This week, a return to baking, and something nice and easy, in addition to being terribly satisfying and utterly delicious.
We’re making lemon squares, a recipe I’ve had in my notebook for ages, and have finally got around to trying.
There’s something super-comforting about the smell of a lemon-y something baking away in the warm kitchen, especially at this time of year, as memories of summer fade and we feel we need some citrussy cheerfulness.
It could be a super-sharp classic lemon tart, all wobbly and ready for its thin caramel coating. It might be a soft, pillowy lemon drizzle cake waiting to be drenched in tart syrup and iced.
Or it could be a light, airy soufflé, intoxicating in its freshness, requiring no more than a dusting of icing sugar before being pierced by one’s spoon, releasing all that wonderful lemony steam.
The little lemon is one of the most undervalued ingredients in the kitchen, and we should pause for a moment to give it the credit it deserves.
READ MORE: Recipe: Lemon Puffs
It’s one of the fruits most likely to be in any kitchen, whether it’s waiting to be sliced and plonked into that lovely big post-work gin and tonic, or squeezed over a sizzling fillet of supper-time fish (try grilling or roasting the lemon halves until they’re well-charred for a wonderful new flavour experience).
That lemon might be waiting to be halved and pushed into the depths of an oven-ready chicken, to steam its way into the flesh as the bird roasts.
Or it might be there just to add sharpness to a sauce, a soup, or a dressing.
The humble lemon blesses everything with a touch of sunny, flavour-enhancing magic, and when used as a major ingredient, it’s a real star in its own right.
These lemon squares are a baking classic; really simple to put together, but incredibly satisfying.
A simple biscuit-y base, all richly buttery and flecked with warming notes of vanilla, is baked with a sharp lemon custard-y topping which sets into a soft, smooth layer.
It’s a good recipe to try with the younger members of the family, due to its simplicity, whilst still showing off a few of the basic techniques, and I guarantee the finished squares will not hang around for long.
For the biscuit base:
300g unsalted butter
340g plain flour
80g icing sugar, plus a little extra for dusting
The seeds of 1 vanilla pod
1 tsp Maldon salt*
For the lemon topping:
5 medium free-range eggs
535g unrefined golden caster sugar
The juice and grated zest of 4 lemons
50g plain flour
1 level tsp baking powder
An 11-inch square cake tin with a removable base
A little butter for greasing
Heat the oven to 180ºC / Gas 4. Lightly grease the tin with a little butter and line with greased baking parchment.
Gently melt the butter with the vanilla.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the plain flour, icing sugar and salt.
Add the melted butter and whisk well to thoroughly combine.
Using a spatula, spread this mixture evenly into the cake tin and bake for 25 minutes until golden and set.
As the base is baking, in a new bowl, whisk together the eggs and the granulated sugar until smooth. Add the lemon juice and zest, the baking powder and the remaining flour and whisk well to combine.
Pour this onto the hot cake and bake for an additional 20 to 25 minutes, or until the topping is just set with a slight residual wobble.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before gently easing out of the tin, and sprinkling with plenty of icing sugar.
Cut into neat squares and serve.