Tag Archives: citrus

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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SUMMER CLASSICS SERIES: KEY LIME PIE

Please forgive me if this post is a bit lacking in wit and zest (get it?  zest?  key lime pie?  ha! I crack myself up)—school is out for summer, my grading is all done, and I’ve been busy celebrating the start of vacation with Arianne, my BFFFL (that’s Best Friend Forever for Life to those of you unfamiliar with 6th grade girl lingo).

So I’m afraid I don’t have a super-clever story to tie in here, just the fact that Arianne really loves my key lime pie.  And key lime pie is a summer classic, so it’s therefore being included in our Summer Classics Series (see how that works?)

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Well, I lied.  I actually do have kind of a cool story to tell you.  As you probably know, sweetened condensed milk is a traditional ingredient in key lime pie.  But what you may not know is how condensed milk came to be.

In 1856, Gail Borden (of Borden’s Eagle Brand) developed the process by which milk could be condensed, and thereby safely stored, in cans for long periods of time.  Until that point, cow’s milk was basically only safe to store for a few hours without cooling or refrigeration.

Mr. Borden was inspired to create a long-term storage method for milk after traveling to the United States on a ship from England; due to the poor quality of milk onboard, several children lost their lives.  The introduction of condensed milk is credited with being an important factor in reducing the infant mortality rate in the United States.

Not too shabby, right?  Three cheers for Mr. Borden!  He (and this story) are the reason I am doggedly brand-loyal when it comes to my sweetened condensed milk (and no, they’re not paying me to say that.)

Whatever brand you buy, I recommend you get yourself some sweetened condensed milk and make a key lime pie.  It tastes exactly the way summer should.

KEY LIME PIE
Serves 8-10, or just me & Arianne

I promise that going through the effort of juicing your own limes (and key limes, at that) is so very worth it for this pie.  This time of year, little mesh bags of key limes (also sometimes called Persian limes) are available pretty cheaply, and their fragrance & taste are just on a whole different level.

To get maximum juice out of each lime, I recommend microwaving the limes in a bowl for about thirty seconds and then rolling them on the counter before slicing them open.  If you have leftover lime juice, might I suggest you make some margaritas?

For the crust: 545719496_dsc_0285

1 ½ cup graham cracker crumbs
(store bought works, but the homemade kind tends not to resemble sawdust as much)

6 T butter, melted

¼ cup sugar (double if you want a sweet crust)

pan: 9-inch pie pan
oven: 350

Combine above ingredients—if making your own graham cracker crumbs, you can mix everything in the food processor.  Otherwise, a bowl & spoon should work!  Press mixture into the pan, being sure to move up the sides.  Bake crust for 5-8 minutes, until you smell its graham crackery-goodness all over your kitchen.  Be sure not to over bake as the crust can easily turn dark.

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For the filling:

1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk

3 egg yolks

2/3 cup key lime juice

zest of 2-3 limes (2 T), finely chopped

Beat the yolks and zest in the bowl of a stand mixer for a few minutes on high speed until the yolks lighten in color and texture.  Pour in condensed milk slowly and continue mixing at high speed—the mixture should thicken quickly.  Lower the speed to add the lime juice, mixing slowly until just combined.

Pour filling into the crust, lick the spatula (optional), and bake the pie for 8-10 minutes.  You want the filling to set—that means no jiggling in the middle when you give the pan a shake.  Cool completely on a wire rack, then refrigerate.

I like to throw my key lime pie in the freezer for about 15-20 minutes before I plan to serve it.  Yummy!  Like so many desserts, this one is especially good with homemade whipped cream.

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