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Once upon a time (last year), I was at a family wedding in a bright and shimmery turquoise bridesmaid dress. And much against my better judgement, I ate a squidgy lemony shortbread thing covered in icing sugar, and an ill-timed snort of laughter sent the icing sugar all down my front (I managed to brush it off in the end, only to spill a cascade of chocolate truffle down it later in the day).
It was lovely, though, the lemony thing, despite the dress disaster. There was a layer of shortbread at the bottom, and a kind of lemon curd on top – but thicker than lemon curd, more like the lemon part of a lemon meringue pie. The curd had formed a crispy shell on top, on which sat the layer of icing sugar. Delicious. So I was utterly delighted when I stumbled across a church cookbook from 2005 and found that the author of these little masterpieces had donated the recipe (dear Kathryn, I bet you didn’t think you’d be making my day six years later…).
I started with the shortbread crust. You cream together butter and sugar, but not granulated sugar: icing sugar. Have you ever done that? It makes the most delicious-looking creamy-coloured paste. Then you add a bit of salt and two cups of flour. Unfortunately I’d overestimated the amount of plain flour I had, so had to top up with self-raising. I’ve always had a horror of doing this, probably instilled in me by generations of very serious Yorkshire pudding makers – you never, never, no never make Yorkshire puddings with self-raising flour - but it was either that or trail back to Tesco without a car, so I ploughed ahead and hoped for the best (didn’t seem to make too much difference, in the end).
Once it’s all mixed in, you pat it into a lined baking tin and put it in the oven for 15 mins or so. It looks like a large, soft biscuit when it emerges.
When I say ‘lined baking tin’, by the way, I really do mean lined in every direction with paper overhanging the sides of the tin. Otherwise terribly stressful times will follow. As you will see.
In the meantime, you’ve been diligently preparing the topping. This is comprised of four eggs, a fair bit of sugar, a little bit of flour (self-raising again, ulp), baking powder (which technically, given the flour, I didn’t need, but felt too nervous to leave out) and the rind and juice of a lemon. When the shortbread emerges, all soft and golden, you pour the lemony egg mixture directly on top and put it all back in the oven again for 25 minutes.
Here’s where I came unstuck. After 25 minutes, the topping had formed a kind of light crust on top, and a bit of exploratory poking established that at least some of the lemon stuff underneath had set into a curd-like consistency. Done, I thought. I wasn’t sure how best to get the thing out – curse my inadequate tin lining – so ran a knife round the edges and lifted the tin onto one end. And then the crust broke open like a fault line, and boiling, lemony lava came surging out onto my hand and all over the oven top. One third-degree burn and quite a lot of sticky mess later, I decided it probably wasn’t done yet, and put it back in the oven after patching it up the best I could (the burn wasn’t that bad. But it hurt). It took a good ten minutes more before I established – with extremely vigorous poking - that there was no liquid left anywhere on the top. Idiot.
It didn’t look good, after all this trauma. Frankly, it looked like a giant rectangular wart in a baking tin. I covered it in icing sugar, which disguised it somewhat, but after brutally hacking it out of the tin piece-by-piece, it certainly wasn’t worthy to soil a bridesmaid dress.
Thankfully, the tale has a happy ending, because these things are AMAZING. The shortbread is soft and doughy, the curd is squishy and delicious, and the icing sugar offsets the tartness of the lemon. After eating about four each and holding my hand in cold water for a bit, we definitely lived happily ever after.
Deliciousness: Yum. That is all. Just yum.
Complexity: The mixing and construction wasn’t hard. Presentation remains a mystery to be solved, as does the question of Is It Done, Or Just Done Enough To Cover The Oven With Lemon Gunk?
Washing-up pile: Eight items. Not bad.
Casualties: Another burn on my fingers. The last one scarred, so I suppose my dreams of being a hand model have been dashed for good. (PS: it was worth it.)