the moveable feasts

Birthdays, Lemon Bars & the like

with 30 comments

perfect lemon bars

I was talking to my dad on the phone yesterday, and after reminding me of my birthday this Wednesday (aka tomorrow, or most likely today depending on where you are in the world) he exclaimed, “Wow, what a big week for you! Turning 22 and graduating!” And he went on to say that he had only started college right after he turned 21. He had waited a few years after high school to go to college because, as he says, “it was a different time back then.” Anyway, he said that when he woke up the morning of his 21st birthday, all his friends were asking him what he was going to do to celebrate. He said that he just responded with, “Ah, it’s all over now, everything is ending, I just wanna go back to sleep.” I guess for him starting college was a sign that something was ending that he wouldn’t get back again. This made me smile, but it also made me pretty sad in that I know that my Dad lives in the past (which both my twin sister and I very much got from him).

I remember when my older sister turned 22, over 4 years ago. I was amazed at how old 22 sounded. I told her that once a person gets past that age, they’re “in the deep end.” I kind of still think that, and I still think 22 sounds really, really old. It’s a weird time, is it not? Not like 18 or 30 or anything, but 22 sounds strange to me. I don’t know, I guess we’ll see how it turns out, won’t we? This also happens to be the same approach I’m taking to graduating and moving on in life after college (probably not a coincidence). No doubt I’ll let you know how both the whole age-thing and the whole graduation-thing turns out.

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Moving on—I feel the need to do a huge shout-out at this time to my beautiful mother, whose birthday is today. Yes, that means that 50% of the 6 people in my family are born within two days of each other (more if you count my grandfather who also happens to share the same birthday as me and Lindsey). My mom so selflessly has let Lindsey and I steal all the attention away from her growing up as we never gave a second thought to her birthday or Mother’s Day for that matter, as we only ever focused on ourselves. So she deserves much more than a shout-out or two, but that’s all I’ve got right now. (I love you, Mom.)

My mom would really love these lemon bars. Her favorite dessert of all time is what she calls lemon pudding cake—that delicious dessert that is a souffle-like cake on top and a thick, tart pudding on the bottom. These lemon bars aren’t quite there in terms of nostalgia, but they’re still pretty good. And besides, I didn’t make them for her. I made them for my boss at work, whose birthday was last week. (I know, these spring birthdays, they never end!!!) Her birthday has coincided somewhat with the closing of my two-plus year stint at that office, so these treats kind of served as a kill-two-birds-with-one-stone offering.

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This lemon bar recipe is one that I’ve been making for years, and it’s from Cook’s Illustrated (surprise! not). In my opinion, it makes the best lemon bars out there—and that includes restaurants, bakeries, or homemade. The shortbread crust is made with powdered sugar and cornstarch, which makes for a melt-in-your-mouth tenderness that is deeelectable. And I never say or use the word delectable, so the fact that I’m using it here should serve as a testament to how good this crust seriously is. Plus, there’s a nice, fat layer of it—no skimpy crust here! And the filling is tart, bright, and it’s perfectly solid so it doesn’t ooze all over you when you try to cut the bars up or eat them. It’s a good recipe to have on hand, especially when birthdays are around.

perfect lemon bars

Lemon Bars
From Cook’s Illustrated
Makes a 9 by 13 pan (about 24 1 to 2-inch squares)

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup powdered sugar, plus more for dusting
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) butter, at room temperature and cut up into chunky pieces

4 eggs
1 1/3 cups white sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
zest of 2 lemons (a heaping two teaspoons)
2/3 cup lemon juice from 3 to 4 lemons
1/3 cup whole milk
pinch kosher salt

To make the crust, line a 13 x 9-inch baking dish with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Butter any parts of the baking dish that remain exposed. Set aside.

Process the flour, powdered sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a food processor for a few seconds until combined. Add the cubes of butter and pulse until the mixture is pale yellow and crumbly-looking, about 10 1-second pulses. Sprinkle mixture into the prepared pan and press firmly into an even layer. Refrigerate for 30 minutes, and while it’s sitting there, preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Once chilled, place directly in the heated oven for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown (and deliciously fragrant).

