Julie’s Lemon Squares

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From The Savannah Cookbook by Damon Lee Fowler

Lemon squares are popular all over America, and Savannah is no exception. They’re an indispensable element for many of our picnics and buffet parties, especially when the dessert needs to be bite-size and finger-friendly yet rich and elegant. Every local caterer makes them, and nearly every Savannah hostess has a prized recipe, but none of them can make them quite like my friend Julie Hooper.

Ingredients
For the shortbread crust:
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 cups all-purpose flower
Salt
1 cup or 2 sticks salted butter, softened

For the custard filling:
4 eggs, well beaten
2 cups sugar
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 2 large or 3 medium lemons)
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Instructions
1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Make the shortbread crust: Sift together the powdered sugar and flour and a pinch of salt. Work the flour into the butter with your fingers, or begin by cutting it in with a pastry blender, and then finish it with your hands until the butter is evenly incorporated and the dough is crumbly but uniform and holds together when your press a lump in your hand. (The initial cutting-in can be done in the food processor. Process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, and then finish it by hand.) Clean your hands, and press it evenly over the bottom of a 9 x 13-inch sheet cake pan. Prick the dough at even intervals with a fork. Bake in the center of the oven until the edges are golden brown and the top is beginning to color, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool slightly.

2. To make the custard filling, stir together the eggs, sugar, optional lemon zest, and juice. Sift the flour and baking power over it, and stir until smooth and lump-free. Pour it evenly over the crust, return it to the oven, and bake until the custard is set, about 25 minutes.

3. Cool completely, and then sift powdered sugar evenly over the top. The squares usually pull away from the sides of the pan as they cook, but if they don’t, run a thing, sharp knife around the edge of the pan, and cut evenly into 1 1/2- to 2-inch squares.

Makes about 3 dozen.

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