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Wednesday, 23 December 2015 03:52

Holiday squared: treats have multiple functions

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“Go ahead and take them home. If you don’t, they’ll just go to waste.”


And that’s how it happens — 10,000 calories worth of pastry shop trimmings meet an individual, sometimes collective, lack of Christmastime willpower. All because of some gooey lemon filling and shortbread crust.
Or pecans nestled in buttery sugar and more shortbread.
Or gingerbread slices, Turtles squares, or peppermint ganache bars.
Squares of sticky chocolate. Squares of coconut and condensed milk. Squares made with crunchy sugared almonds, or dates and crumble. Squares to tempt the most abstemious among us, adding flabby flotation devices around our middles, and later driving the industries that profit from New Year’s resolutions.
That, however, is a matter for next week.
Meanwhile, ’tis still the season of indulgence. And if baking at home is fraught with pitfalls, such as batter bowls and beaters that need to be licked clean before washed, having access to a professional pastry shop is the next circle of temptation.
When the mixing bowl belongs to a hotel or catering kitchen, you see, chefs from the savoury side of the prep table tend to flock to the scraps like pigeons to bread crumbs.
And because Chefhusband likes to bring goodies home to Chef’s wife, whose December evenings grow long on account of so many Christmas parties, I do not get an exception.
This is how it works:
Before squares become squares, they are baked in sheets that, for the sake of uniform cuts, have an inch of edge trimmed on all sides. All those cuttings, not pretty enough for presentation, are very nearly as delicious the centre cuts.
There are only two ways to dispose of them.
(Three, really, but the third is an industry secret and I’ve been sworn.)
One: They are scraped into the rubbish bin.
Two: They are fobbed of on co-workers.
From there, they are dusted with confectioners’ sugar and smuggled home in doggie bags. They are shared with friends and family to become cookie fingers at coffee time. Or snacks while gift wrapping. They become rewards for surviving the mall and postal lineups. And sugary sedatives for post-family-reunion syndrome.
In short, they are the every-prescription, and pastry chefs are their pushers.
 
Lemon Squares (makes 2 dozen)
3/4 cup butter, frozen
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
 
for the filling:
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 tbs all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp kosher salt
3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 4 lemons)
zest of one lemon
1/4 cup Half & Half
 
Prepare a 9 by 13-inch glass baking dish by buttering it, then lining it with parchment paper. Smooth the parchment into the butter to seal it.
To make the crust, grate the frozen butter using a box grater with large holes. Place back into freezer. Meanwhile, whisk together flour and confectioners’ sugar. Add frozen, grated butter, and stir with a fork until mixture is crumbly and evenly combined.
Transfer crust mixture to the prepared dish. Press crumbs into the bottom with the flat bottom of a measuring cup. Place in freezer for 15 minutes, then into a 350F oven for 18 minutes, until barely golden.
Meanwhile, make the filling.
Whisk together eggs, sugar, flour and salt until smooth. Whisk in lemon juice, zest and Half & Half. Pour over baked crust.
Reduce oven temperature to 325F and bake for about 25 minutes, until filling is set and edges are golden. Set on a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes, then lift from pan using overlapping parchment, and allow to cool completely on wire rack.
Using a sharp chef’s knife dipped in a cup of hot water, trim (and eat...I dare you not to) edges (wiping clean and reheating knife for each cut). Cut the rest into 24, 2-inch squares. Dust with more confectioners’ sugar. Store, refrigerated, in a single layer inside an airtight container. Will keep up to 3 days.
Baker’s notes: Lay sheet of parchment so it overlaps on both lengthwise sides. This will help you lift the baking later. Leave the widthwise sides buttered only.
 

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