Thursday, May 6, 2010

Hatching a Baby Lemon Square

baby Annie with (skinny) lemon loving dad, circa 1975
Those three daily doses (or more) of chocolate throughout my pregnancy were as necessary as prenatal vitamins.  Or so I suggested to my doctor.  My impossibly curly hair frizzed at just the whisper of the word humidity and  I couldn’t stand the sight of lemons (or fish) for those nine months.  The extended in-law family of lemon lovers were kind enough to accommodate me, but barely. 
The first clue that DNA has a sense of humor was when the child was born 4 weeks late with a full head of stick straight dark hair and needed her bangs cut so we could see the color of her eyes (brown).
But that crazy genetic lottery surely had the last laugh.   The chocolate addicted, frizzy-haired 19-year-old new mom gave birth to a child who  loved lemon as much, or more than her grandparents and father.   Sure, the child still enjoys chocolate and will swill it alongside her mother with gusto.  But, through the DNA roulette, we had apparently hatched an 8 pound lemon loving baby.  She arrived into this world craving all things lemon.
Little Annie would sit in her high chair, impatient for dinner to arrive.  We peppered her with appetizers, cheerios or tiny pieces of fruit and veggies.   The child threw all those unfortunate morsels on the floor.  Minus a dog to clean it up, that certainly got old.  One day, at the lemon loving in-laws there was a bowl of (oh, do guess) lemons on the table in front of the child.  The baby pointed and grunted until some obliging adult who would not be me, gave her a lemon.  A whole lemon.
It was difficult for me to look both amused and scowl at the same time.  I couldn’t believe they gave her a lemon and thought it was cute.  She rolled it around for a bit and then with that special look in her eye that only a mother knows, and before I could grab it from her hands, she shoved the whole thing into her mouth and bit down.  I expected a cacophony of unhappy screaming to ensue, but before I could reach her highchair, she was grinning, giggling and biting the thing again.  The other adults clapped with unrestrained glee for the tiny heir apparent.  I stood there stunned.  How in the world could a 6-month-old like the taste of lemon?  She continued to bite down with the few teeth she possessed until a hole was drilled in the lemon and juice started squirting out. Everywhere.
My mother in law cut the beleaguered lemon into fistful sized wedges and the heir apparent grandbaby grabbed as many as she could in her tiny fat fists.  She gummed those wedges until her lips were puckered, cooing and giggling the entire time.  Her clothes were bleached where the juice dripped, and she was totally pickled by the time I removed her from the highchair. 
The stuffy professor family was all too dignified to high five one another.  Instead they did that head nodding thing at one another with a look that said – we’re so proud!  She’s got the right genes after all!  Smiling at the chocolate loving daughter-in-law, I knew they were calculating the odds of whether the next dessert at our house would be lemon or chocolate.  The smile, of course, was because they figured lemon to be the odds on winner.
That same fateful evening, my mother-in-law whipped up lemon squares.  I never used to enjoy those lemon squares because I swear she always left out the sugar.   She, on the other hand, swears that there is sugar in them.   Does a teaspoon count?
I drew a line at other lemon surprises though, and the family was considerate enough, most of the time, to not cross it.  I got used to lemon bits in the strangest places, like yellow cake, on top of fresh berries and in every single frozen dessert.   Apparently farm fresh strawberries were too sweet for my mother-in-law?
Those first few years I worked hard to impress my in-laws by bringing them lemon pie once in a while.   But as time flew by, and we all got a little older, some of us (read: me) got a little more acquainted with lemons and branched out from lemon pie.   I discovered a lemon square recipe that is actually tart enough to suit my mother- in-law’s palate yet sweet enough for me if I use Meyer lemons.
Since I know that the first thing Grandpa asks for is lemon pie when he arrives, I will happily make him some Meyer Lemon Squares next time they visit.
The child eventually moved on from cooing to talking.  Backle was Annie’s first word.  Which I am sure when translated from baby-speak, meant apple.  However, some people in the family still insist it means lemon. 
Sadly, the adult version of the child breaks out with hives after eating lemon wedges.   No need to be disappointed.  I hear they hide the bowls of lime wedges at the bars she frequents in the French Quarter.  Apparently, limes wedges are the new lemon.
However, please don’t tell her grandmother.
These lemon squares are a gluten free adaptation of an Emeril Lagasse recipe.  They are made with a lot of butter.  Rich and delicious, perhaps they should be called butter lemon squares?  But whatever you call them, they are fantastically perfect for the lemon loving in-laws.
Gluten Free Meyer Lemon Squares
(Adapted from Emeril Lagasse, 2004)
  • 1.5 sticks of unsalted butter cut into small chunks
  • 1.5 cups gluten free flour without any cornstarch (or regular flour) plus 2 tablespoons
  • ¼ teaspoon each xanthan & guar gum  (if using gluten free flour)
  • ½ cup confectioners’ sugar (sifted so all the lumps are gone)
  • ¼ cup cornstarch
  • Pinch salt
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 and ¼ cups white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Meyer lemon zest
  • Generous 2/3 cup fresh Meyer lemon juice
  • ¼ cup cream
  • 1 tablespoon of lemon or other liqueur (I used orange and cherry)
In a food processor mix up the flour, gums, confectioners’ sugar, cornstarch, and salt.  Pulse to mix well.  Add the butter pieces and pulse until it looks like coarse cornmeal.
Prepare a 9x13 square baking pan by buttering the bottom and lining it with parchment paper which hangs over the sides (you will use that as a handle later to remove it from the pan.  Butter the parchment paper, too.  Drop in the coarse crumbs and press into the pan until it is solid.  It will seem fragile, but don’t worry about it.  Refrigerate it for about an hour.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees while it is chilling.   Bake for about 20 minutes until it is slightly brown. 
While the crust is in the oven, in a separate bowl, mix the sugar and lemon zest with your fingers until it is fully incorporated.  Let it sit for about 15 minutes to flavor the sugar.  To that mixture, add the eggs, 2 tablespoons of flour and mix well.  Add the lemon juice, cream and flavorings and mix well again.
When the crust is lightly brown, remove from the oven and mix the topping one more time. 
Straining the filling through a mesh strainer, pour it gently over the crust and put it back in the oven.  Bake at a reduced temperature, 325 degrees for about 20-25 minutes or just until the filling is set.  Cool completely and take a knife to loosen the edges.  Using the parchment paper, lift it out onto a cutting board carefully.  Cut into squares.  Top with additional, sifted powdered sugar when ready to serve.  While there are usually none, do refrigerate any stray leftovers.
grown-up Annie with lemon loving dad, circa now

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