Bakers and cooks: do you ever think back to the moment where you decided, "Hey, I really love cooking and/or baking?" I recently found an old recipe that brought me back to the time where I realized that I all cookies don't have the texture of a hockey puck and that, yes, baking is easy.
I used to work for HBO. HBO was a very cool place to work. Cool people, cool atmosphere, still on top with shows like Sopranos and Sex and the City (but, I'm sorry, Showtime now has my heart with Dexter, Weeds, and United States of Tara).
At this point in my life, I never cooked. I was 23 years old (ah, the good old days), a young girl who had just moved on up tooo the east side, to a deeelux apartment, in the sky-iiigh (a 5th floor, 450 square foot walk-up on Madison Avenue... delux, indeed). I still enjoyed going out with friends to loud bars on both Friday AND Saturday nights (crazy) and there was nary a wrinkle in site (because, I swear, I am getting a wrinkle on my forehead. I don't care if I'm the only one who sees it, it is there).
Downstairs from HBO, there used to be a fantastic bookstore, one of the last remaining independent bookstores in the city. I would often grab a seat in front the window at the cute little cafe in the corner of the store with a salad and a cup of cappuccino and a few books that I could pore through for the hour as the sun shone down through the window and warmed my face. I would watch the seasons change as I peeked up at the people eating lunch at the tiny green tables across the street in Bryant Park, or ice skating in the seasonal skating rink, or watch models and Very Important People trundle through the snow to enter the imposing white tents of Fashion Week.
But in my tiny little corner, perched atop a stool, I looked through books on dogs, travel, monologue books (I still was interested in acting), art... but I was most drawn to a Williams Sonoma dessert book. I sat and gazed at recipes for what I thought were complicated dessert recipes: Devil's Food Cake with Coffee Meringue Buttercream, Rolled Chestnut Cream Cake, Coconut Layer Cake, etc. But one recipe in particular caught my eye: Lemon Bars.
I read the recipe. Throw some stuff in a food processor and press into a pan. Mix some stuff in a measuring cup and pour into the crust.
Hmmm. Could baking be this simple? I thought to myself. Can I, queen of black bottom cookies and dry cakes make something successfully?
Each Friday, someone in my department was assigned to bring in breakfast for everyone to enjoy. It was a wonderful way to create a sense of community and people really loved it. And I, being the "go big or go home" type of girl myself, spent two days preparing for this big breakfast.
I baked tons of different items. Buttermilk Muffins topped with cinnamon sugar, chocolate chip cookies, Rocky Road Bars, Cranberry Orange Muffins, Jam Filled Muffins, and of course, these lemon bars.
Note, there was not one bit of protein underneath the mounds of sugar and butter that went into this breakfast. Looking back, I don't know what I was thinking. People must have been bouncing off the walls that Friday afternoon.
Well, this breakfast changed the game for HBO Creative Service breakfasts from there on out. People said, "Teanna, you really raised the bar!" Following breakfasts went from bagels and cream cheese to tons of bacon/egg/cheese or sausauge/egg/cheese sandwiches from the deli downstairs, fried chicken and waffles (awesome choice), and other exciting accoutrement.
But from all of those foods, I have a soft spot for these lemon bars. Quick and simple to make, these were one of the first items I ever baked successfully. And now that I like flavor, I even eat them, too.
1 c flour
¼ c confectioners sugar
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp grated lemon zest
½ c cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
3 tbsp flour
½ c fresh lemon juice
1 TBS grated lemon zest
1 c sugar
Pinch of salt
Line an 8" baking pan with aluminum foil, and allow about an inch or so of foil hanging over the rim. Spray with non-stick cooking spray.
Preheat oven to 350°F.
To make crust, sift flour, confectioner’s sugar, and salt in a bowl and transfer to food processor. Add lemon zest, pulse to blend. Add butter a few pieces at a time until crumbly. Transfer to pan and press evenly to bottom and sides to form crust.
Bake 25 minutes to golden brown.
Bake 25 minutes to golden brown.
In a large measuring cup or pitcher, whisk flour and lemon juice. Add eggs, granulated sugar, lemon zest and salt and whisk to smooth. Pour filling into crust. Close oven and reduce to 325°F. Bake until springy, about 30 minutes.
After completely cooled, use foil as handles and lift from pan to cutting board. Dust with confectioners sugar using strips of wax paper to line for pattern before dusting. Cut into thin bars.