~ Pucker Up for: Triple-Lemon Lemon Bars/Squares ~
Call me an eternal sourpuss. Lemonade, lemon sorbet, lemon meringue pie, lemon tart, lemon cheesecake, lemon pound cake, lemon shortbread, etc. Spring, Summer, Fall or Winter, these are a few of my favorite things. I am a lover of all things tart and citrusy, and, I consider the lemon the diva of all citrus. I am never without lemons in my refrigerator and pure lemon oil in my pantry, because, like salt, their zest, juice and textureless, bold-flavored oil just makes everything taste better. I'm not a lemon snob either. I prefer the ordinary, tart, supermarket lemon to the "sweet" Meyer lemon (Gourmets call them "sweet". In reality, they are less acidic.).
"Sourpusses make better lemon squares!" ~ Melanie
All lemon snobbery aside, I am a snob about lemon squares. In my foodie world, they are a quick and easy way for me to get a "lemon meringue pie high" (I am a snob about lemon-meringue pie too). Do I make the best lemon squares and lemon-meringue pie? Well, of course I think I do, because I make them exactly the way I like them, but, when made by any good baker, there is no hesitation in hand-to-mouth action from me. It's all about respecting someone elses favorite, well-made version, and, respectfully declining any and all store-bought versions!
A bit about "bar cookies" and lemon squares: The all-American, luscious, tender, melt-in-your mouth, classic lemon square is classified as a "bar cookie". Bar cookies are made by pouring, pressing and/or layering ingredients into a single baking pan. Once baked and cooled, they are cut into elongated bar shapes or squares. Bar cookies are richer and moister than cookies, even moist cookies, so, if you think you can turn any cookie recipe into a bar cookie by simply baking it in one pan, unless a recipe says you can, that is indeed a risky experiment. Speaking of the baking pan: always use the same size as specifed in the recipe. A smaller pan will result in the mixture being thicker and require a longer baking time, and vice versa for a larger pan.
The history of this recipe is elusive. I was age 5 in 1960 and during the '60's my mom was making Eagle Brand condensed milk's recipe for Magic Cookie Bars, but, no lemon bars. If lemon bars existed, I'm pretty sure she would have made them because my dad and I adored lemon anything (even Tastycake's lemon-filled snack pie). I can report this: in my 1967 copy of The Joy of Cooking, there is no reference to lemon bars, but, on page 703 of my 1977 copy there is a recipe for Lemon Curd Squares (which are indeed lemon bars). Interestingly, in my 1972 copy of Betty Crocker's Cookbook, a recipe for Lemon Squares appears on page 140, amongst a nice selection of other bar cookies!
Lemon squares are not hard to make, and, with Valentine's Day right around the corner, I've decided to share my version with you. If you are looking for a light, citrusy-flavored, easy-to-make, pretty-to-look-at dessert, to serve your beloved for breakfast, lunch or dinner, these cutie pies are the perfect ending to any meal.
What I like about my recipe: The tender, flaky crust (which gets mixed together in the food processor in less tha a minute) has all the salty, buttery flavor I love in a shortbread cookie. The slightly-sweet and citrusy lemon filling is simply pucker-up lovable. It is so irresistable, my beloved claims it to be an aphrodisiac. After that tribute, what are you waiting for!
A note about the baking pan: You will need a 13" x 9" x 2" baking pan or dish, and, any kind will work just fine, except: if you want all of your lemon squares to be legitimately square, choose an aluminum one with square corners. This is a Wilton professional cake pan.
Once you choose your pan, line it with parchment paper and "grease" the top of the parchment with about 1 teaspoon salted butter.
Part One: Preparing the Cookie Crust
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
6 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt, or 1/2 teaspoon table salt
12 tablespoons salted butter (1 1/2 sticks), sliced into 1/2" pieces and slightly softened, about 15 minutes on the countertop (Note: err on the side of too cold.)
~ Step 2. Add the butter pieces. Using a series of 25-30 rapid on-off-pulses, process to form a mixture of mealy-looking crumbs.
Note: Do not overprocess. Err on the side of coarser crumbs.
Give the pan a few back and forth shakes on the countertop to distribute it across the bottom, and, push it around with your fingertips a little bit, to fill in any low spots.
~ Step 5. Refrigerate crust for 30-60 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake on center rack of oven, about 18-20 minutes, or until crust is very lightly browned and pulling away from sides of pan. Remove from oven and place on a rack to cool. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees! Don't forget!
Personal notes about my cookie crust: I like my lemon squares with a slightly-thicker, cookie-like crust. I achieve this by letting my cookie crust cool to room temperature before I prepare and pour the filling on top of it. If you like yours with a thinner crust, prepare the filling while the crust is baking, cool the crust about 10 minutes and pour the filling on while the crust is still warm.
Part Two: Preparing the Triple-Lemon Filling
6 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
zest from 1 lemon
3/4 teaspoon pure lemon oil
orange juice, your favorite brand, enough to total 1 1/2 cups of liquid in the event you have less than 1 1/2 cups of lemon juice (Note: I love it when I have to add 4, 6 or 8 tablespoons of orange juice!)
Personal notes about my lemon filling: My recipe contains just enough sugar to make them pleasantly-sweet, and, just enough flour to bind them together. Some recipes call for as much as 3 cups of sugar and 1 cup of flour. That is just overwhelming on both counts. Other recipes for lemon squares contain milk in their ingredients list. To me, that would be like adding milk to my lemonade. I just couldn't and wouldn't do that, hence the compatible, citrusy orange juice!
~ Step 2. Zest one lemon then juice all six as directed. Add the lemon oil. Add enough of orange juice, if needed, to total 1 1/2 cups of liquid.
~ Step 4. Bake on center rack of preheated 325 degree oven, until filling is just set in the center, about 18-22 minutes. Do not over-bake. Filling will be dry looking on the top but should not be browned anywhere except slightly around the edges. Remove from oven and place on a cooling rack to cool completely, 2-3 hours.
~ Step 5. Once cooled to room temperature, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 6-8 hours or overnight (overnight is best). Decide on what size and shape you want to make: bars or squares. I'm making bar shapes today.
Using a sharp paring knife, lightly score the top to mark where you plan to cut.
~ Step 6. Slicing the cookies is really easy (or a lot easier than you might think). Fill a tall glass with water. With every cut you make, dip the knife in the water and wipe it clean in a paper towel.
Using a thin metal spatula, remove each 'square' from the pan as you cut it and place on a rack that has been placed over a layer of paper towels. Once you get the first one out, the rest are a breeze!
Note: I've cut these into 24 bars. To make 48 squares, it is much easier if you cut each bar in half after removing it from the pan.
2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
in a fine mesh, tea-type strainer. Use a teaspoon to rake through the sugar and dust the tops of cookies.
Note: Don't go overboard with the sugar. Why? As the cookies sit, they will absorb the sugar, meaning: tomorrow morning, you'll need to add a fresh dusting! Always serve at room temperature:
Special Equipment List: 13" x 9" x 2" baking pan or dish; parchment paper; paring knife; food processor; mini-rolling pin; cooling rack; old-fashioned, hand-crank egg beater or hand-held electric mixer; microplane grater; citrus juicer; 1-cup measuring container; plastic wrap; paper towels; fine mesh, tea-type strainer; teaspoon
Cook's Note: Looking for a pie that will hold its own against all others? From the first slice to the last bite, mine is bursting with lemon flavor and piled high with airy meringue. You can find the recipe for ~ My Love Affair w/Lemon & Lemon Meringue Pie ~ in Category 6!
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014)