While the crust is baking, make the filling. Whisk the eggs, sugar, and flour in a medium bowl until well combined. Stir in the lemon zest, lemon juice, milk and salt, and blend well. It will look soup, but that’s just fine. Let it sit and settle for a bit while the crust finishes baking off.

When the crust is golden brown, remove the pan from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees F. Stir the filling mixture to reblend, and then pour it over the hot crust. Bake until the filling feels firm when touched lightly, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool to room temperature, about an hour or so. Dust powdered sugar over the whole thing and cut into serving-size bars. Store in the fridge, and eat chilled.

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Written by Amy

May 7, 2013 at 8:53 pm

30 Responses

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  1. Happy birthday! It IS a big week for you. 22 is a great year, but they only get better from here! My mom and I have three days between our birthdays, and I always thought how strange it must have been for her to celebrate that birthday right before I was born – 9 months pregnant and all. Enjoy it!

    Jess

    May 7, 2013 at 9:06 pm

    • Thanks, Jess! Haha, my mom says that I was the best present she could have asked for. Of course, I think that’s only in hindsight though. ;)

      Amy

      May 8, 2013 at 10:53 pm

  2. I can always get down with a shortbread crust that has over a stick of butter in it!

    You’re now at the age where you recognize how selfish you were as a kid. Welcome. Mom’s are especially glad when this happens. It means she raised you right.

    I found my early 20s to be much like a weird version of my teens. I cringe when I look back on them. Ohhhh to be 22 again (seriously feeling old now, thanks). :p

    Michelle

    May 7, 2013 at 9:12 pm

    • Haha! I knew you’d appreciate that crust and the amount of calories in it!

      And yes, we’ll see how these early 20’s pan out… I have a good feeling about them, but I also thought middle school was fun while I was in it (ahh, no, definitely not).

      Amy

      May 8, 2013 at 10:55 pm

  3. Yay – you mentioned your older sister! :D

    Melissa

    May 7, 2013 at 10:12 pm

  4. 22 isn’t old, I promise! I’m 28 and that feels very old to me, although my Mum tells me it’s very young compared to her 60!!
    These lemon bars look lovely, I bet they’re just so zingy and delicious.

    thelittleloaf

    May 7, 2013 at 10:43 pm

    • Ahh yes I know it’s all relative, but it’s so hard to realize that while it’s all happening! I do need to keep it all in mind though.

      Amy

      May 8, 2013 at 11:00 pm

  5. Happy birthday! I quite liked being 22 and getting over that 21 milestone. I hope you have a wonderful year!

    Kathryn

    May 8, 2013 at 12:28 am

  6. Happy, happy birthday! 22 is one of the best years, I think. Wishing you a wonderful year!

  7. Happy birthday Amy! 22 is SO not old, okay? (There will always be people to remind you of that fact, don’t you worry about that) My sister and I both said the same thing when we turned 22 (last year and 5 years ago, respectively), because we both graduated at that age as well. Come to think of it, my 22nd, or 23rd rather, year was one of upheavals. Remember when the whole economy crashed? Yep, it was that year.

    Anyway, I hope you have an excellent birthday! Eat lemon bars! That crust looks delicious! Oh, and your post is so sweet! Moms’ birthdays were always an afterthought as a kid, it’s a fact of life.

    Linda

    May 8, 2013 at 5:20 am

    • Ahh I loved reading your comment, Linda. I bet graduating from college and being launched into the job market right when the economy was crashing was a real treat! ;)

      Amy

      May 8, 2013 at 11:05 pm

  8. xxxooo

    Mutti

    May 8, 2013 at 5:47 am

  9. P.S. All I can say is “age is relative.” When you’re turning 30 (or 40 or 50…) you’ll look back at 22 and think: I was SO young then! Really! So enjoy being 22. It’s a great age to be!

    Mutti

    May 8, 2013 at 5:52 am

  10. Happy birthday, Amy! Twenty-two is a good age to be at. My friends in their thirties, anyway, say that their twenties were all about figuring out who they were and what they wanted, so you’ve got time on your side! (And the lemon bars, by the way, look great. A good lemon bar is harder to find than you’d think. I’ll have to remember these.)

