Sunday, September 12, 2010

Lemony Long Weekend

Lemons are a fantastic fruit.  I don't think I'd drink so much water if it weren't for the addition of a wedge of this citrus to liven things up.  I've been keeping lots of them in the house for both my H2O and for impromptu hummus cravings... it was only a matter of time before the full-blown lemon lust hit.

I decided, over the Labour Day long weekend, to whip up a batch of my mother's famous Lemon Gems.  These are a huge family favourite, popular around Christmastime; a shortbread base infused with grated zest, and then an egg-based lemon curd on top.  They're so light and refreshing after the loads of heavy chocolate-and-nut based Christmas goodies, and they (blessedly) fall under the category of "baked goods that will NOT kill Ni", owing to their nutlessness.  But what makes them "famous"?  The reaction of a certain Windsor physician to these little treats.  I'll give you the recipe first, then the story!

Lemon Gems
From my fantastic mother (not sure where she got it, originally)

Makes one 9" x 13" slab

  • 2 and 1/3 cups unsifted all purpose flour                       
  • 2 cups sugar                                                                       
  • 1 tsp. grated lemon peel                                               
  • 1 cup softened butter (or margarine)
  • 4 eggs
  • ½ cup fresh lemon juice (so help me if you use that bottled ReaLemon stuff.  Buy yourself some fruit and squeeze it.  You need it for the zest anyway!!)
  • ½ tsp double acting baking powder
  1. Preheat oven to 350ºF.   
  2. In a medium bowl, combine 2 cups of the flour, ½ cup of the sugar and the lemon peel.  Cut butter in until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Pat crumbs evenly in a 13x9 inch baking pan lined with buttered parchment paper.  Bake 20 to 25 minutes until lightly browned.   
  3. Meanwhile, in blender (or in a bowl with an immersion blender, as I did in the pic above), combine eggs, remaining flour, remaining sugar, lemon juice and baking powder.  Cover and blend for 5 seconds.  Scrape down sides of container and blend another 5 seconds.   
  4. Pour topping over partially baked crust.  Bake 20 to 25 minutes more or until lightly browned.   
  5. Cool in pan.  Cut into diamonds or squares.  Yield 30 large or 60 small.

Mom likes to cut these into diamond shapes, but then you run into the issue of having oddly-shaped "half-diamonds" around the outside of the pan.  So, for me, I cut them into right-angled isosceles triangles.  I can feel the trigonometry teacher that gave birth to me just beaming in pride at both my baking and geometry skills!
Par-baked lemon shortbread crust, ready for topping.  Y'know, you could probably double the recipe for the crust, bake it a little longer, and have a fantastic shortbread on it's own.
Completed bars, with the characteristic white, crackly, bubbly top layer (probably owing to that baking powder).
Gratuitous up-close cross-section!  The Omega-3 eggs I used in the filling had yolks that were almost orange; it helped the filling achieve that gorgeous sunny yellow colour
I promised you a story.  First, some background.  You may have surmised by this point that we do a lot of Christmas baking in our house.  Legend has it that my mother, shortly after marrying my father, managed to get into my family doctor's already over-large family practice by bringing the receptionists a plate of home-baked Christmas goodies.  He ended up with more new patients than he bargained for, once my three sibs and I were born.  Fast-forward about twenty years.  I'm waiting in the lobby of my doc's office for a routine check-up, and in walks a younger carbon-copy of the good doctor.  I had heard that his son, now a chiropractor, was sharing the clinic space with him... clearly, this would be none other than that son.


Here's the funny bit.  He takes one look at me, and a look of recognition crosses his face (though I'm sure we've never met before).  He walks right over and says, "Excuse me, but are you a <insert family name>?"  I was a bit surprised, but confirmed that, yes, I was a member of that family.  He breaks out into this HUGE grin and says, "Your mother is the one that makes those lemon square thingies!!".  Um... again, I confirm his suspicions.  He then proceeds to tell me how, every year since he was young, he looked forward to his father bringing home my mother's annual plate of Christmas goodies so that he could eat all of these lemon gems.  He spoke of them with such fondness that I offered to forward him the recipe... but apparently he was happy to have it be a special once-a-year treat.  It was so funny, touching, and just a little bewildering how baked goods could have such an impact on someone.  Though, I recently heard a similar story from Hubs and my insurance broker.  She to this day misses the baked goods that my future mom-in-law used to give to her husband near Christmas as a thank you for being such a good guitar teacher to Hubs.  Funny how baking can really leave fond memories!

Looking forward to making fond memories of my own (mostly for my happy-to-be-taste-tester coworkers),

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