Food for Thought

(July 13, 2018) There is nothing more refreshing than the citrusy taste of lemon, especially on a hot, summer day.

Freshly squeezed lemonade, mile-high lemon meringue pie, and silky lemon tarts are some of my favorite zesty treats.

Lemon bars are just as yummy and take me down the path of nostalgia where I can escape the daily rituals of “just another day.” Even though these goodies encourage my expanding waistline, somehow, I find comfort in consuming the little sweet squares.

Maybe I find it truly mesmerizing that the mixing of flour, sugar and butter is anything short of a scientific sensation. The methodical details that take place when dough enters the arena of intense heat are fascinating indeed.

Who says science is not an intricate component of cooking? With that thought in mind, let us take a closer look at the forgotten but delectable lemon squares.

Personal preference will always prevail but a few basic tips will lead one to the path of decision.

Prepare the crust and filling independently, then combine and bake them together. This way, each component is perfected before the final stage of baking which produces better results.

On that note, let us begin with the crust. Use cold butter and a food processor when making the crust. Similar to pie dough, cold butter will make for a more tender shortbread crust. Using a food processor to mix the crust not only makes mixing faster, but also keeps the butter cool.

Baking the crust without the filling gives it a head start on baking and browning, and it also ensures that the crust sets so it does not absorb too much moisture from the lemon filling.

Using powdered sugar in addition to granulated sugar makes for a creamier, pudding-like filling. The tiny amount of cornstarch in the powdered sugar helps to gently thicken it as it cools.

Standard lemons make for classic lemon bars, but if you happen to have access to Meyer lemons, you can substitute them one for one with the lemon zest and lemon juice as directed in this recipe.

Blending both the lemon zest and lemon juice in the filling produces the brightest lemon flavor. Straining out the zest ensures a luxurious texture.

Enriching the filling with a touch of heavy cream tones down the acidity of the lemon and adds to its velvety consistency.

Whenever making lemon bars, always line the baking pan with a foil or parchment “sling.” This makes it much easier to remove the lemon squares without breaking them.

Homemade lemon squares are a great dessert year-round. They are a perfect finale for family picnics and lazy days at the beach.

If you want to upscale your dessert, purchase dessert boxes and wax bakery tissue sheets from Amazon for a more professional look.

Homemade lemon squares are a delicious and unique alternative to pies and tarts and are easy to make. Enjoy!

* The following recipe is from Cook’s Country. Powdered sugar has been added to the filling. This is a delicious interpretation of lemon squares.

Lemon Bars

Crust

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

½ cup confectioners’ sugar

pinch of table salt

12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter (1 ½ sticks), cut into 12 pieces

Filling

4 large eggs

3 large egg yolks

1 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoons powdered sugar, plus more for dusting

pinch of table salt

1 tablespoon grated lemon zest, plus 2/3 cup juice from 4 lemons

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 2 pieces

2 tablespoons heavy cream

For the crust:

1. Adjust rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 8-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil, leaving overhang on all sides.

2. Pulse flour, sugar and salt in food processor 2 to 3 times. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal (some pea-sized pieces of butter will remain) and will stick together if squeezed into a ball, about 15 1-second pulses. Sprinkle into prepared pan and press dough into an even layer. Bake until light golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes.

For the filling:

3. While the crust is cooling, whisk eggs, yolks, sugar, powdered sugar and salt together in a saucepan. Add zest and juice and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened and pudding-like, 8 to 10 minutes. Press through fine-mesh strainer into medium bowl. Stir in butter and cream.

4. Pour filling over crust and tilt to spread evenly. Bake until filling is set, about 15 minutes. Cool to room temperature, at least 1 hour, then, using foil overhang, lift bars from the pan and cut into 9 squares. Dust with confectioners’ sugar just before serving. (Squares will keep in airtight container in refrigerator for three days. Redust with confectioners’ sugar before serving).

Secret Ingredient – Science. “The art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge.”

— Thomas Berger

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