriously irresistible!
For the lemon flavor, I turned to lemon instant pudding mix. I chose the sugar-free, fat-free variety to help lower the fat and calories. You only need the powder, so don’t actually prepare the pudding according to the package’s directions. The cornstarch in the mix also helps contribute to the fudgy chewy texture, so don’t skip it! To really amplify the flavor, add in the freshly grated zest from a lemon too. That little addition makes the citrus taste so bright and summery!
We’ll bake these fudgy bars low and slow, just like regular brownies: 300°F for 18-20 minutes. Watch the center; when it’s barely set and the edges aren’t quite golden, they’re done. Let the brownies cool completely in the pan, and for the fudgiest texture, let them rest overnight before slicing into squares.
Although not quite as shocked as a few years ago, my brother was still surprised when my parents brought out these Fudgy Lemon Brownies to give him! They even stuck candles in my homemade birthday desserts and snapped a picture to send me. So cute!
Happy belated birthday to my sweet brother! ♥