You might assume from my posts that our spot on the island is always sunshine and big poofy clouds and warm breezes. Looking back at recent photos I would too. Appearances can be deceiving.
January in south Texas is funny. Eighty-four and sunny day after day then wham, forty-eight and solid dark clouds. If you could wring the air, it would yield enough water to make a pitcher of sun tea. Now I love a good grey day, especially as a pardon from summer’s intense heat, but when the daily routine is gloomy and damp, and you can’t remember the last time you saw the sun, and it happens to be your fiancé’s birthday weekend, it’s a bummer.
While the heavy, moist pre-dawn fog was practically knocking on our windows, I baked a pan of sunny lemon squares, boosting the amounts of lemon zest and juice. A twenty-seventh birthday deserves blue skies, at the very least, and that’s what I intended to provide; if not literally, then symbolically.
On several occasions he’s recalled, and spoke highly of, a particular lemon square — “it has no crust.” I hit wall after wall in search of a recipe, and finally opted to futz with the proportions of Alice Medrich’s lemon bars, decreasing the overall crust : filling ratio. The result is a square that has a little tooth at first, and then positively melts away on your tongue.
The tart, tangy lemon filling and buttery sweet base are absolutely an antidote for a case of the greys. In our case, a serious one. And wouldn’t you know, the clouds broke yesterday afternoon, just in time for his actual birthday and celebratory lemon squares in a living room puddled with gold light.
Thin Crust Lemon Squares [makes one 8 x 8″ square pan, or one 7″ round springform]
For the Crust:
4 T unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 t sugar
1/2 t pure vanilla extract
1/8 t salt
3/4 c unbleached all-purpose flour
+ + + +
For the Topping:
1 c granulated sugar
1/4 c + 1 1/2 t unbleached all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
1 T lemon zest, from 2 to 3 lemons
1/2 c strained fresh lemon juice
Confectioner’s sugar, for dusting (optional)
Preheat oven to 350˚F. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven. Line the bottom and sides of an 8 x 8″ square baking pan (or try a 7″ round springform!) with foil, and then lightly spray the foil with cooking spray.
In a medium bowl, combine the melted butter with the sugar, vanilla and salt; stir well. Add the flour and stir just until incorporated. With your hands, press the dough evenly over the bottom of the pan — it will be a very thin layer.
Bake 20 to 25 minutes, or until the crust is fully baked, edges browned and the center golden.
While the crust is baking, whisk together the sugar and flour in the bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk in the eggs, one at a time, until well incorporated. Stir in the lemon zest and juice.
When the crust is ready, reduce oven temperature to 300˚F. Slide the rack with the pan out and pour the filling onto the hot crust. Bake 20 to 25 minutes longer, or until the topping barely jiggles in the center when the pan is tapped. Set on a rack to cool completely in the pan.
Lift up the foil liner and transfer the bars to a cutting board. Don’t worry if the surface of your lemon square is covered with a thin layer of moist foam; lay a paper towel on the surface and gently sweep your fingers over top to absorb the excess moisture. Use a long sharp knife to cut 9 larger or 16 smaller squares.
Sift confectioner’s sugar over the bars just before serving, if desired. Store remaining squares in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Adapted from Alice Medrich’s Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy