Crunchy Lemon Squares
Squares of elegant lemon loveliness topped with sugary lemony crunch. I love cakes but I can’t stand those giant sicky-icky cakes smothered in over-sweetened icing and decorated like a fairground ride. I prefer small cakes and simple cake making, the kind that requires no icing skills. These lemon squares, like our Chocolate Orange Cake, are excellent for freezing, then defrosting whenever you fancy a small cake with a cup of tea. Put them in your lunch-box and take them to work. Wrap them in foil and put them in your bag to eat in secret when you’re in a café that only has those muffins with the consistency of a lump of bread that’s been fished out of the village duck pond. Eat them in secret. Eat them in the open. Share them or hoard them. Love them.
About the ingredients:
If you want you can use a little less sugar in the cake mixture or substitute some of the caster sugar with soft brown sugar. You can also substitute about 50g semolina/polenta for some of the flour, and then make your baking powder slightly rounded spoonfuls to compensate for the lack of raising agent in semolina. Using a bit of semolina gives the cake a slightly denser, almost sandy texture. I like it.
Don’t use vanilla essence. It’s nasty. The thick, gooey extract or vanilla bean paste seems expensive when you first buy it but it’s really concentrated and lasts ages.
Ingredients for about 16 little cakes:
- 175g softened butter (i.e. out of the fridge for about an hour)
- 250g caster sugar
- 250g self-raising flour
- 1½ teaspoons baking powder
- 3 eggs
- 6 tablespoons milk
- Grated rind of 1½ lemons
- Juice of 1 lemon
- Vanilla extract/paste – about ¼ teaspoon
Ingredients for the topping:
- Juice of 1½ lemons
- 175g granulated sugar
- Mixing bowl and wooden spoon/Electric mixer
- Lemon zester
- Lemon squeezer
- Cake tin measuring approximately 24cm square
- Baking parchment/greaseproof paper for lining
Preheat the oven to 180º.
Line the tin with baking parchment/greaseproof paper. The best way to do this is to cut the paper out about 4cm bigger than the tin, then fold all four sides over so that you have a folded square in the middle that’s the same size as the base of the tin. At each corner cut along one of the folded lines just the 4cm bit until you reach the corner of the base shape. This gives you a flap at each corner which you then tuck behind one of the sides when you put the paper in the tin.
When you zest the lemon, it’s great to use a little zester like the one in the picture. If you don’t have one of these, use a grater. But be sure that you only take the yellow zest and none of the bitter white pith. Beat the butter with the sugar until it’s pale and creamy. If you have an electric mixer then lucky you. If not, beat it with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs, milk, lemon zest, lemon juice and vanilla and beat a bit more. Add the flour and baking powder and beat a bit more. It should be the consistency of clotted cream.
Scrape it all into the prepared tin, make sure it’s pushed into the corners, smooth it a little bit (no need to make it super-smooth) and put it in the oven for about 30-40 minutes. You know it’s done because a) it’ll look and smell done b) the edges will be starting to shrink away from the paper c) if you stick a sharp knife into the middle it comes out clean.
Leave it in the tin to cool a little – only about 10 minutes.
Mix the sugar and lemon juice for the topping and spoon over the cake while the cake is still warm. The topping will all try to run into the edges and corners so keep scraping it back a bit to the middle. But inevitably more will be at the edges than in the middle and this doesn’t matter. It just means that the cakes won’t all be exactly the same, but what’s the point of homemade if it looks like it’s come out of a factory?
When the cake has cooled cut into 16 squares.