Birthdays, Lemon Bars & the like
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Subscribe to comments with RSS.