Lemon Squares from Hoppin’ John’s Charleston, Beaufort & Savannah
These are very old-fashioned lemon squares, made with real lemon curd and shortbread. Citrus trees were popular in eighteenth century Charleston gardens; on some of the plantations the owners built orangeries to protect the trees from occasional winter freezes. The Meyer lemon, a large sweet variety, is a favored variety today for courtyard gardens. Though shunned by commercial growers because it carries a disease that damages other citrus, Meyer lemons are large, sweet, and juicy. Use them for this dessert if you can find them.
The semolina or rice flour is added for texture, per old Scottish recipes. If you use rice flour, it should be a fairly coarse, natural product, not the processed Southeast Asian type.
2 or 3 lemons (or 1 large Meyer lemon)
5 large egg yolks
1 cup sugar, well sifted
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour, well sifted
1/4 cup semolina or rice flour
Confectioners’ sugar (optional)
Grate the zest from 2 lemons onto a sheet a wax paper and set aside. Squeeze 1/3 cup of lemon juice into a measuring cup. If you don’t have 1/3 cup, squeeze juice from another lemon. In the top of a double boiler or in a wide stainless-steel bowl that will fit over a saucepan, beat the egg yolks with the lemon juice and zest and 3/4 cup of the sugar. Save the wax paper.
Put the bowl over simmering water and whisk the mixture until it is very thick and light in color, about 7 minutes. Remove from the heat and gradually beat in one of the sticks of butter, a little at a time. The mixture should be very shiny and smooth. Set aside while you make the shortbread.
Preheat the oven to 325o. Cream the remaining stick of butter and 1/4 cup sugar together with the salt in a mixing bowl. Add the flour and the semolina or rice flour and mix well. Turn the mixture out into an 8-inch square baking pan and cover with the wax paper. Press evenly into the pan, then remove the wax paper.
Bake for 20 minutes, then remove from the oven. Add the lemon curd and bake another 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and place on a rack to cool completely before cutting into 16 2-inch squares. Dust with confectioners’ sugar if desired.
Makes 16 squares.