In My Mother's Kitchen

May 18, 2010

When my brother and I were growing up, my mother worked tirelessly to make sure that we were healthy and happy and that all of our needs (and a good number of our wants) were met. Now that we have grown and left the homes of our youth, I find myself returning to soak up her immense wisdom, especially in the kitchen. Today, we tackled Cooks Illustrated’s 1998 recipe for Perfect Lemon Bars.

My mother has never made a less than perfect lemon bar. It would appear that we have this recipe to thank. Lemon bars are somewhat simple and consist of a lemon filling (eggs, sugar, flour, lemon zest, lemon juice, whole milk, and salt) added to warm baked crust (flour, confectioner’s sugar, cornstarch, salt, and butter), baked, then topped with an additional dusting of the confectioner’s sugar. Some some key points: + Eggs do not curdle when cooked at low temperatures. Therefore, keep your oven set low (about 325 F) when you bake those bars. + Adding a small amount of flour to the filling will avoid an unappealing, mealy texture as well as post-cooling watery-ness. + Keep the cornstarch out of the filling. It cannot withstand high heat and will add a strong, metallic flavor to the filling. If there is one thing my mother inspires in me - culinarily - it is confidence in my ability to dispute a good recipe. Cooks Illustrated suggests using a glass baking dish for their lemon bars, though we used a baking sheet instead. Adding parchment paper assisted in removing the bars, though improper placement may result in counter-productive handling issues. Finally, as we unfortunately discovered, that filling sits quite high in the baking sheet. Remedy: pour final bits of filling into the pan after placing it in the oven. This will avoid a mess all over the floor on the way to the oven. Our results? Decadent, creamy, perfect lemon bars. Especially after cooling in the fridge for several hours.
I’ll be honest. I felt like a woman of luxury today. I could get used to unemployment! In between garden walks and baking, we shared a delightful lunch consisting of a massive spinach salad, a Zingerman’s baguette with butter, and red wine.

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  1. Great shots here Mally, and you're a sweet girl to say such kind things about your mother!!
    Those lemon bar pictures are fabulous, and the I really like the lunch shot.
    I hope you can come back up before you guys move; my gardens will be coming into their early summer prime very soon.

  2. Just looked at the lemon bar pictures again; they are as good as and much better than a lot of professional photos of cooking procedures I've seen, and I've seen a lot of cooking pictures! You can sure tell that I use my hands for cleaning and gardening!

  3. Thank you for sharing that about my photos! It took me a bit of time to organize the lemon bar series. I would love to come visit again soon, perhaps with Ryan this time around. We'll be moving soon, after all. That day that I took a picture while ironing, I was creeped out by the way my hand looked...I definitely inherited your wrinkly hands!

  4. I've grown to like my peasant hands. And I remember loving Granny's crowsfeet as a girl and waiting impatiently to have them. Now I do, and you know, I love them on me too. Aging is sometimes a pain in the ass, but it isn't ugly!


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