Happy Mother’s Day! Of course, for today’s issue of Sundays are for baking I teamed up again with my mom—a talented, patient, and resourceful baker! To moms who are makers and bakers everywhere, including mine—we love you & thank you!
For today’s newsletter, we made one of my favorite bakes: lemon squares!
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Read on for our tips for making lemon squares and the full recipe below!
These lemon squares have a perfect crumbly, buttery crust with a thick layer of luscious lemon custard filling. Light and sweet, they hold together beautifully and are truly delectable. Plus, they are easy to make—you only need one bowl and one pan, and the process involves mostly pouring and mixing along with preparing a very simple crust. (You may even be able to make this tray bake without an electric mixer, if you’re willing to beat the ingredients by hand in a couple of the steps.)
Tips for a buttery crust & lemony filling
Double the filling. For this recipe, we adapted Better Homes & Gardens: Old-Fashioned Baking’s lemon bars recipe. Our main variation was to double the filling—this produces thicker, taller lemon squares! If you halve the filling quantities in the recipe below (as per the original recipe), you will produce thinner, shorter bars.
Prep the lemons. This recipe calls for lemon juice and zest. Make sure you use fresh lemons and wash them first. Lemons should be room temperature when you zest/juice them, and you can roll them briefly on a cutting board before you juice to help release the juices first. Juice enough lemons for 6 tablespoons of juice, and do not strain the juice—the pulp is good!—but you can remove seeds with a sharp knife before juicing. Zest the lemons using a zester or by very gently grating exterior of lemon peel (just the yellow part) with a cheese grater.
It’s best to use a thick, glass pan—rather than a metal pan—because it will be better insulated and will help keep the edges of your bake from burning.
Butter for crust should be soft, but not too warm.
Sift flour for crust before adding; it makes flour fluffy and the crust especially light, while still being crumbly and a bit chewy.
The ratio of crust to filling in these squares is perfect, in my opinion. They are so lemony and delicious, and their texture—gooey and firm, but light—is ideal. A little sinking/cracking or contours in the surface of the final bake is OK with me, and in fact I prefer it.
1/3 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar (1/4 cup for crust, 1 1/2 cups for filling)
1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted (for crust)
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour (for filling)
6 tablespoons lemon juice —> not strained
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons lemon zest (finely shredded lemon peel)
powdered sugar, for dusting
Note: Halve filling ingredient quantities for thinner bars, with less custard relative to crust.
To make the crust:
1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. In a medium mixing bowl, beat butter with an electric handheld mixer on medium-high for about 30 seconds or until butter is softened and creamed. (Cut butter into pieces and mash a bit with a fork to get the process started before using hand mixer.)
3. Add 1/4 cup of the sugar to the butter. Beat butter and sugar with hand mixer on medium until thoroughly combined.
4. Add 1 cup flour (sifted) and beat with hand mixer until the mixture resembles fine crumbs.
5. Press mixture into an un-greased 8” x 8”, 2”-deep pan. Press crust to as even a thickness as possible throughout the pan, and make sure you don’t press too hard or the crust will be too firm. (This is different than what you typically do with a graham cracker or cookie crust, when you want to press firmly.)
6. Bake crust at 350F for 15 minutes. If you notice any significant cracking in the crust while it’s cooking, gently press cracks back together. You don’t want major cracks in the crust or the lemon mixture will pour through to the bottom when you pour it over the crust. A little cracking in the crust is OK, however—part of the crumbly, buttery crust’s perfection!
To make the lemon filling:
1. Prepare lemon juice and lemon zest and set aside. (See tips above for preparing lemons.)
2. In the same mixing bowl you used to make the crust, beat eggs with hand mixer on medium until they just begin to be foamy.
3. Add the remaining sugar, 4 tablespoons of flour, lemon juice, baking powder, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt to eggs. Beat on medium for about 3 minutes or until mixture has slightly thickened.
4. Stir in lemon zest.
5. Pour lemon mixture over baked crust. It is OK to pour lemon mixture over when the crust has just come out of the oven.
6. Bake crust with filling in oven (still at 350F) for about ~35 minutes. Original recipe calls for baking for 20-25 minutes; we doubled filling so it needed more time. Check for done-ness: the edges should be lightly golden but not burnt, and the center should be firm/set.
7. Let cool in the pan. Sift confectioner’s sugar on top when cooled. Cut into squares. The lemon squares will be fairly delicate when they’re freshly baked, so be sure to cut slowly and carefully.
8. Serve cool once squares have completely set. Store leftover lemon squares (if you have any) in the refrigerator.
Additional Mother’s Day food writing for reading enjoyment!
Béchamel is the mother sauce most of us learn first. The French call them les sauces mères—bases that have simmered over centuries, changing in character and execution with the arrival of ingredients—peppers, nutmeg, tomatoes—from neighboring royal courts and global trade routes. The five modern mother sauces were codified in A Guide to Modern Cookery, an abridged 1907 English-language translation of the original Le guide culinaire by Georges Auguste Escoffier, the chef and writer famed for updating his country’s culinary canon. To the original four sauces (Velouté, Béchamel, Allemande, and Espagnole) enshrined by his predecessor, royal chef Marie-Antoine Carême a century earlier, Escoffier added Hollandaise and Sauce Tomate, and reclassified Allemande. (Mayonnaise, one of his essential cold sauces, is now considered the sixth mother.) Once mastered, the secondary sauces (known as “daughters”) are only a few ingredients away, making it possible to execute the entirety of traditional French cooking and access much of the Francophone food diaspora as well. — SAVEUR
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