Whole lemon squares

This classic recipe has a sweet-tart tanginess from fresh lemons with a firm filling.

The Runaway Spoon
Lemon squares sprinkled with confectioners' sugar are the perfect go-to treat for school functions and family events.

My mom made great lemon squares. I say did, because she just doesn’t do it anymore. They were her go-to for a take-along treat for school events and family functions, and a special treat for us.

But one time, when she had volunteered to bring lemon squares to one of my elementary school field trips, shortly before the scheduled date, she broke her leg and was completely laid up. She worried about those squares, and insisted that my dad and I make them the night before. My dad was a very good cook, and I was getting there, but we made a complete mess of it. The lemony filling never set up, so our cookie base turned hard as a rock. We even tried a second batch to equally disastrous results. I can’t remember how Dad remedied the situation (probably stopped at the bakery on the way to school), but the experience scared me off of lemon squares for many a year.

I make a wonderful Blender Lemon Pie that’s uses a whole lemon, peel and all, to great results. Its an old community cookbook recipe, so when I ran across a recipe for lemon squares using whole lemons in another community cookbook, I worked up my courage to try again. And then they became a sort of go-to for me as well. My mom even asks me to make them for her. This version has all the sweet-tart tanginess of classic lemon squares, but not the wobbly texture from a filling that uses more eggs. This method takes a lot of guesswork out of the baking and yields easily perfect results.

As with the Blender Lemon pie, the lemons are best with a thin skin, which can be kind of hard to tell when buying them. Too much white pith makes the filling bitter. Look at the pointy end of the lemon – if it’s very elongated, there is likely to be a thick skin. If the skin feels tough and hard, as opposed to having some give when you press on it, it’s likely to be thick. You can poke through with your fingernail to see what you’re looking at. Buy a couple of lemons with appropriate skins. Cut into them and use the thinnest skinned one.

Whole lemon squares
Makes 16 squares

2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) of butter, softened
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 medium lemons
4 eggs
2 cups granulated sugar, divided
1 teaspoon baking powder
confectioners’ sugar for sprinkling

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9- x 13-inch brownie pan with parchment paper.

2. Place 2 cups of the flour, the confectioners’ sugar, the butter, and the salt in the bowl of a mixer and blend until combined but crumbly. Scatter the crumbs in the bottom of the prepared pan and press evenly into a uniform crust.

3. Bake for 20 minutes until firm and golden in places.

4. Cut each lemon into eighths and pop out all the seeds. Drop the lemon pieces in a blender and add 2 eggs and 1 cup of the sugar. Blend until smooth and the lemons are pureed, then add the remaining 2 eggs and 1 cup of sugar, 1/4 cup of flour and the baking powder and blend until completely smooth, scraping down the sides of the carafe if needed.

5. Pour the filling over the crust in an even layer and return the pan to the oven. Bake for 20 minutes, until the filling is set and no longer jiggly in the center. Leave to cool for about 10 minutes, then sprinkle a thick layer of confectioners’ sugar through a sieve in an even layer over the bars.

6. When completely cool, lift the bars out of the pan using the parchment paper, then cut into squares. The bars will keep covered for up to a day. If not serving right away, I wait to cut them into squares and sprinkle some more confectioners’ sugar on before serving.

Related post on The Runaway Spoon: Lemon Blender Pie

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