I am a nurturer by nature. Growing up I was always eager to care and comfort those around me. Whether it was tucking my stuffed animals into their "beds" or reading my little brother his favorite books, I was quick to provide TLC to anyone in need. Now that I am older I nurture people with my cooking. When my friends need a lift I like to bring them food that is nourishing, bright in color and flavor, and puts a smile on their face. I call this happy food.
In the summer my favorite happy foods include stuffed strawberries, peach cobbler and lemon squares. These sweet treats are full of fruit flavors that are capable of putting just about anyone in a good mood. Last week I had a playdate with my friend Priscilla, the proud mother of two month-old Grace. I Naptime Chef-ed her a batch of my favorite lemon squares, they seemed just thing to bring a tired, but beaming, new mom.
One of the reasons I consider lemon squares to be happy food is because of their cheery yellow hue, and bright citrus taste. I don't think anyone can eat a lemon square and feel bad afterward. Over the years I have tried a few (read: dozens) of lemon square recipes. I danced around several I thought were my favorite, and now have finally settled on one - Karen May's Lemon Squares from Park Avenue Potluck. This recipe is southern in origin and has been tweaked by Florence Fabricant herself so, trust me, it is damn good.
This best part about these squares is that the wonderful clear lemon flavor doesn't contain a hint of lip-puckering tartness. Their texture is soft and delicate, the soft buttery shortbread serving as the ideal backdrop for sweet lemon custard. They are also extremely easy to make while my daughter naps. I bake the shortbread crust first, then pour the lemon custard on top and bake it again. When the squares have cooled I polish them off with a dusting of confectioners' sugar because I like the way it looks. Every time I give these to people I get a request for the recipe. They are happy food at it's best, and I am always pleased to spread the smiles.
Karen May's Lemon Squares
adapted from Park Avenue Potluck (Rizzoli 2007)
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
2 c., plus 4 T. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. confectioners' sugar, more for dusting
2 c. sugar
1 t. baking powder
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
6 T. lemon juice* (about 3 lemons)
3 t. grated lemon zest (about 2 lemons)
*Use Meyer lemons when available
1. Preheat oven to 350. Lightly butter a 9x13 baking dish and set aside.
2. In a mixture blend butter, 2 c. flour and confectioners' sugar. Once ingredients are combined, press dough into the bottom of the baking dish. Make sure it is flat across and tightly packed. Bake for 20 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from oven and cool. Keep oven turned on!
3. In a bowl, mix together 4 T. flour, granulated sugar and baking powder. Add eggs, stir to combine. Add lemon juice and zest, mix again. Pour mixture onto cooled crust. Bake for 30 minutes, or until set.
4. Once squares have cooled, dust with confectioners' sugar, cut and serve.
Naptime Recipe Props: It is hard to go wrong with the recipe, it is so easy to make. I have also used the shortbread base for other baked goods, it is the perfect crust for almost any baked good.
Naptime Stopwatch: It takes less than 20 minutes to make the lemon square batter, making it perfect for Naptime Chef-ing. They will be completely baked by the time your child wakes up! Naptime Reviews: Everyone loves these lemon squares, especially in the summer. I have never had a batch last me more than a one day at home.