Tuesday, May 03, 2005


Lemon Squares

Ciao Amici! Buona primavera a tutti!

Here is a wonderfully easy and delicate lemon dessert to make for your next dinner party or just to reward yourself for being the fabulous person that you are. (Note to my friend, Wandering Coyote, the real pastry chef: if you see a way of improving this, please do so and let me know in the comments.) I believe the reason these squares are so heavenly is because they are made with real lemon juice. Please. Don't use canned lemon spread, or bottled lemon juice! Or Isabella will have to give you a good scolding and banish you from her kitchen forever!


8x8x2 inch glass baking dish
350 degree oven
See below for baking time

1 cup unbleached flour (I always stick a wire whisk in the flour canister or bag and give it a vigorous stirring before I measure out the flour.)
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, (1 stick) room temperature
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt, scant
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest (I use a very, very sharp mushroom knife and slice the zest, avoiding the white part. Then I mince it.)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
additional powdered sugar for dusting

Mix flour, butter and 1/4 cup powdered sugar together until well blended. Press into ungreased baking pan, building up approx. 1/4 to 1/2 inch edges. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove and set aside.

Meanwhile, beat granulated sugar, eggs, lemon zest, lemon juice, baking powder and salt together until light and fluffy (approx. 3 minuted). Pour over baked pastry. Bake just till lemon filling is set (test with finger in center) about10 to 15 minutes, depending on how hot your oven is and if you use a glass or metal pan.

Cool. Sprinkle with additional powdered sugar. Cut into squares. These melt in your mouth!

NOTE: You may substitute lime zest and lime juice for the lemon and make lime squares.

Place a jaunty vase of daffodils on your table and serve these little spring delights to your guests.

Yum! They look great, and I'm sure many people will appreciate your reminding them what a real lemon looks like! There is no comparison between real, fresh-squeezed lemon juice and the stuff that comes in the little lemon-shaped plastic bottles.

My mom made something that looks very similar to these; I'll have to see if I can find the recipe somewhere. I like the fact that you can subsitute with lime - I LOVE lime.

If you can, invest in a microplane zester. They can be pricey but they are so worth it for zesting citrus fruits easily, and can also be used for ginger and parmesan cheese, too.
not only is this one of my favorite deserts. it is a chuch potluck staple! There is an Amish bakery in Shipshewana that makes wondeful lemon bars. I usually have one with coffee every monday afternoon!
Question: the crust recipe calls for 1/2 cup powdered sugar, yet your instructions say to only put 1/4 of a cup in. Where is the other 1/4 cup, or is this a typo? I think I may make these this afternoon...
Good catch, WC! That is a typo. It should read 1/4 cup powdered sugar! I corrected it, thanks to your editing skills.
Yeah, I'm not just a pretty face!
I just took the squares out of the oven! I'll wait till they cool before trying one - don't want a burnt tongue! I'll take a picture and post it on ReTorte.
Ok, the picture is now appearing on ReTorte. While they are yummy indeed, I have some suggestions, which you seemed open to in the post.

For one thing, they weren't lemony enough! Maybe I am used to super-lemony because anything made with lemon at school was very lemony, but I thought that these needed maybe twice the lemon called for. I also used 3/4 cup sugar instead of the full cup and I still found them too sweet. Finally, I could taste the baking powder. I'm not sure why it's in the recipe to begin with because you're not leavening anything here. I may try making this without the baking powder to see how they turn out. The filling is basically custard-like, so I'm not sure why the baking powder is necessary. Also, I'd decrease the salt - I could taste it, too.

I'm so sorry if this seems overly critical. I am not dissing them at all - they were very good and the crust was tender and flakey. We have just devoured half the pan between the two of us!
I welcome your input. Tweak the recipe all you want, I got it off the internet, and it was badly written, so I had to wing it, too.

Because you are a real pastry chef, I would heed what you have suggested. In fact, I'm going to make another batch and use your suggestions.

Increase the lemon, decrease the sugar, leave out the baking powder.

Do you suppose the original recipe called for baking powder in order to have the filling "puff up" while it cooked? It's a guess on my part, since I don't know the science of baking.

What I liked about these squares is the delicacy, which I believe can be improved.

Here in the North End section of Boston, lemon squares are sold in the pastry shops, but they are made with a thick pie-like crust and loaded with that lemon stuff that comes in a can. They are really not good, in my opinion.

I think this recipe can be improved to make a flaky, delicate lemon square.

And your suggestions seem to be going in that direction.

I will try them again in a day or so. I'm giving a dinner party on Thursday night, so I'll be busy shopping and cooking over the next two days.

Menu, so far:

Tomato, carmelized onions and chevre tart

Lobster meat, scallops, shrimp and mussel meats in a saffron cream sauce over parpadelle pasta.

Radicchio and arugala salad with an a homemade vinaigrette.

Frozen lemon mousse with butter cookies.
Oh my, your dinner menu sounds AMAZING! Can I come?

Re. the lemon squares. Baking powder also makes no sense because it doesn't need an acid to help it rise, and there's plenty of acid from the lemons in this. So I wonder if the author of the recipe meant baking soda, which does need an acid to activate it. Yes, it may be intended to help the filling puff up, but you can incorporate a lot of air into it to and get it to puff up - and either way, it sank when I took it out of the oven. Perhaps it has something to do with forming that bit of crust on the top that's just slightly crisp. I don't know, but I'd try baking soda in another experiment and see how that works because that makes more sense. But either way, 1/2 a teaspoon I think is too much for the amount of filling, same with salt (which I'd skip, to be honest).

So: baking powder needs no acid to activate, just a liquid. Baking soda needs acid + liquid. That's the difference. Perhaps the person who wrote the recipe didn't know the difference.
I've been baking this recipe for 35 years. 10 years ago I, too, questioned the baking powder. I started leaving it out and no difference!
The only tricky part to these bars is baking the filling: 5 minutes too long and the filling is like a gummy worm; 5 minutes too little and you have a snotty mess!
tshsmom: you are certainly making the rounds - it's kinda neat!

Re. the filling. Pour it in while the crust is still hot, then bake immediately. Just keep a close eye on it because it doesn't take long after that.

Isabella: Do tell about your dinner party and that menu! I hope there are pictures...

Thank you for your interest in the dinner party. I just returned from western Massachusetts where I traveled to help promote the anthology I've been published in. (See newest post).

The dinner party was a success, and as I grabbed my camera to take pictures of the food, I discovered my batteries were dead! Ooo-fa!

So I have no pictures.

The tart I made for starters is published here, and the main course, lobster, scallops, shrimp and mussel meat in a saffron cream sauce is a bit involved, since in order to make the saffron cream sauce, I had to make a veloute' sauce first.

The dessert was a hit. Frozen lemon mousse with butter cookies.

I'm hooked on posting pictures of the food recipes, so I may have to wait until I make some part of this dinner again before I post the recipes!
My wife, the wonderful Laura of the Sarchasm, makes these too far and few between!!!!
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