Saturday, September 25, 2010

Gabrielle's "Sticky" Lemon Squares Recipe

Gabrielle's Sticky Lemon Squares 1, edited

Well this is a first - I've never posted any "baked goods" here before.  Basically, this is because I don't bake!  There are two very good reasons for that.  The first is that anything I bake then needs to be eaten and, quite frankly, my hips just don't need that.   The second reason is that really my baking is never any good and, since by definition you would expect "baked goods" to actually be good, I tend to leave any baking to be done to those who are infinitely more competent in that department than me.

I truly believe there is a gene for baking, and somehow I didn't get it.  My Mum had it - her scones were legendary, and her 5-minute chocolate cake (light as air) was so popular it would disappear in about as many minutes.  My Dad can also make a pretty mean batch of scones;  does great Belgian biscuits, shortbread and steam pudding; and every year makes me a beautiful Christmas cake.  But somehow in their coupling I got left out of the baking gene pool.  Maybe, when two parents have the gene they cancel each other out.  I dunno - whatever, I just didn't get it!

When I was at intermediate school (here in Kiwi-land that is for 11-12 year olds), the boys would get packed off once a week to the tool shed to do metal work and wood work, while the girls would do cooking and dressmaking .  I can still remember my family recoiling in horror whenever any of my baking attempts were brought home for them to try - scones as heavy as bricks, and my scone making hasn't improved one bit over the years.

There is something about the science of baking that I just don't get - as for all that measuring and weighing - and there is something about baking recipes that always seems just a bit incomprehensible to me.  I drool longingly over some of the sensational looking cakes, biscuits and pastries that I see out there in the blogoshpere, wishing that somehow the mysteries of the baking universe would reveal themselves to me.  It's as though people who bake belong to some kind of "secret society" that I just can't break into.

That said, I really do try on occasion (I can hear my Dad now saying, "yes, you're very trying!! - he means it in the nicest possible way, of course).  I've made fairly passable brownies from time to time and the odd fairly average banana cake.  So it was that last weekend I decided to make a banana cake for my partner, banana being his favourite and it being a rather belated "birthday cake" ... and, surprisingly, it turned out ... well, good - not perfect, but good.  But more about that in another post.

Anyway, all of that is a rather long-winded way of telling you that I got a bit of courage up after that effort, so when it came to choosing a dish this week for our last Bittman pot luck dinner over at I Heart Cooking Clubs, I felt I just had to bake something.  I was pretty sure that I was going to have a go at his brownies, which a few of our participants had tried previously, until I was scrolling through the Brownies and Bars section of the "How to Cook Everything" application on my iPhone - there it was Gabrielle's Lemon Squares, and since I love anything lemony (at least as much anything chocolatey, maybe even more) I knew immediately that I had found what was to be my contribution.

Let me tell you that these are not just good - if you are a lemon lover, they are divine.  The recipe is mostly straight forward, even for someone who is often confounded by baking recipes.  Though there are a couple of instructions that bewildered me slightly.  Firstly the recipe calls for making a kind of shortbread-like base and baking it (no problem with that), then a topping is mixed together, poured over the top and returned to the oven.  The instructions say to "bake until firm on the edges but still a little soft in the middle".  Now if that was a piece of meat I would know exactly what that should be like, but cake - I was wondering, "how far in from the edge should be firm?" "where does the edge finish and the middle begin?" "how soft is a "little soft"?" - you get the picture.  Anyway to cut a long story short, I think I could have cooked mine a little bit longer and not had quite so much "soft in the middle", hence the reason why I've called them "sticky" lemon squares.  That said the glory of these is that I don't think it matters too much - what you end up with here is a slice which has something like a shortbread base, a slightly chewy, cakey top, and a lemon curd filling - under-cooking it means that you just have a more gooey, curd-like filling, and that doesn't seem like such a bad thing.

The other instruction which is a little confounding to me is that the instructions say to store, covered and refrigerated, for up to 2 days - I'm not altogether sure what is going to happen to them in 2 days time.  I understand keeping them in the fridge with the lemon curd centre, but since I'm the only one who'll be eating them around here I'm hoping they'll last a little longer than 2 days.  Rest assured, though, these are exceptionally good, so if you have a few lemon-lovers in your house you might have trouble getting them to last till the second day.

I hope you'll give these a try - even if you don't have the baking gene, they are dead easy to make and maybe, like me, you'll feel inspired to try a little more baking.

Gabrielle's Sticky Lemon Squares Recipe
Adapted from Mark Bittman's
Click here for a printable copy of this recipe

For the base:
1 stick (113g) unsalted butter
1/4 cup sugar
pinch salt
1 cup all-purpose flour

For the topping:
1-1/2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
grated zest of 1 lemon

extra butter for greasing pan
icing sugar for dusting

Preheat your oven to 175 degrees C (350 degrees F), and grease an 8" (20cm) or 9" (22cm) square baking tin (I used an 8").