    Katie

    May 8, 2013 at 10:24 am

    • Awh thanks, Katie. I’m looking forward to it, I really am. Time is a nice thing to have right now.

      Amy

      May 8, 2013 at 11:06 pm

  11. Happy birthday! I always find the aging process confusing, I feel so much older and so young at the same time. But I remember 22 being a good year (also I think I’m about the same age as your sister.) That’s nice of your mom to let you guys have your birthdays outshine hers – my mum was born on the same day as her dad, and my brother and my dad share a birthday too so there’s quite a bit of spotlight-sharing in my family!

    I haven’t made lemon bars in forever – they seem so simple but are so easy to get wrong (which I have done, in the past.) I trust your enthusiasm – I never use the word delectable either! – and may well give them a try soon.

    PS all the best for your graduation! My ceremony was the most boring day of my life, just an endless procession of people I don’t know and then suddenly my moment and then it was all over – but possibly things are a bit more exciting in American ones (if tv has taught me anything.)

    hungryandfrozen

    May 8, 2013 at 4:05 pm

    • Yes, confusing is such a good word!! It’s all just too much, I think! (Although I really do love birthdays. Overwhelming… enjoyable… yes, very confusing.)

      Haha! And thanks, I’m sure it’ll be okay. The fact that I go to a pretty small liberal arts school will hopefully mean that it’ll be endurable. And I have a suspicion that the American image is all in the tv, but hey, I’ll do my best to make it live up to the sensation of hollywood! ;)

      Amy

      May 8, 2013 at 11:15 pm

  12. by an far the best post you’ve written, first paragraph is especially killer.

    not a fan of the first shot though! you never wanna kill the hold-the-treat-in-the-air ones do you?

    Lindsey

    May 10, 2013 at 2:23 pm

    • all of the photographs suck! that is the tragedy of it all

      Amy

      May 10, 2013 at 4:07 pm

  13. Happy birthday, Amy! What an exciting time of year for you! As someone who is very much your senior (I’m 28, just call me Old Balls McGee), I must say that life just gets better with age. Maybe not better – I think more challenges arise, but your perspective certainly changes and you learn so much about you. My best advice – just enjoy.
    And these lemon bars look seriously amazing. My aunt makes a similar recipe, although I think you’ve got her beat on the shortbread to filling ratio. I won’t complain about that!

    • Haha! This was just the type of comment I was hoping to read, Amanda. Thanks for it!

      Amy

      May 15, 2013 at 9:29 am

  14. Happy Birthday dear Amy!! You made the most perfect looking lemon bars I’ve seen!! They look soooo tasty and summery!

  15. Wow.. Tha lemon bars look so yummy! Thanks for sharing the recipe. Looking forward to seeing more especially those with spit roast caterer in sydney. Thanks

    Hazel

    June 5, 2013 at 4:08 pm

  16. Happy Birthday there Amy! The lemon bar is delicious! thank you for sharing this recipe.I might try this in finger food catering Melbourne :D I hope it may look as yummy as this that you made. I’m really sure that your mom would love this!

    I am looking forward for your next recipe.
    Thank You!
    Have a great day!

  17. WOW! This looks delicious. This sure makes your mom happy. Thank you for giving us your recipe. We might make this too and share it with friends and family. Please update us more. Have a nice day from us here in Finger Food Catering Adelaide
    :)

    Food Catering Adelaide

    January 19, 2014 at 9:28 am

  18. hi there! It’s really nice to pay a visit on your blog. You got a delicious lemon bars here! If I would be the recipient of this very yummy thing I would be very happy. Thank you for giving out.the recipe and the procedure how to do it. I would love to make this at home :) greetings from Spit Roast Catering Adelaide

  19. Just wanna say Thank you for this recipe. I tried this at my friends birthday and they love it all especially the kids. Hope to see and try your next recipes. By the way, Catering Sydney are sending their greetings to you.

    Catering Sydney

    February 10, 2014 at 5:02 pm


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