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                 Persistence Pays Off by Joan Hedman

Last February, my column was inspired by a spectacularly failed attempt at low carb lemon squares.

This year, I'm happy to report success.

It may seem odd to those of you in northern climes, but here in Arizona, my lemon tree is so burdened with fruit that some of the branches are touching the ground. With such an abundance of lemons, I had great incentive to roll up my sleeves and try, once again, to come up with that perfect balance of tastes and textures, without all the carbs.

Lemon squares have long been one of my favorite treats, even though many commercial brands merely hint at lemon flavor, and have crusts with the texture of sawdust. My favorite high carb recipe combines a tender, buttery shortbread crust with a creamy custard top; my own tweaks include increasing the amounts of lemon juice and zest so that the lemon flavor really shines through.

Restraint is required, though, because adding too much can make the squares bitter. When it comes to lemon squares, it's all about the balance: tart and sweet, creamy and crunchy.

The recipe below went through many attempts before arriving in its current state. These low carb lovelies won't look like traditional lemon squares, which typically brown on top and are very pale on the bottom. The almond meal means that the crust will be a nice brown color, but the lack of real sugar and its carmelizing properties means that the top custard remains quite pale even when it's completely cooked.

If you don't have one yet, this recipe justifies the purchase of a small coffee mill. It's useful for powdering small quantities of sugar substitute. You certainly don't have to grind the "sugars," but the powdering does improve texture considerably if you choose to use erythritol, as the recipe calls for. If you decide to use all Splenda, it will increase the carb count by about three-fourths of a gram per square.

Lemon Squares
16 Squares

Crust:

    Lemon Squares
  • 1/2 C (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled but not frozen
  • 1 egg white
  • 1/4 C Splenda granular
  • 1/2 tsp xanthan (optional;
    but does improve texture)
  • 1/2 C almond meal
  • 1/2 C Designer Whey
    vanilla whey protein powder
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/2 T grated lemon zest
Filling:
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 C Splenda granular
  • 1/2 C erythritol
  • 1/2 tsp xanthan gum (optional)
  • 1/4 C fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 T grated lemon zest

Preheat the oven to the 325°F. Line an 8x8 baking pan with foil, and spray the bottom with no-stick cooking spray. (You can double all the ingredients and use a 9x13 pan with excellent results.)

To make the crust, it's easiest to use a food processor. Put the Splenda, xanthan, almond meal, whey protein powder, salt, and lemon zest in the work bowl fitted with the S-blade. Process for about 15 seconds until the ingredients are well blended. Cut the butter into several chunks and add to the work bowl; pour in the egg white as well. Process until all the ingredients have come together and are uniformly blended. The dough will be quite sticky. By hand: stir the dry ingredients together, then blend in the butter and egg whites until you have a uniform dough.

Scrape the dough out of the bowl into the pan, and spread it evenly along the bottom of the pan. Take some care with this step so you don't have crust that is too thin in some spots and too thick in others; pay particular attention to the corners. Smooth out the top with a spatula.

Bake in the 325°F oven for 24 to 28 minutes, until the crust just begins to brown around the edges. This can be a subtle change if your almond meal is dark, so don't overbake expecting a major change. The perils of underbaking are worse, though: you'll end up with a pasty crust. To my mind, crust that is a little more crisp is better than crust that's gooey.

While the crust is baking, prepare the filling. First, grind the erythritol (it will probably take two batches) in your coffee grinder to a fine powder — about 10 seconds. If you skip this step and use erythritol, the squares will have a very sandy texture. You may notice a sandy texture even if you grind the erythritol, but it is much less noticeable if you take the time to do this.

Next, combine the Splenda, powdered erythritol, and xanthan in a small work bowl and stir to combine. (This helps distribute the xanthan evenly throughout the crust mixture.) Then add the eggs, lemon juice, and lemon zest, and beat together until well mixed.

When the crust comes out of the oven, pour the filling over it. Return the pan to the oven and cook for about 20 minutes more. To test for doneness, wiggle the pan. The edges of filling should be set, but the center should still be slightly liquid. Remove from the oven (the heat remaining in the pan will be sufficient to set the center of the custard filling). Cool in the pan for about 5 minutes, then use the edges of the foil to lift the squares out of the pan so they can finish cooling on the rack.

Sprinkle with powdered Splenda, and cut into squares. Leftovers, in the unlikely event you have any, should be stored in the refrigerator.

CLICK HERE TO SEE A PHOTO OF THE FINISHED SQUARES AS THEY COME FROM THE OVEN
(This photo – shown "in foil" – demonstrates how the top of these don't brown at all.)

APPROXIMATE NUTRITION INFORMATION PER SQUARE:
98 calories; 8.1 g fat; 2.9 g carbohydrate; 0.9 g fiber; 3.9 g protein. 1.4 g sugar alcohols

Thank you once again to everyone who wrote me with words of praise and encouragement for my husband. He really enjoyed hearing from everyone, but I'm not sure that's enough incentive to get him back into the kitchen! If there's a recipe you'd like to de-carb, please send me an e-mail. Your comments and questions are always appreciated.

                                                

Copyright © February 2006  Joan Hedman and Low Carb Luxury




       

 

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