Lemon Squares

Lemon Squares

Time for more excitement from the Cooky Book! I have to admit, after watching all three available seasons of The Great British Baking Show, I now feel as though my baking prowess is absolutely nothing. Now, if I can just get that stand mixer I want so bad, maybe I could change that... 

News Flash! GBBO is leaving the BBC and Sue and Mel aren't going with it! BREAK OUT THE PETITIONS! GET THE FAN MACHINE ROLLING! We can NOT let this happen!

Ooof. Okay, all, today's Cookybook post is a recipe that actually needs a little 2016 TLC to get it just right. You know what the bake is already thanks to the title. A perennial summertime favorite for many - the lemon square! This bar cookie has a sweet, shortbread-like bottom crust, a gel-like lemon topping that crisps a bit on the top, covered in powdered sugar. These are nice, light, refreshing little treats perfect for the summer or anytime, really. 

My love for lemon everything came from my father. Lemon Meringue Pie was a staple at every family holiday dinner. The only problem was that my dad and I were the only ones in the family who had a love affair with lemon, so this particular Cooky Book recipe did not get made when I was a kid. The first time I made it was a test batch a few months ago. 

I found the recipe to be slightly wanting. Original recipe below.


Lemon Squares

A treat for Ellen Weseloh's sisters and brother! 

1 cup Gold Medal Flour
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
2 eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. lemon juice

Heat oven to 350º (mod.). Measure flour by dipping method (p. 5) or by sifting. Blend flour, butter, and confectioners' sugar thoroughly. Press evenly in square pan, 8x8x2". Bake 20 min. Beat rest of ingredients together. Pour over crust and bake 20 to 25 min. more. Do not overbake! (The filling puffs during baking but flattens when cooled.) Makes 16 squares. 
Note: If you use Gold Medal Self-Rising Flour, omit baking powder and salt.


Right, so there are many things wrong with this recipe. Don't get me wrong, if you follow the recipe as-is, you'll do just fine. It's just not entirely clear on a few things, and could stand for some modern additions. Betty Crocker has already done that for us, with a more modern version of the recipe in Luscious Lemon Squares. My bake was a combination of the two recipes plus some of the advice given. I'll go over the pieces, tell you what they add, then give you my final recipe. 

1. Lemon Peel

It makes me feel terribly unsophisticated to admit this, but whenever someone suggested something with lemon peel or lemon zest (really the same thing) in it, I made a face. Yuck. Who wants to eat the rind? When I saw the suggestion to add it in the new recipe (it's optional), I figured I'd give it a try. I did a little research to make sure I was doing it right, and it turned out well. The peel adds a tiny bit of chewiness, and it mellows out the flavor all together. It also adds a bit to make the lemon filling more yellow. But, we'll talk about color soon... 

The recipe calls for two teaspoons, which I find is about what you can get off a large lemon. That's also about the size lemon needed for the 2 tablespoons lemon juice. I recommend squeezing fresh, not getting one of those lemon-shaped bottle things filled with lemon juice you sometimes find in the produce section. I added a touch more than two teaspoons just because I found I really liked having the peel in tests I did. 

When choosing your lemons at the store, pick one that has a bright, yellow color, a smooth glossy skin (not bumpy), and are heavy for their size. They should be firm, but tender. Too hard, and your lemon is under-ripe or shriveled up on the inside. Too soft or wrinkled, and your lemon is overripe.

Here's how to grate a lemon: 

  1. Wash the lemon thoroughly with soap and water. Most are coated in wax before they're shipped to avoid getting bumped and bruised in transit. 
  2. A small hand grater (shown above) works great for this. You want your peel to be grated very finely. 
  3. Rub the lemon along the grater to grate the peel. Do this before you cut the lemon to juice it so you have something to hold onto, and try not to grate your fingers (something I failed at during the bake where this shoot was done). 
  4. Stop before you get to the white part of the rind. This is super bitter and exactly the yucky tasting thing I was thinking of before I did this. You just want the yellow parts. 

