• Feed the chefs #1 – Carrés au citron

    You can ask any chef; staff meals are a luxury in the restaurant industry. Over the past ten years, I’ve come across almost anything.

    The baguettes we’d be sent to buy at the wonderful Des gâteaux et du pain, sliced in half lengthways, and placed on the bench along with a container of Bordier butter, one of home-made strawberry jam, and one filled with fleur de sel. The barely-warm café au lait, drunk standing by the oven. The amazing canteen that had a soft-serve ice-cream machine, a salad bar and one for toasties too, oh and an espresso machine too! The delivery driver slash tarte tatin chef who’d make a pit-stop at the corner boulangerie during his rounds, and bring back warm pains aux raisins to the labo. The leftover chips from an order, eaten with saffron aioli at the end of a dinner service as the kitchen was getting scrubbed. The best poached eggs a breakfast chef placed in your fridge with a little note. The grenadine mister freeze I mass-produced in the summer months. And the watermelons we sliced and left around the kitchen in nine-pans, to be eaten whenever a rare quiet minute appeared.

    One of my favourites were the “family” dinners we had every day at four pm when we opened John Salt with Ben Spalding.
    I still remember vividly that my turn was on wednesdays. Vividly, because it was perhaps the worst day for it to happen: the usual putting-away of the morning veg and dairy deliveries, the weekly dry-store delivery, the morning deep-cleaning, the 10am kitchen meeting. This meant very little time to prep for service, let alone cook dinner for all of us.

    If you’d ask me what I thought about staff meal at around three-thirty pm on a wednesday, you might have heard some French, and yet, four years on, it’s one of my fondest memories from my London years.

    Some weeks, I’d make a simple salade niçoise. Or a large pissaladière. Maybe some cheddar toasted sandwiches. And a few crisp leaves dressed in an quick lemon vinaigrette. And, always something sweet: at times cookies, taken out from the oven a few minutes before the table was set; at times, burnt-orange marmalade loaf cakes or lemon squares.

    And just like this, I thought I’d introduce a new feature: Feed the chefs. It’s something I’ve had in mind for a while; in fact, I have a draft from 2013 called Feed the chefs: Wholewheat flour and hazelnut cookies.
    In this feature, you’ll find simple recipes that can be made at home or for a crowd.
    For reference, a gastro is a 53×32.5cm metal tray, which is widely used in professional kitchens.

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    Lemon squares

    This recipe has been in my notebooks – under one form or another – for years. What started out as a curd made with only eggs, lemon juice and zest, sugar, and butter has evolved under the years into what I consider my perfect lemon bar.
    I increased the butter dramatically. Added egg yolks to improve the texture. And reduced the amount of sugar, a little at a time. Sometimes, I like to add a dash of cream to the curd mixture as I find it takes the lemon squares to another level, on a par with my best lemon tart. However, if you’re out of cream, the lemon squares can also be made without!

    It has a crisp tanginess and is wonderfully creamy, yet it still slices beautifully and holds well.

    At times, I’ll make it with the most brittle shortbread, the one I talk about in Paris Pastry Club, but most days I’ll go for a flaky biscuit dough, with light brown sugar and demerara, which I think complements the lemon flavour in the best way possible.


    – You’ll notice that the “home” recipe below makes a larger quantity of dough than you’ll need; but unless you’re willing to break an egg, whisk it, and use 16g for a third of the recipe – not to mention leave out the amazing cinnamon crisp biscuits you could make with the leftover dough – then I’d suggest you make the large batch, use 275g of it for the lemon squares and roll the rest in between two sheets of baking paper to 4-5mm thick and then proceed as mentioned in this beautiful recipe from Trine Hahnemann.

    – The shortbread base does not need to be blind-baked with weights (or pulses). I like to prick it with a fork to avoid large bubbles and bake it as it is for a flakier result.

    – I always rub my zest into the sugar to extract as much essential oils as possible.

    – Whenever I’m making custard or curd tarts, I like to cook my curd over a bain-marie until it reaches 70-75°C. This has two purposes: first, it makes the final baking much more even and quick – you won’t find a custard tart with puffed up edges and a runny centre in my house. Secondly, it makes the bubbles disappear, leaving you with lemon squares that can be served without their traditional dust of icing sugar.

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    Lemon squares

    Makes 25 small squares or 9 large ones

    Makes one gastro (around 60 squares)

    For the shortbread base

    100 g light brown sugar
    25 g demerara sugar
    zest from 3 lemons
    375 g plain flour
    1 tsp baking powder
    1 tsp ground cinnamon
    1/2 tsp sea salt
    250 g cold butter, cubed
    1 egg

    For the shortbread base

    100 g light brown sugar
    25 g demerara sugar
    zest from 3 lemons
    375 g plain flour
    1 tsp baking powder
    1 tsp ground cinnamon
    1/2 tsp sea salt
    250 g cold butter, cubed
    1 egg

    For the lemon curd

    240 g caster sugar
    zest from 2 lemons
    150 g egg yolks (around 7-8)
    110 g eggs (around 2 large)
    180 g lemon juice (from approx 3-4 lemons)
    120 g unsalted butter, cubed
    40 g double cream (optional, read note above)

    For the lemon curd

    650 g caster sugar
    zest from 6 lemons
    420 g egg yolks
    300 g eggs
    500 g lemon juice
    300 g unsalted butter, cubed
    120 g UHT cream (optional, read note above)

    Make the dough

    Butter your baking tin (or gastro) and line the bottom with baking paper, leaving 3cm on each side to use as handles to take out the tart from its tin after baking.

    Place the flour, sugars, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl, and mix to combine. Add the butter, and rub it in the flour mix until it resembles coarse oats. Add the egg and work the dough until just smooth.
    If you’re making the smaller lemon squares in a 25x25cm tin, use only 275g of shortbread dough and keep the rest to make cinnamon biscuits as mentioned in this recipe.

    Place the dough in your prepared tin and flatten using the palm of your hands. Prick with a fork and chill for at least 30 minutes or up to 4 days.

    Preheat the oven to 175°C.
    Bake the shortbread for 20-30 minutes or until golden brown.

    Once baked, set aside until needed and reduce the oven temperature to 120°C.
    In the meantime, make the lemon curd.

    Make the curd

    Place the sugar and zests in a large bowl, and rub in between your fingers to extract the oils from the lemon zest.
    Add the egg yolks, eggs, lemon juice and butter, and cook over a pan of simmering water until it just starts to thicken and the foamy bubbles disappear; it should be around 70-75°C.
    If using, add the cream now and stir to combine.

    Immediately, pass the curd onto the cooked shortbread base using a fine-mesh sieve. And bake for 15-20 minutes. The centre should still jiggle slightly.

    Allow to cool down to room temperature, then chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours before gently lifting it from the tin and cutting it into squares.
    To do this, fill your sink with hot water and dip your knife in it for a few seconds. Wipe the blade clean making sure the sharp edge isn’t facing your fingers, and slice the tart into 5x5cm squares (or 8x8cm if you’re a lemon lover), rinsing and wiping your knife in between each slice.

    Serve with a dust of icing sugar or some blowtorched Italian meringue for a faux-lemon meringue tart.

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