Half Baked: Lemon Squares

Lemon, square

A confession: I don’t particularly revere the lemon square. I actually don’t think I’d ever even tried one until I made a batch out of curiosity after accidentally turning “lemon squares” into an Internet in-joke. I guess somewhere along the way I got the impression that the lemon square was seen as a childhood delicacy bestowed upon apple-cheeked ten-year olds who loved their stay-at-home moms, which was why I chose it as the quote-unquote peace offering during an era of terrible conflict.

I’m pretty sure I needn’t tell you that I was not an apple-cheeked ten-year-old. But it’s okay, because I’m pretty sure most of you weren’t either. And that’s why you’re my people.

I’ve grown to love the lemon square-and here I’ll proffer another confession-because I get high off the praise and adoration I get when I show up with a batch of them. Maybe that’s a really sad thing to admit? If it is I feel certain you’ll let me know. [Yes. Yes it is. — Ed.]

I also actually enjoy the process of making them as well, because GOD THEY ARE SO EASY. A food processor and a bowl, and like, six ingredients, that’s pretty much all you need. Let’s do it.

Haul your food processor down from the top shelf. Glare it at, knowing that you’re going to have to wash its lid by hand, which is just so awkward and you never really feel like you’re getting it properly clean, because you live in a lillypad of an apartment with no dishwasher and maybe you should have made different choices so you could be married like all your friends, living in the suburbs with oversized, stainless steel appliances and expansive granite countertops on which to set out all the ingredients you’ll need for these baking jags you go on and a farmhouse kitchen table from Pottery Barn where you can sit reading the new Barbara Kingsolver while the base for the lemon squares cools, occasionally sipping from a glass of wine. Then remember that you hate the suburbs and Pottery Barn furniture, find the level of commitment marriage requires ill-suited to your need for independence, and haven’t read Barbara Kingsolver since high school. Wine is still good, though! Pour yourself a glass, throw a few ice cubes in it, and thank God that you live in New York with your weird collection of friends and a 24-hour deli at the end of your block for those emergency rolling paper runs at 1 a.m. Steady yourself.

Measure 2 cups of flour and a half cup of confectioners’ sugar (we all remember what kind that is, right class? Well done! Gold stars for everyone!) into the bowl of your processor. Cut two sticks of butter into small pieces and add them to the flour and sugar. Put on the lid that caused you so much angst and lock it in place. Pulse pulse pulse (isn’t pulsing just the greatest?! Gives me such a thrill!) until the mixture resembles a coarse meal, which is one of those terms you always hear in baking and are just like, “Who what now? When in my life have I ever been in contact with a ‘coarse meal’ to know what such a thing looks like?” But then somehow you actually always end up knowing exactly what coarse meal should look like, and knowing is half the battle, and maybe it’s not a bad idea to have a little more wine.

Turn the mixture out into a 9″x13″ pan or really whatever similarly sized baking pan you have around the house because when do you ever have the right sized pan and if you do have the right sized pan I don’t want to hear about it. I hope you appreciate your granite countertops and stainless steel appliances! How was the new Barbara Kingsolver?

Press the mixture into the pan so that the surface is even and bake at 350° for 20 minutes. The crust should be set and a very light golden color.

While the crust is baking, turn your attention to the filling. I know, you’ve been sitting here mouthing to one another, “Where’s the lemon? Do you think she got so wound up about Barbara Kingsolver that she forgot the lemon?”

I did not forget the lemon.

You’ll need a large bowl, into which you’ll put 4 eggs, 2 cups of sugar and a third of a cup of lemon juice (which should be about 1 lemon, but grab two when you’re at the grocery store just to be on the safe side. If you don’t use it for the dessert peel some of the rind and put a twist in your wine-with-ice! [Sure! You have already ruined the wine by putting ice in it, what difference will a twist make? — Ed.]) and beat them all together. With what shall you beat them, dear Liza? I mean, anything really: A handheld mixer, a whisk, that set of antlers from Urban Outfitters you’ve got hanging on your wall… it’s wide open! Once the eggs are beaten and the sugar thoroughly incorporated, stir in ¼ of a cup of flour and a half teaspoon of baking powder.

Now, you’re going to hate me for this next part because you’re Internet people and therefore are impatient and ADD and hopefully half drunk and here I am about to tell you that you need to WAIT. But yes, you need to let the crust cool COMPLETELY before you pour in the filling. Remember when I confessed that sometimes I stick melted butter in the fridge to cool even thought among proper bakers it’s probably anathema to do so? (You do!?! Gold stars for everyone!) Well right. I’m an impatient and ADD Internet person too! Who is definitely half drunk! So go on and stick that crust in the fridge to cool off, and when it’s ready pour the filling over the top. Back into the 350° oven for 25 minutes or until set.

Allow to cool completely (I know, sorry) before cutting into bars. You can -and should, because hi? What’s a lemon square without powdered sugar on top???-dust the squares with confectioners’ sugar before serving to the teeming masses of hungry admirers and basking in the adoration of people who, for just one fleeting moment, will make you feel like you’re the best thing to ever happen to them.

Jolie Kerr invites you to the very first Commenter’s Bawl at The Scratcher on 17 June at 7 PM. There will absolutely be lemon squares.