2. Yellow Food Coloring

Lemon juice is not yellow - neither is really anything that goes into the lemon mixture save for the egg yolks. It comes out a light yellow color, but I really prefer my lemon bars to be really yellow to really get that pop of lemon. To get this, you just need to add a few drops of yellow food coloring (adding the peel helps, too). 

3. Powdered Sugar Dusting

I think maybe this was just an oversight with the original recipe. I can't imagine a lemon bar that hasn't been coated in powdered sugar. Shake some on with a sifter after your bars have cooled for a nice, sweet topping that also looks pretty. 

4. Clarifications

There are two things that bug the hell out of me in the original recipe. First, it says to beat the rest of the ingredients together. When a baking recipe calls for something to be beaten, that typically means with a mixer as opposed to hand mixing. In such cases, it's customary for the recipe to indicate at what speed and for how long you should beat the ingredients. This one just tells you to beat them. 

Secondly, it tells you not to overbake them, but doesn't tell you what they look like when they're baked just right so you'll know what overbaked means. Good grief. I remember as a girl daydreaming about making this recipe and getting blocked because I didn't know how long to beat it for, or what it meant to be overbaked. Of course, lack of clarity in a baking recipe should not deter you, don't learn the wrong lesson from my younger self. 

One must bake with complete and utter bravery, even when wandering into the unknown. 


The New Recipe - Lemon Squares Revised

1 cup Gold Medal Flour
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
2 eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. lemon juice (freshly squeezed)
2 tsp. grated lemon peel
4 drops yellow food coloring
powdered sugar

  1. Heat oven to 350ºF. 
  2. Mix flour, butter and powdered sugar. This will form a slightly crumbly dough. 
  3. Press the dough into an ungreased square pan - 8x8x2 or 9x9x2. Build up the edges slightly. 
  4. Bake crust for 20 minutes. It will not brown. 
  5. Beat granulated sugar, baking powder, salt, eggs, food coloring, lemon juice, and lemon peel with a mixer on high speed for about 3 minutes or until light and fluffy. 
  6. Pour mixture over hot crust. 
  7. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until no indentation remains when touched lightly in the center. It'll feel like a slightly hard crust over the top. 
  8. Cool; dust with powdered sugar. 
  9. Cut into squares. 

The dough that makes up the bottom cookie portion should come out a bit crumbly. It'll form into something closer like cookie dough as you press it into the pan. 

Yours may or may not be neater than mine, but it needn't be perfect. It's going to be all covered up in yummy lemony goodness soon enough, anyways. Pop it in the oven for twenty minutes. It doesn't brown or anything, so just pull it out once your 20  minutes are through. 

While that's happening, mix up the eggs, sugar, lemon juice, peel, soda, salt, and food coloring. I put about 6 drops in mine, and I think it was a little too yellow, so I'd scale yours back to around 4 if you're adding the peel (which again, I strongly recommend), and back up to 6 if you're too chicken to add the peel. 

Beat that with your mixer on high for three minutes or until it's all fluffy. I felt like mine could've used some more, but I stopped at three minutes. Now, pour all that over the crust you're about to pull out of the oven. 

No real trick to pouring it into the pan - it's pretty liquid. I tried to keep it off the very edges of the crusts, but I wasn't all that careful. Pop them back into the oven for about 25-30 minutes. They're done when your finger doesn't live an imprint in the middle - they form a bit of a crust - but, I found mine to be a little on the runnier side in the middle even with that bit of testing. 

After they come out, dust them with a layer of powdered sugar before carving them up. 

Enjoy! If you liked this shoot and recipe, and you like my blogging in general, please be sure to come by my Patreon and become a patron! Your patronage will help me be able to continue to blog about all my passions. :)

Gigi Hadid Represents

Gigi Hadid Represents

Cootie Catcher Random Tables

Cootie Catcher Random Tables