Lemon Squares… and a book review

poppies

When I was asked to host a stop on Ginger Monette’s blog tour for Darcy’s Hope at Donwell Abbey, the first question I had was “what did the characters eat?” My initial thoughts of a wounded soldier recovering near his wealthy family’s estate in England involved images of scones and cream teas. I thought of writing about the delicious scones I make whenever the mood strikes. But then, while chatting a bit with the book’s author, she mentioned that there in a scene in her novel where the characters enjoy lemon squares.

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You have to read the book to see where the lemon squares come in!

“Aha!” I thought. “I make lemon squares, and fairly good ones too.” But fairly good wasn’t quite good enough, and so I embarked upon a quest for the Perfect Lemon Square. (Did you hear heavenly music when I said that? (Try this: The Perfect Lemon Square)

To be fair, most of the recipes I tried were almost identical, so it seems that the Perfect Lemon Square has almost been achieved, but I still did some tweaking of my own. My poor family was forced to consume batch after batch, as I tried adding baking soda, or removing it, or seeing how many lemons created the ideal blend of tart / sweet. How I made them suffer. I don’t believe they ever want to see another lemon square, at least till next time I make them.

Now, lemon squares, especially perfect ones, are best enjoyed with tea and a good book. For both of those, check out this link to the book review that spurred this obsession. At the bottom, you’ll find a raffle for a tin of tea (for Americans only, I’m afraid). The raffle is open till February 28, 2017.

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This is from an earlier attempt. Yummy, but a bit gooey. This was one thing I was trying to fix.

The Perfect Lemon Square

Nothing’s really perfect, but these come close.

Crust:

  • 1 cup pastry flour
  • ½ cup cold butter
  • ½ cup icing sugar (confectioners sugar)
  • Pinch salt

Filling:

  • 3 large eggs
  • 1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • Zest of 2 lemons (about 1 TBSP)
  • Juice of 2 lemons (about 4 – 6 TBSP)
  • 4 scant TBSP flour
  1. Line a 9×9-inch baking tin with parchment paper or tin foil, and press into the pan to get a perfect fit. Spray lightly with oil or a non-stick spray. This will help it all come out nicely after it’s baked.
  2. In a food processor or with a pastry cutter (or two knives, even), combine all the crust ingredients and process until it’s a uniform crumbly mixture. It will look like sand. That’s okay. Press into the bottom of the lined tin. Bake in a preheated 350F oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until just golden
  3. While the crust is baking, beat the eggs in a mixer until they are very light and fluffy. This might take a couple of minutes. You want to get a lot of air in them. Add the sugar and keep beating. The mixture should be very light and creamy-looking. Add the zest and juice and the flour and beat again to combine.
  4. When the crust is ready, remove it from the oven and pour the lemon mixture onto the hot crust, then return it to the oven. Bake for another 25 minutes (but check it after 20, just to make sure it’s not burning). Remove from the oven and let cool for an hour or so. Chill in the refrigerator.
  5. When cold, carefully remove the bars (in their tin-foil shell) from the cake pan. I sometimes just turn the whole thing upside down over a cookie sheet, and then flip it again. Slice it into equal squares, your choice of size. 1-1/2-inch is a good size but you can see what you feel like. The squares should peel easily from the foil or parchment. They are easier to cut with a wet knife, so try that if they seem soft and mushy. Sprinkle with a dusting of icing sugar if desired. Hide from your family so you can eat them all.
lemon-squares

Ready to enjoy with a cup of tea and a good book

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5 thoughts on “Lemon Squares… and a book review

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Darcy’s Hope at Donwell Abbey…. And another recipe! | Musings from the Yellow Kitchen

  2. Few questions (I’m not much of a baker). What exactly is pastry flour? Can the butter be salted butter? Will lemon juice from a bottle work, or does it need to be from real lemons? How small do the zest pieces need to be? (I’d be using a vegetable peeler.)

    These just look delicious! I wonder if the ones Darcy ate in Darcy’s Hope at Donwell Abbey were as yummy : )

    • Pastry flour is a form of flour that has a low protein (gluten) content, as opposed to bread flour, which has a high gluten content. Gluten is what gives bread it’s particular structure – that chewyness. For pastry and cake, we want crumbly, rather than chewy, and so we want less gluten. (Too little and it falls apart completely, which is why gluten-free baking is a bit of a challenge). You can substitute all-purpose flour for the pastry flour.

      I always use salted butter (yes, I know… bad pastry chef!), because it’s what I have on hand. As for the lemons, if you are zesting a lemon, it’s as easy to use the juice fresh from that lemon. I know people who insist that fresh is better than bottled juice, but my taste buds aren’t that sensitive. You do want the zest to be really finely grated, though. You want a lot of it evenly distributed throughout the egg mixture, with no chunks to bite into, because that can be bitter. I use the fine part of my grater that I also use for Parmesan cheese. If you use a veggie peeler, make sure you chop the resulting strips into the tiniest piece you can manage.

      If you try them, let me know what you think. Bon appetit!

  3. Do you think the sugar could be replaced with granulated Splenda? I’ve tried many recipes (mostly cookies or cakes) but the Splenda doesn’t caramelize like sugar, and while the taste is usually excellent, the texture leaves something to be desired.

    Lemon bars are my all time favourite dessert (after Hamentaschen), but the amount of sugar required makes them a no-no for me (being diabetic).

    • A lot of the texture in the filling comes from the egg rather than the sugar, so Splenda might work. If you try it, let me know how it works. I may try some different hamantashen fillings next month!

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