The only problem with working on new Beaufort books is the cake cravings.
Seriously. I know I often say my books should come with a cake warning (and a lovely writer friend once made one for me), but I also need to somehow warn myself before I start writing, I think. Maybe I could install a pop-up on my writing program that reads, Stop! You’re going to need cake! Just so I’m adequately stocked, you know.
Of course, I suppose I could do the whole willpower thing and actually not have cake, but I fail to see the appeal in that approach. Life is short. Cake is good. And (to paraphrase 30 Rock), if Kate Moss really thinks nothing tastes as good as skinny feels, she hasn’t tried a thick slice of soft, yellow cake, drenched with lemon drizzle brightness that cuts through the sugar like a taste of summer. Or a generous slab of blueberry-spiked almond cake, coconut sneaking about in the background while the blueberries create little, luminous explosions of juice, fancy and reassuring all at once. Or …
Wait – I’m starting to think the problem is less the writing and more me. I may have a small cake problem. Well, problem might be overstating things a bit. Fixation? Habit?
Eh. Cake is satisfying to make, delightful to eat, and, as we all know, vital for keeping investigative dragons happy.
And we all want to keep the dragons happy, right?
Right. And since I currently have a complete excess of lemons on the tree outside, it made sense to do a lemony type of recipe. Not to mention that lemon squares must have been at the back of my mind for a while, as Miriam has been doing a strong line in lemon bar-based distraction in the current work in progress.
So – lemon squares. Or bars. Which are not cake, but they’re not not cake, either. They’re certainly under the whole baked good umbrella, and it’s good to branch out.
Lemony Distraction Squares
For the base:
- 175g / 1 1/2 cups flour
- 50g / 1/2 cup desiccated coconut
- 85g / 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 140g / 5oz / 10-ish Tbsp cold butter
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 Tbsp milk (if needed)
For the topping:
- zest of 3 large lemons (ish – see notes)
- 175-200 g / 3/4-1 cup sugar (see notes)
- 25g / 3 Tbsp flour
- Smidge salt
- 200 mL / just under a cup of lemon juice (ish on this one too – see notes)
- 3 eggs
For the base:
Pre-heat oven to 180 C / 350 F. Line a square tin (mine’s 20×20 cm) with baking paper so that the ends poke up and you can use them to lift the bars out once done. A springform pan would probably work too, if it’s a good one with no big gaps, but pop it on a tray in case of leakage.
Combine the flour, coconut, sugar and salt, then rub in the butter and vanilla. You want it to look like biscuit crumbs, and to stick together lightly when you squeeze a handful. Add the milk if the mix isn’t behaving itself. (You can use a food processor-type thing for this to make life easier, but don’t over-process it, as the butter might get too soft. If it does, just squish it into the pan as below, then pop it in the fridge for 15 minutes before baking.)
Tip your mix into your lined pan, smooth it all out, then press it down. Really smoosh it in there – you want to give it a bit of structural integrity, and you’re not expecting any rise, so get a bit bossy with it. Hit it a few times with a spoon so it knows to stay put.
Bake for 10-15 minutes – you want it to be juuust getting a bit of colour, and for the centre to still be a tad soft but not too much so. Get your topping done while you wait (the instructions for that are below).
Whip the base out of the oven, turn the oven down to 160C / 325F, and immediately top your base with the lemony goodness.
For the topping:
Whisk your lemon zest, sugar, flour and pinch of salt in a medium bowl.
In a separate bowl, whisk eggs and lemon juice together, then sieve them into the dry ingredients. This gets rid of any stray seeds and the goopy eggy bits that are a bit gross.
Whisk topping together, tip onto the still-hot base (it’s going to be SUPER liquid – this is fine, and also why you want a tray underneath if you’re using a springform pan), and get the whole lot back into the oven straightaway.
Bake for 15-25 minutes, or until juuust set in the centre. You want a little bit of a jelly-ish wobble still, and not for it to be completely set. Timing is really going to depend on your oven, so just keep checking it.
Cool completely in the tin before slicing – eat as-is, or get a bit fancy and dust it with icing sugar, then serve with some crème frâiche or fresh cream on the side.
Makes … I dunno. It depends how big you slice it? I get 16 nice little squares out of my tin if I’m feeling that way inclined, or 9 generous dessert-sized slabs.
- This is a pretty flexible recipe. I love super-tart lemon (as in, these are almost eye-twitch territory), so I tend to drop the sugar down and use all the lemon juice and zest. If you’re less into serious tartness, up the sugar to the 200g mark, substitute some of the lemon juice for water, and use less zest. You could leave the eggs out initially and mix everything else (start with less lemon and 175g sugar), then taste it and adjust to your liking. Just remember the eggs will take the edge off a bit when you add them.
- Want more coconut? Sprinkle some on top for the last 10 minutes or so of cooking (if you mix it with a whisked egg white it’ll stick better).
- Not a fan of coconut? Swap out for ground almonds instead, or even use cornmeal or polenta to keep it neutral.
- Use what you’ve got! Mix up your citruses, or do an orange and almond, or lime and coconut – make it yours. Just remember that other citruses will need less sugar, and if you use ready-squeezed juices I have no idea what will happen. This is best made with the fresh stuff.
And how’s that for a ‘recipe’? I sort of feel I should call it Lemon Square Vague Guidelines rather than a Lemon Square Recipe … But this is also how I cook, even when I have a recipe in front of me. Because I just can’t leave well enough alone, and although it doesn’t always quite work, it’s always edible, so I refuse to learn my lesson.
So there. 😉
Tell me lovely people – what’s your cooking style? Organised and deliberate, reckless inventiveness, or somewhere inbetween? Let me know below, and if you try the lemon bars I’d love to know how they come out and what your thoughts are!