Monday, January 25, 2010

(Meyer) Lemon Squares

Lemony lemon squares.

If you aren't a huge lemon-dessert-kind-of-person then you may be rather annoyed with my current obsession. However, I would encourage you to make these for the lemon-dessert-kind-of-people you know. These are really easy to make, and they make for cute gifts. I love how the dusting of confectioner's sugar looks on these bars.

I found this particular recipe in My Nepenthe: Bohemian Tales of Food, Family, and Big Sur by Romney Steele. This book was another gift from my parents. What can I say, they know I love cookbooks. The book in and of itself is great - giving a perspective on California cuisine from the vantage point of Nepenthe restaurant in Big Sur. I love the stories of family, Hollywood, and art that surround these simple yet elegant recipes.

Shortbread crust

The first step to these bars is making the shortbread crust. The ingredient list is short - flour, butter, confectioner's sugar, and a pinch of salt. Pulse it together in the food processor, press it into a pan, and it's ready for the oven. The buttery crust is a nice complement to the tart, bright filling.

Mixing the lemon filling.

The filling is almost as easy, with the added grunt work of squeezing a couple of lemons. Make sure to zest your lemons first! I used Meyer lemons, because they are just a little bit sweeter (and I just like the flavor that much more). Sugar and flour get sifted together. One egg (of four) is added at a time until the mixture is smooth. Then the lemon juice and zest are mixed in. The filling is rather runny. I was a little alarmed, but you shouldn't be.

The filling is poured on top of the cool, yet slightly warm crust.

The crust should cool 10 minutes before the filling is poured on top. It is fine if the crust is a little warm. I used a slightly smaller pan (8"x8") so I baked mine for about 30 minutes, until the middle stops jiggling. After the pan had cooled for 2-3 hours, I dusted them with confectioner's sugar, and cut them up into little bars (28 or so). This allows you to eat about 3-4 of them without feeling bad, right? But seriously, I ate like 4 of them out of the oven. They are seriously addictive, tart and sweet, with a nice buttery crust. Luckily I gave the rest to AJ's boss (she loved them) so I didn't eat the whole pan.

Beautiful blocks of gold.

Lemony Lemon Bars

1 cup flour
1/4 cup confectioner's sugar
pinch salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold butter, cut into 1/2-in pieces

Lemon Filling
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup flour
4 eggs
2 tsp finely grated lemon juice
2/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
Confectioner's sugar, for dusting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9-in (I used a 8-in) square pan with overlapping foil.

For the crust, combine the flour, confectioner's sugar, and salt in the bowl of a processor. Add the butter in pieces and pulse until it resembles coarse meal. Scrape into the pan and press evenly onto the bottom. Bake until the crust is golden brown and thoroughly cooked, 18-20 minutes (17 minutes). Reduce the heat to 300 degrees.

For the filling, whisk the granulated sugar and flour in a medium bowl. Whisk in the eggs, one at a time, until smooth. Stir in the lemon juice and zest.

Pour the filling onto the still-warm crust. Bake for 20-25 minutes (25-30 minutes for 9-in pan), until the filling sets and no longer jiggles in the middle. Cool completely in the pan on a rack. Gently lift out the foil liner and transfer to a board. Cut into small squares using a sharp knife. Dust with confectioner's sugar just before serving. (I dusted them before cutting them).

Thursday, January 21, 2010

When life hands you meyer lemons you make Lemon Loaf

Look at the beautiful lemon glaze.

Recently I have been on a lemon kick. But not just any lemon will do. I am in love with the meyer lemon, something I only first tasted after I moved to California. If temperate climate and beautiful landscapes haven't convinced me to stay, the meyer lemon may have tipped the scales.

Meyer lemons were brought over to the U.S. from China in 1908 by Frank Nicholas Meyer, a Department of Agriculture employee. Since then, they have been widely grown in California. The meyer lemon is thought to be a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange. This fruit is more golden in color than your typical lemon and bears a sweeter and brighter flavor.

Golden orbs of goodness

I have been buying mine at our local farmers' market, but I have seen them at Whole Foods and Safeway as well. With a bunch of meyer lemons staring at me yesterday, I began looking for a good recipe. My mother gave me the Barefoot Contessa Parties! book last Christmas, and I found a lovely recipe for lemon loaf.

I pulled out all of the ingredients: the flour, sugar, butter, milk, eggs, salt, leavening, vanila, and meyer lemons. I measured everything out and mixed together the dry ingredients, including the zest. Zesting meyer lemons is a pain in the butt, because their skin is softer and thinner than regular lemons. It actually becomes more of a paste. I creamed the butter and the sugar. I mixed together the milk, lemon juice, and vanilla. I alternated the dry with wet ingredients, forming a lovely batter. Everything was going swimmingly, until I read that I was supposed to make a syrup with lemon juice and sugar. Oops! I added a 1/4 cup extra sugar and 1/4 cup extra juice. At that point it was too late, so I scooped the batter into a pan and popped it in the oven. 50 minutes later it was done.

Lemon Loaf

I decided against the syrup, and instead just made a simple glaze with lemon juice and confectioner's sugar. The cake was delicious. Extremely moist with wonderful lemon flavor. The glaze gave it a little crunch. I brought it into work and it was gone before 10am! I will have to try the recipe as it was originally written, but it is safe to say that my "tweaks" to the recipe worked well.

Lemon Loaf Cake
Barefoot Contessa (my notes in parentheses)

1/4 lb unsalted butter
1 1/4 cup sugar
2 extra large eggs
2 tbsp lemon zest (or as much as you can get from 5 meyer lemons)
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/8 cup meyer lemon juice
3/8 cup milk (I used 1% milkfat)
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

1 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease one 8 1/2 x 4 1/4 x 2 1/2 inch loaf pan. Cream the butter and 1 cup of the sugar (I used 1 1/4 cups) until light and fluffy (about 5 minutes). Add the eggs one at a time, mixing on medium speed.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and the zest. In another bowl combine 1/8 cup of lemon juice (I used 3/8), milk, and vanilla. Add the flour and the milk mixtures alternately to the batter, beginning and ending with flour. Pour batter into the pan and bake for 45-60 minutes (I baked mine for 50 minutes).

(I IGNORED THIS PART) Combine 1/4 cup sugar with 1/4 cup lemon juice in a small sauce pan and cook over low heat until sugar dissolves. When the cake is done let cool ten minutes. Spoon the syrup over the cake. Allow the cake to cool completely.

(I USED THIS GLAZE) Combine lemon juice and sugar and mix until smooth. Pour glaze over cooled cake.