Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Sour Cream Lemon Squares

Right now it is citrus season everywhere but here (well at least it feels that way).

It's cold here. Too cold for citrus to grow. Lemon season is in the winter, but not the kind of winter that Canada gets - what fruitful plant could possibly survive the arctic deep freeze we're getting this year? I have one word to describe my feelings for this cold: NO!

Baking with lemon in the winter feels seasonal while bringing in some sunshine and a feeling of warmth to our table. This is my attempt at optimism when what I really want is sand, waves, the smell of charcoal and 28 degrees of sunny Celsius!

There's no better way to showcase lovely lemons than with creamy, tangy, sweet lemon bars! I have yet to meet someone who doesn't love these.

My twist? Sour cream. It adds richness and a silkier texture to the filling while also adding to the zip! If you like your lemon bars tangy, then this is the recipe for you.

The problem with making a really lemony, tart lemon square is that most people gravitate towards reducing sugar to let the sourness shine through. This makes sense, however, sugar not only contributes sweetness but it also has a function. Sugar binds moisture and interferes with protein coagulation to ensure a smooth and creamy filling. If you were to reduce the sugar by too much, then you'd risk having a coarse, almost curdled-like texture especially if over-baked even by the slightest. Sugar makes things moist! (remember that next time you consider reducing sugar in a recipe).

Using sour cream helps to enhance the sourness while also contributing fat which provides more insurance against curdling.

For most lemon-lovers, there is never enough lemon flavour. So, how do you get the most of your lemons into these squares?

You need to extract those essential oils in the lemon skin, namely limonene and linalool! Those two compounds are mainly responsible for the fresh, bright and floral flavours and aromas that we love so much about lemons, and they're often used in fragrances and cosmetics.

Here's what you need to do: add the lemon zest to the granulated sugar and rub it in with your fingertips. Really get in there and rub the zest throughout the sugar granules. The abrasive crystals will rupture the cell walls in the skin and release the oils which will then coat the sugar crystals nicely and disperse evenly throughout the filling. This is ultimate lemon flavour! It's like eating sunshine.

Stay warm.


Sour Cream Lemon Squares
makes 16 squares

For the Crust:
1 cup (142g) all-purpose flour 

¼ cup (30g) icing sugar, sifted 
1/8 tsp salt 
½ cup (113g) unsalted butter, slightly chilled and cut into small cubes 

For the Filling:
2 large eggs
2/3 cup (135g) granulated sugar
1 tbsp lemon zest
1/3 cup (75ml) fresh lemon juice
pinch of salt
¼ cup (60ml) sour cream 
4 tsp (12g) all-purpose flour
icing sugar for dusting (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F and line an 8-inch baking pan 
with parchment paper or grease a baking dish.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, icing sugar and salt and whisk to combine. Add butter and blend it into the flour mixture with your fingertips until it resembles coarse meal. Turn the mixture out into prepared pan and press it in an even layer using your hands. Bake for 20-23 minutes, until crust is lightly golden.

Meanwhile, prepare filling. In a small bowl, rub sugar together with lemon zest until fragrant. Add flour and salt and whisk to blend evenly. Lightly beat eggs in another medium bowl and slowly whisk in sugar and lemon juice until well blended. Do not beat because we don’t want to incorporate air into the mix. Stir in sour cream until smooth.

When base is ready, reduce oven temperature to 300°F and slowly pour filling over hot crust; return dish to oven and bake until filling is set, about 20-25 minutes. Do not over-bake or the filling will be rubbery instead of smooth and creamy. Cool completely in dish on wire rack, then cover and place in the refrigerator until chilled.

Carefully lift parchment to remove bars from dish and place on a cutting board. Cut into squares using a sharp knife and dust with powdered sugar just before serving. Store leftover bars in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to 5 days. 
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