Mmm...lemon squares. Sweet and tart, crunchy and creamy. And, with the exception of possible moments of doubt here and there, they are perfectly simple to make.
I hadn't made lemon squares in a while, and had forgotten that it takes a little faith to believe that the recipe will work itself out. (Isn't that always the case with baking? I hold my breath every time I deposit a pan of bland, oozing batter in the oven and am always amazed when it is replaced with something delicious when it emerges again...) The mixture for the topping is very runny before it is baked, and you get the impression that all that liquid is just going to make the shortbread crust unappealingly soggy. Transferring the lemon mixture from bowl to pan will also reveal a rather gooey sludge of undissolved sugar at the bottom. Don't worry, all will end deliciously. Just put it all in the oven. In 30 minutes, the lemon curd will emerge perfectly set over a crisp brown base. Success! You think you're finished. The worst is over. And then...
...you need to slice them. This is an operation that could end badly (messy edges, crumbling crust, lemon topping spilling over the sides). It will still be delicious, but if you'd like to avoid emotional trauma, here are some tips...
How to slice lemon square bars:
-Cool the bars completely so that the topping will gel and set. Park them in the freezer until they are very cold and firm (about 30 minutes).
-Remove the slab from the pan before cutting. Line the pan with parchment before baking so that it's easier to remove the bars.
-Dust the tops of the bars with powdered sugar before cutting them (so that the sugar doesn't stick to the sides of the cut bars)
-Take a sharp chef's knife and dip it in a pitcher of hot water. Slice the bars in a straight up and down cut (not sawing) with the wet knife. Wipe the knife clean and dip in hot water between cuts.
This recipe uses melted butter in the crust rather than cutting in cold butter. This makes a firmer, crunchier crust that will stay in one piece when sliced.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup confectioner's sugar
1 cup butter, softened and starting to melt
Zest of 1 lemon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup all purpose flour
2/3 cup lemon juice
Zest of 1 lemon
Pinch of salt
1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 9 x 13 inch baking pan and line with parchment paper (allow some to extend over the edges for easy bar removal).
2. In a bowl, whisk together flour, confectioner's sugar, salt, and zest. Stir in melted butter until combined and moist crumbs form. Press into the bottom of prepared pan.
3. Bake crust in oven for 15 minutes, or until edges brown.
4. In a clean bowl, whisk together sugar, baking powder, flour, and salt. In a separate bowl, combine eggs, lemon juice, and zest. Whisk until eggs are beaten, but not very foamy (the topping should be dense, not mousse-y). Stir in sugar mixture and pour over prepared crust.
5. Bake 30 minutes until the filling is set and the edges are lightly brown. Cool completely before unmolding and cutting into bars.
Makes 32 bars.
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