Well this is a first - I've never posted any "baked goods" here before. Basically, this is because I don't bake! There are two very good reasons for that. The first is that anything I bake then needs to be eaten and, quite frankly, my hips just don't need that. The second reason is that really my baking is never any good and, since by definition you would expect "baked goods" to actually be good, I tend to leave any baking to be done to those who are infinitely more competent in that department than me.
I truly believe there is a gene for baking, and somehow I didn't get it. My Mum had it - her scones were legendary, and her 5-minute chocolate cake (light as air) was so popular it would disappear in about as many minutes. My Dad can also make a pretty mean batch of scones; does great Belgian biscuits, shortbread and steam pudding; and every year makes me a beautiful Christmas cake. But somehow in their coupling I got left out of the baking gene pool. Maybe, when two parents have the gene they cancel each other out. I dunno - whatever, I just didn't get it!
When I was at intermediate school (here in Kiwi-land that is for 11-12 year olds), the boys would get packed off once a week to the tool shed to do metal work and wood work, while the girls would do cooking and dressmaking . I can still remember my family recoiling in horror whenever any of my baking attempts were brought home for them to try - scones as heavy as bricks, and my scone making hasn't improved one bit over the years.
There is something about the science of baking that I just don't get - as for all that measuring and weighing - and there is something about baking recipes that always seems just a bit incomprehensible to me. I drool longingly over some of the sensational looking cakes, biscuits and pastries that I see out there in the blogoshpere, wishing that somehow the mysteries of the baking universe would reveal themselves to me. It's as though people who bake belong to some kind of "secret society" that I just can't break into.
That said, I really do try on occasion (I can hear my Dad now saying, "yes, you're very trying!! - he means it in the nicest possible way, of course). I've made fairly passable brownies from time to time and the odd fairly average banana cake. So it was that last weekend I decided to make a banana cake for my partner, banana being his favourite and it being a rather belated "birthday cake" ... and, surprisingly, it turned out ... well, good - not perfect, but good. But more about that in another post.
Anyway, all of that is a rather long-winded way of telling you that I got a bit of courage up after that effort, so when it came to choosing a dish this week for our last Bittman pot luck dinner over at I Heart Cooking Clubs, I felt I just had to bake something. I was pretty sure that I was going to have a go at his brownies, which a few of our participants had tried previously, until I was scrolling through the Brownies and Bars section of the "How to Cook Everything" application on my iPhone - there it was Gabrielle's Lemon Squares, and since I love anything lemony (at least as much anything chocolatey, maybe even more) I knew immediately that I had found what was to be my contribution.
Let me tell you that these are not just good - if you are a lemon lover, they are divine. The recipe is mostly straight forward, even for someone who is often confounded by baking recipes. Though there are a couple of instructions that bewildered me slightly. Firstly the recipe calls for making a kind of shortbread-like base and baking it (no problem with that), then a topping is mixed together, poured over the top and returned to the oven. The instructions say to "bake until firm on the edges but still a little soft in the middle". Now if that was a piece of meat I would know exactly what that should be like, but cake - I was wondering, "how far in from the edge should be firm?" "where does the edge finish and the middle begin?" "how soft is a "little soft"?" - you get the picture. Anyway to cut a long story short, I think I could have cooked mine a little bit longer and not had quite so much "soft in the middle", hence the reason why I've called them "sticky" lemon squares. That said the glory of these is that I don't think it matters too much - what you end up with here is a slice which has something like a shortbread base, a slightly chewy, cakey top, and a lemon curd filling - under-cooking it means that you just have a more gooey, curd-like filling, and that doesn't seem like such a bad thing.
The other instruction which is a little confounding to me is that the instructions say to store, covered and refrigerated, for up to 2 days - I'm not altogether sure what is going to happen to them in 2 days time. I understand keeping them in the fridge with the lemon curd centre, but since I'm the only one who'll be eating them around here I'm hoping they'll last a little longer than 2 days. Rest assured, though, these are exceptionally good, so if you have a few lemon-lovers in your house you might have trouble getting them to last till the second day.
I hope you'll give these a try - even if you don't have the baking gene, they are dead easy to make and maybe, like me, you'll feel inspired to try a little more baking.
Gabrielle's Sticky Lemon Squares Recipe
Adapted from Mark Bittman's
Click here for a printable copy of this recipe
For the base:
1 stick (113g) unsalted butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
For the topping:
1-1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
grated zest of 1 lemon
extra butter for greasing pan
icing sugar for dusting
Preheat your oven to 175 degrees C (350 degrees F), and grease an 8" (20cm) or 9" (22cm) square baking tin (I used an 8").
Cream together the butter, sugar and salt (I used the food processor for this, since I don't have an electric mixer). Then pulse in the flour - you will end up with a dryish mixture that resembles coarse, damp sand.
Press the mixture into the greased baking tin, and bake for up to 20 minutes, until it is just starting to turn golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly while you prepare the topping.
Beat together the eggs, lemon juice and sugar, until colour pales and mixture is slightly thickened. Add the flour, baking soda and lemon zest, and mix to combine. Pour the filling over the already baked crust, and bake until firm around the edges and still a bit soft in the middle - about 30 minutes.
Cool, dust with sifted icing sugar, and cut into squares.
Store covered, in the refrigerator, for up to 2 days.
Come on over to I Heart Cooking Clubs, and see what everyone else is bringing along to our pot luck dinner. Next week is our last week of cooking with Mark Bittman, and then the following week we begin six months of cooking with Giada de Laurentiis.
This post is also submitted to the Tackling Bittman Giveaway at girlichef - she's giving away a copy of Bittman's "The Food Matters Cookbook" - entries are open until 31 January.
I'm also giving this post a second lease on life by sharing it at Sweet New Zealand. This is a monthly blog event created by the very sweet Alessandra Zecchini, and which I am pleased to be hosting this month over here. This is an opportunity for all Kiwi bloggers (whether you are living in New Zealand or overseas), as well as for non-Kiwi bloggers living in New Zealand, to connect and share some of those sweet treats from your kitchen. You may submit as many entries as you like, and old posts (just like this one) are fine too. You can find a round-up of the first month's special treats on this page of Alessandra's blog, and a round-up of last month's entries on this page of Alli's Pease Pudding blog. I hope you'll come back and visit me at the end of the month for a full round-up of all the entries.