COOKING ADVENTURE #54: Lemon Bars
Last Friday, you were expecting a Cooking Adventure right out of some French cafe. A decadent lemon sorbet recipe with some fresh choux pastries to accompany. Sorry folks. I once again made things way too difficult for myself last week. I had two readings to set up for and that left little to no time to make cream puff pastries. In fact, I think it would have made me extremely frustrated. However, I’d already bought six lemons in preparation for that. So… what is a girl to do? I had the sudden realization that there weren’t going to be any dessert items at my Thursday book-signing so I resolved to do lemon bars. These are something my grandma used to make when I was a kid and they were always amazing. I have fond memories attached to this dessert. I thought, “This will be easier, less stressful, and something that everyone will enjoy at the reading. Easy? *blows raspberry* Why on Earth did I think it would be easy?
I’ve done a few of these reading/book-signing events before, but I’m still always nervous about them. I think it’s mostly the reading in front of people I know. I have no problem reading in front of complete strangers. But when the room is full of friends, it’s harder for me because they are seeing a side of me that I don’t show often. This particular reading put most of my close friends right in the front row… Thanks, guys! I was staring at my sheet of paper for fear of looking up and giggling like a maniac. But enough about that. The point here is that, I had been making these lemon bars to make it easier on myself this week. They even required no hassle ingredients, for which I was grateful for.
I’d found the recipe on All-Recipes and they were described as the “best”. They even had nearly five stars. I figured that it was meant to be. The first directions tell me to soften a cup of butter in a mixing bowl. My measurement conversion skills petered out here and it took me a time (a little too much time) to remember that two sticks of butter equals 1 cup. Upon this realization, I frowned. Two sticks of butter for lemon bars? That seemed extremely excessive. Especially when they were just going in the crust part. But the shiny little stars on the recipe didn’t lie, so in I tossed two sticks and heated them in the microwave. To them, I added 1/2 cup white sugar. Next, I added white flour. However, I’m looking at the directions again and realizing my mistake already. Instead of adding two cups of flour, I think I only added 1 and 1/2. I was looking at a part further on in the instructions and didn’t even notice. Therefore… proportions were off. Damn it.
I mixed all of these ingredients together until I had a crumbly-looking mixture. The directions don’t tell you how long you should blend the ingredients nor how they should look after they’ve been blended. So… I was kind of guessing here. What happened next should have been a clue that there was something amiss. I grabbed my 9″ x 13″ stoneware baking dish from the cabinet. Figuring it didn’t need to be greased or anything, I just dumped the crumbly mixture into the bottom of the pan and pressed it in. Well, tried to press it down. It kept sticking to my fingers and wouldn’t flatten out on the bottom of the pan. I tried using forks, thinking that might work. I don’t know where that brilliant gem of an idea came from because it was clearly a very stupid thought. The mixture just stuck to the fork and kept peeling up every time I thought I’d figured it out. In the end, I had to resort to one of my least favorite things: flour. I unwittingly covered my hands in it multiple times in order to flatten the dough to the bottom of the pan. Finally, when I’d reached my limit of how much flour I could take, I put the pan in the oven and baked it for 15 minutes on 350.
When it came out, it was sizzling and didn’t quite seem solid. Nervous, I stuck it in the oven for another five minutes. And again, it came out bubbling. However, instead of paying attention to this and putting it in again, I said, “Aw, screw it,” and moved on to the next step. Or at least, was going to before I had a phone call that lasted the better part of an hour. I don’t talk on the phone much so give me some credit. Plus, it only happens a couple times a week and I really look forward to it. *Cue mental image of writer locked in a high tower and limited from any social contact* That being said, I returned to making the lemon filling afterward.
After washing the glass bowl out, I added 1 and 1/2 cups of white sugar and 1/4 cup flour and mixed those together. Then, it was time for the lemon juice. Alas, we run into another issue. I don’t own a juicer. Nope. So, I had to come up with an ultra creative way to relieve these lemons of their juices. I decided that I’d do this with the help of none other than a vegetable peeler. My mental powers tell me that you’re staring at your screen unblinking with the thought of “What the Sam Hill/( insert your choice of profanity here) is this woman thinking?” After slicing the lemon in half, I repeatedly stabbed the lemon flesh, twisting the peeler in order to try and help the juice flow better as I squeezed the half. Then, here and there, I’d flick some of the seeds away with it and then go back to squeezing. All of the open cuts on my hand from my cat scratching me didn’t appreciate the overabundance of lemon juice. I did the same with the second half of the lemon, plunging the peeler in time and again. Still asking questions? Better watch out. I’m pretty skilled with this peeler now… Kidding.
At the end of the horrific murders of two lemons, I found myself with about 1/2 cup of lemon juice, littered with seeds. I tried to pull out as many as I could and after I finally thought I’d found them all, I poured the lemon juice into the sugar and flour mixture. To that, I added four eggs. This was a particularly frightening moment because I checked my more recent egg carton to find only three. Only upon discovery of an older one did I find the final egg. Then, I whisked everything together. It turned yellow and the lovely citrus scent overtook the kitchen in very little time. I poured the contents over the crust in the pan and then slid it into the oven to cook for twenty minutes on 350.
I pulled the bars out, my face quickly sliding into a frown. The bars didn’t appear to be very solid. I took a toothpick and poked at one, finding it to be quite liquidy. I put the pan back in the oven for an additional seven minutes. Yeah, seven. You got a problem with that? I’ve still got that peeler handy.
I pulled the pan out again but didn’t see much improvement. In the directions, it says that the bars “firm up as they cool”. I left them sitting on the counter for a while. By the time I got back to them, it was past 11 and was too late to try eating one. I put them in the fridge, hoping that would do the trick finally. The next morning, I pulled them out and tried to cut them. The knife sliced easily through the lemon but upon contact with the buttery crust, encountered resistance. I dragged the knife through its gummy consistency until I decided to give up. I put the pan in the freezer, thinking it would help. Again, another stupid idea.
The night of the reading, my mom tried to pry these lemon bars out of the pan with every tool at her disposal. She was ultimately defeated. Though she still had encouraging words for me. “You could still eat it as a pudding or put it on ice cream.”
True. But there was no ice cream at the reading. Thankfully, she had made other chocolate goodies for the guests which were quickly devoured. Thanks, Mom. 🙂 My lemon bars were left in exile in the kitchen of the library until the end of the book-signing. I was able to finally rip a couple out of the pan the other night and enjoy them with a couple strawberries… and a spoon. A co-worker (and much more experienced baker than I) told me she thought it was the crust. It probably had something to do with that extra 1/2 cup of flour that I didn’t add. Or the fact that I didn’t line the baking pan or grease it. Oh, well. I’ve got more than enough of these things to try and eat now. Thankfully, I’ve got some vanilla ice cream to enjoy with them.
Next week, I’ll be making this scrumptious Cuban Chorizo Stew from the Budget Bytes blog. Stay tuned!