If you’re a big fan of lemons, this dessert is for you.
I’ve not had many lemon squares (or bars) in my life and, come to think of it, probably none before today, but I can tell that this treat is destined for greatness. Not for sitting endlessly in the display case of a pastry shop, oh no. This is meant to be a best-seller, the one that sells out within 30 minutes of being brought out of the kitchen, leaving disappointed customers waiting for more.
There is no shortage of recipes for lemon squares (or bars) out there. Unlike some recipes that include a few tablespoons of lemon zest, this version from Emily Luchetti’s delectable Classic Stars Desserts cookbook, relies on a full cup (and a bit) of freshly squeezed lemon juice to achieve the trademark tangy, ache-in-the-jaw sensation with your first bite. A gooey lemon custard rests on a flour/butter/sugar crust that is first baked in the oven until it turns a light shade of brown, and then a second time with the custard that sets in the heat. A gentle drizzle of confectioners’ sugar accessorizes this simple pairing, dressing it up for its place among the spread of desserts at a dinner party.
Despite the delicate and elegant countenance that dusted sugar bestows on each slice, this is a treat requiring both hands and all your fingers. It simply won’t do the lemons justice (or Emily Luchetti, for that matter), to try to eat this treat with a teaspoon in small, dainty bites. The malleable, glutinuous custard expects to touch every napkin you come across, conjoin your fingers into a lemony mess and is practically begging to be enjoyed in the company of those close and dear to you. Because these will be the people who won’t mind if you have an extra gob of lemon custard smeared on your cheek (chances are they probably have smears of their own too), and they’re probably the ones that feature in your best memories of summer past. Discovering how a fruit of such acidity can transform to yield a taste of summer in every bite is one of baking’s many surprises, a miracle best savored with nothing else but sticky fingers and runaway crumbs on your lap.
Lemon Squares (adapted from Classic Stars Desserts by Emily Luchetti)
Makes 24 2¼-inch squares
1½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup confectioners’ sugar (I used granulated sugar which turned out fine too)
12 tablespoons/ 6 ounces/ 170 grams unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
Preheat the oven to 325F/ 170C.
Combine the sugar and flour in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on low speed until mixed. Add the butter and mix until the butter is the size of very small peas, which should take about 30 seconds to a minute on low speed. You will end up with a dry mixture that’s a little oily, which will be then pressed into the base of a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. I’ve found that rolling up all the dough into ball before spreading it out in the pan helps achieve a thick, consistent crust. Place the ball of dough in the pan, then slowly work with your fingers to spread it out across the entire base. Use your palms to press down on the dough once it covers the pan, to ensure an even distribution of crust.
Bake until golden brown, about 30 to 40 minutes, depending on your oven. When ready, let the crust cool to room temperature and reduce the oven temperature to 300F/ 150C.
6 large eggs
3 cups granulated sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (approximately 6 to 8 medium lemons)
½ cup all-purpose flour
Whisk the eggs and sugar in a large bowl until smooth. Stir in the lemon juice, then the flour, whisking as you do so to remove any lumps from the mixture.
Pour the filling over the crust and bake, about 40 minutes to an hour, until the lemon filling is set. The filling should not wobble when you shake the pan and the top should look slightly brown and feel quite firm when pressed.
Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate it for an hour or keep it at room temperature for 3 hours before cutting into your preferred size or shape. Dust with confectioners’ sugar before serving.