Cream together the butter, sugar and salt (I used the food processor for this, since I don't have an electric mixer).  Then pulse in the flour - you will end up with a dryish mixture that resembles coarse, damp sand.

Gabrielle's Sticky Lemon Squares 7, edited

Press the mixture into the greased baking tin, and bake for up to 20 minutes, until it is just starting to turn golden.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly while you prepare the topping.

Beat together the eggs, lemon juice and sugar, until colour pales and mixture is slightly thickened.  Add the flour, baking soda and lemon zest, and mix to combine.  Pour the filling over the already baked crust, and bake until firm around the edges and still a bit soft in the middle - about 30 minutes.

Cool, dust with sifted icing sugar, and cut into squares.

Store covered, in the refrigerator, for up to 2 days.

Gabrielle's Sticky Lemon Squares 3, edited

Come on over to I Heart Cooking Clubs, and see what everyone else is bringing along to our pot luck dinner. Next week is our last week of cooking with Mark Bittman, and then the following week we begin six months of cooking with Giada de Laurentiis.

How to Cook Everything, Completely Revised 10th Anniversary Edition: 2,000 Simple Recipes for Great Food 

This post is also submitted to the Tackling Bittman Giveaway at girlichef - she's giving away a copy of Bittman's "The Food Matters Cookbook" - entries are open until 31 January.

Sweet New Zealand Badge

I'm also giving this post a second lease on life by sharing it at Sweet New Zealand.  This is a monthly blog event created by the very sweet Alessandra Zecchini, and which I am pleased to be hosting this month over here.  This is an opportunity for all Kiwi bloggers (whether you are living in New Zealand or overseas), as well as for non-Kiwi bloggers living in New Zealand, to connect and share some of those sweet treats from your kitchen.  You may submit as many entries as you like, and old posts (just like this one) are fine too.  You can find a round-up of the first month's special treats on this page of Alessandra's blog, and a round-up of last month's entries on this page of Alli's Pease Pudding blog.  I hope you'll come back and visit me at the end of the month for a full round-up of all the entries.


  1. Sue, I love lemon bars and these look totally delicious! Great pick.

    BTW: We actually have one more week of Bittman after this last potluck--"Farewell Food" and then we start with Giada on October 4th. ;-)

  2. Thanks, Deb. That's so like me not to read things properly - that's great to get one more week with Bitty :-)

  3. For someone who supposedly doesn't bake, these look awesome! I love lemon bars and am SO going to have to try out this recipe!

  4. Mmm, I love anything lemony too - these look fantastic! The last time I made lemon squares for my daughter, she ended up taking them to Cuba with her and her freinds. (Not sure if that was legal - but I guess when you are young and cute you can get away with anything!)

  5. Ooooh, I so love lemon bars! These look perfectly tart and full of flavor!

  6. Joanne - thank you so much. I do hope you try them - I'm sure you'll love them.

    Natashya - whenever I'm offered a dessert menu, I always choose the "lemony" thing. I think that is hilarious your daughter taking your lemon bars to Cuba :-)

    Louanne - thanks for visiting - if you love lemon bars you will love this recipe - I know that I'm going to make it over and over again.


  7. From one non-baker to another, I totally get you, Sue! But this looks so good, I think I will take the leap and try baking...again!

  8. Yay Annie - hope you have a go - I think I may have the bug now!

  9. Ciao ! I'm sure I'll love them !!! I have to try them very soon !

  10. Ciao Natalia - I'm sure you'd love them - hope you try.

  11. So the one time you DO bake, you bake something absolutely mouth-watering and pretty.I used to bake a ton, and then I found out cooking. Cooking is SO much more fun. No more measurements and science!

  12. Hi Sophia - I'm definitely more of a cook than a baker - so much easier to break the rules and go outside the boundaries. But I did enjoy baking these and was happy with the results - think I may be hooked!
    Sue :-)

  13. Gorgeous lemon bars, Sue!!! I want to make these!

  14. Your lemon bars look amazing! Sweet and tangy...I love it!
    And I completely understand what you mean about baking...I've spent most of the day trying to make a pastry crust and my end result isn't nearly as fantastic as I had hoped. Oh time!

  15. Thanks Karen. I daren't even contemplate making my own pasty crust yet. Thanks for visiting.

  16. I am a big fan of lemon squares and a big fan of Mark Bittman. Now I am a big fan of yours. Thanks for the FBZ friend add and support! GREG

  17. Oh yes! Thank you for reminding me of these by sending them into Tackling Bittman this month. I'm in need of something bright and citrusy!! :D

  18. Excellent entry for Sweet NZ Sue, needed something lemony :-)!



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