I grew up watching my Nonni cook and then my mother, never really knowing how I fell into the mix. Cooking brought our family together as did an after dinner viewing of the food network (we really couldn’t get enough). That’s probably where I began thinking about my next meal while I was currently eating one. Nora Ephron did say, “I don’t think any day is worth living without thinking about what you’re going to eat next at all times”. Nora speaks the truth.
When I was around 13, I started feeling interested in cooking. More than just my previous fondness of licking the beaters or toasting a slice of bread . I made attempts at making things here and there. It didn’t click yet. A few years later, these lemon bars were born out of curiosity. If anything, I am an excellent follower of instructions, so a recipe is where I shine. I found a book tucked into a hall closet, simply entitled “baking”. Which I love. I don’t know why these bars caught my eye. It could very well be my life long love affair with lemon zest. Yes, that was probably it. I also love a fruit dessert over a chocolate one (gasp). No matter how I got to them, I did. I attribute them to lighting my cooking flame.
These bars are a little more advanced than a simple cookie. You need to bake a crust, then you have to make a curd. This curd contains lightly whipped cream. Whipping cream? That was a whole new concept to teenage me. Which now is one of the simplest pleasures of my life. I began to make these any chance I got. Going to a friends? Make the bars. Family party? Make the bars. Cookout? Make the bars. School presentation (once)? Make the bars. People used to associate me with them. People loved them. I loved them. They are thicker than a usual lemon bar. The crust gives it a perfect chew. The curd is fluffy and subtle. It sneaks up on you, and then you’ve eaten a tray of lemon bars. When I moved away to college, cooking became different. It was something more to explore. About two years ago, at 20 years old, I fell hard. I want to make everything I can, learn everything I can, taste everything I can. Making these bars this week reminded me of what it first felt like — to feel defined by something. Something that you love.
Lemon Bars from “Baking”
- 1/2 cup powdered sugar, a little extra for dusting
- 1 1/2 cups flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, cut into small pieces
- 4 eggs
- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- Grated rind of 1 lemon
- 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
- 3/4 cup whipping cream
- Pre-heat the oven to 325 F. Grease a 13×9 baking pan.
- Sift/mix the powdered sugar, flour and salt into a bowl. With a pastry blender (see note at bottom), cut in the butter until it looks like coarse crumbs.
- Place the crumb mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, for the topping, whisk the eggs and granulated sugar together until blended. Add the lemon rind and juice. Mix well.
- Lightly whip the cream. Not stiff peaks, just until it begins to get fluffy. Gently fold into the egg mixture. Pour the mixture over the still warm crust. Return to the oven, and bake until set, about 40 minutes.
- Cool completely before cutting or refrigerating. Strongly encourage you to chill them overnight. It makes a big difference. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.
(Note: If you do not have a pastry blender, you can use two knives to cut in the butter. You can also use a mixer with a paddle attachment, just watch it carefully so it doesn’t fully form a ball. A pastry blender is incredible though, you can find a cheap one at crate and barrel for $10.)