LEMON SQUARES

If I believed in super-long blog post titles, this one would be “LEMON SQUARES: HOW TO WIN FRIENDS & INFLUENCE PEOPLE.”

lemon squares
For realz.

When I was in graduate school (in the achingly gorgeous desert land of Tucson, Arizona), I had a nonfiction writing workshop once a week.  Every week.  For two years.

Of those Lord-knows-how-many workshops, I estimate that I brought baked goods to class seventy-five percent of the time.  And of those times that I brought baked good to class, lemon squares took up a disproportionately large share.

I became famous for my lemon squares.  Their presence was often (and still is!) requested at workshops, parties, meetings, as presents, etc.  I can’t prove that it’s true, but I believe my lemon squares won me some goodwill with colleagues who might have otherwise written more scathing critiques of my manuscripts or been all-to-eager to shred my narratives to pieces.

Now, you may want to know, what is my lemon square secret?  What mystery ingredient have I conjured to take these humble little shortbread-crust-bottomed, custard-and-powdered-sugar-topped suckers to the next level of deliciousness?

Well, nothing, really.  Mine is a really basic recipe, one that my hands will practically make for me at this point.  There’s nothing particularly magical about them, but they’ve never failed me.  Perhaps it comes down to this: the gesture of baking something from scratch, of feeding others something you took time to make with your own hands, and make well, is magical.  It breeds relatedness and good feeling.  It’s just a kind thing to do.  (Especially in grad school, when everyone’s poor & hungry).

So, even though these are not red, white, & blue; even though they do not utilize the plump berries and sugar-crystalled watermelon of the season, I humbly offer you my lemon square recipe and urge you to bake some up.  Walk a plate over to your neighbors.  Take some to work on Monday (when everyone will be grumpy about having to be back at work on Monday).  Or just add them to the Fourth of July potluck pile and watch them disappear.

ARIZONA LEMON SQUARES lemon squares up close
makes 16 modest or 9 generous squares

oven: Preheat to 350.

pan: 8 inch square (double recipe to fit into larger, rectangular pan)

To make your life easier, line the pan with foil and then spray it well with cooking spray.  You can just spray the pan, but you’ll have to scrub it afterwards.

crust:    1 ½ cup flour

½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened

¼ cup powdered (confectioner’s) sugar

I always throw these ingredients straight into the pan and crumble them with my fingers—no need to mess up a bowl!  When you’ve got a pebbly-looking mixture, press down so the crust covers the bottom of the pan and a little bit up the sides.  Smooth down with the bottom of a small glass or bowl, if you like.

Bake the crust for 15-20 minutes, or until it’s just getting brown.  While the crust is baking, make the filling.

filling:    2 eggs  sliced lemons
2 lemons*
1 cup sugar
½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt

Zest the lemons first (I like a lot of zest, so I use both), then chop the zest finely and set aside.  Juice the lemons next—you’ll may only need one lemon to reach the desired 2 T.  Add juice to zest.  Throw in the rest of the ingredients, adding the eggs last.

Beat everything together either with a whisk or a mixer (I’ve done both, and this is really one recipe where you don’t have to get your Kitchen Aid dirty).  Mix until everything’s frothy and thick, about 3 minutes.

When the hot crust comes out of the oven, pour the filling on top.  Bake another 20-25 minutes or until the top is just turning brown and is set in the middle.  Cool on a wire rack for about 5 minutes, then dust with a generous amount of powdered sugar (sometimes I do two passes with the powdered sugar to get a thick layer).

Cool completely, or as long as you can wait before cutting into squares.

* When I can find them, I use Meyer lemons, which make for exquisite lemon squares.  Just dial down the sugar to ¾ or even ½ cup, since Meyer lemons are not as tart.

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15 responses to “LEMON SQUARES

  1. oh.my.god.

    if these come out half as good as the pictures look, i may fall in love* with you.

    lemon bars are my weakness.

    *disclaimer: ok, so it’ll be completely food related virtual lust … but still!

  2. and the results are in.

    the lemon bars ARE as good as the pictures. better, in fact.

    seriously.

    total food lust has commenced.

  3. TasteStopping

    I wish that I had read this post when I was pursuing my MFA in creative writing. I love baking, and from time to time indulged my classmates and professors with something boring like chocolate chip cookies or holiday sugar cookies. But I never considered it a way to generate a surplus of goodwill. Brilliant! I am holding you to your claim that these are the best ever (you did say that, didn’t you?), because I love lemon squares but have yet to find the right recipe. Fingers crossed that this is it.

    Anyway, I found you on TasteSpotting and am writing to say that if you have any photos that aren’t accepted there, I’d love to publish them. Visit my new site (below), it’s a lot of fun! I hope you will consider it.

    Best,
    Casey
    Editor
    http://www.tastestopping.wordpress.com

  4. mmmm nothing like a tart, homemade lemon square- yours look delicious!

  5. Hi Nishta, how much lemon juice is called for? Did you say 2 tablespoons in the directions? Just trying to figure it out ’cause I have zest and juice separately, not whole lemons. :)

    • bluejeangourmet

      melissa-I am thrilled that my lemon squares have become your culinary objects of affection!

      Casey-love the concept behind your site, hilarious! I’ll definitely consider submitting there in the future. also, I’m hoping I didn’t over-hype my game here since you’re going to hold me to my word! but these lemon squares are pretty darn good.

      Lauren-fair question! this has become one of those recipes where I don’t measure precisely anymore, so I would say between 2-3 T is a good guideline.

      • i used one whole lemon – zested the HECK out of it, juiced the heck out of it, then topped off the juice with a tiny squirt of the plastic lemon bottle.

        i just ate one for breakfast.

        the biggest difference i found is that the boxed mixes i am in the habit of using gets the custardy part very firm – almost rubbery. i thought maybe i needed to bake this recipe longer because the filling is still so soft… but no – it is PERFECT!

        i am freaking OUT about how good these are! and so easy to make! my sweetie already asked me if i saved the recipe to make again – SOON!!

  6. ok, one last comment – substitute key limes for the lemon … and Oh My God – fabulousness Squared!!!

    key lime square goodness. insane.

  7. oh SWOON. How I miss nonfiction class with Nishta and the lemon bars.

  8. Yummy! Very yummy! that is all… oh and you are a goddess!

  9. Hi Nishta,
    I am baking these lemon squares for my son’s 10th birthday right now! (He did not want cake, the little rebel.) They smell amazing. I have one question, in the recipe it says 2T of lemon juice, but no measurement for the zest. I just put in about 2 T because we like zest around here. Would you recommend a different measurement? My mother used to make lemon squares from a Gourmet Magazine recipe from the 70s (I think….) Thanks for an answer on the zest……Groovy Garden

    • bluejeangourmet

      hi Groovy Garden,

      I love 10-year-old boys. They’re so contrarian! I hope your son ends up enjoying the lemon squares–as for a zest measurement, I usually just use one lemon’s worth, perhaps two if it’s a small lemon–I’m a zest fan as well, but 2 T might yield a tarter square. Folks who aren’t so into lemon might want to cut that in half.

      Please do let me know how they turn out!

      Nishta

  10. Pingback: FEELIN’ KINDA SNOW DAY: PECAN TASSIES « Blue Jean Gourmet

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