Ruhlman and the Lemon Bars

I know some of you think I’m snobbish (about a lot of things, yeah yeah) when it comes to food stuffs and prep, and am a little bit of a nazi in the kitchen when it comes to “my stuff” (ie, “don’t touch that Wustoff, here’s a Kitchenaid instead”). I can live with that. I am about to teach my roommate how to properly clean my stainless frying pan because I don’t like how she does it. Does that make me a jerk? Fine, jerk on because that pan sears some delicious eats.

Today’s writing comes to you courtesy of Cleveland’s own chef Michael Ruhlman. I think it speaks for itself, so I’m giving him all the credit. I completely get behind what he says, what he makes, what he implies and the exchange between his mother and himself because it is exactly the same as mine would be – though to mom’s credit, she’s a from scratch cook most of the time.

His blog is always entertaining and often pretty useful. His wife takes the photos, which are glorious. Enjoy.

Sometimes my Mom thinks I’m overly opinionated in the kitchen (i.e., an asshole) and she no doubt has a point. When I saw her pulling out a box of lemon squares mix I held my tongue, but not my expression. She said, “I know, I know.”

I said, “I didn’t even know they made boxed mixes for lemon squares. Mom, why?”

“I guess I was afraid they wouldn’t turn out.” She paused. “I used to make Susan Ziegler’s all the time.”

Is it Duncan Hines and Betty Crocker and the evil Kraft Foods that have trained us to think we are such colossal idiots in the kitchen that we can’t measure a cup of flour on our own? That our response to an actual lemon bar recipe would be to stick our finger in our nose and look away? We have to buy a $3 boxed mix and supply our own eggs? People! You can leave the cave!

When Mom said she still had Susan Ziegler’s recipe, I asked her to get it. She did, read it and said, “That’s it?”

“Yes, Mom, that’s it.”

I think she felt so chastened, she overcooked the boxed mix on purpose.

So herewith the lemon square recipe of my youth from a neighbor then on our block whom I still know, slightly adapted (more lemon juice). I started making these in fourth grade. The above lemon square was made by James, currently in fourth grade. It results in a sweet buttery shortbread crust and a soft creamy curd in almost equal proportions, so they are almost like cookies. I like the balance but if you wanted more curd, I don’t see why you couldn’t increase the curd ingredients by half, adding a tablespoon of corn starch perhaps to ensure the extra volume sets up. Taste the curd as you mix it—you may want to add more lemon or less to taste.

Susan Ziegler’s Lemon Squares

The Crust

4 ounces butter, melted

1 cup flour

¼ cup confectioners sugar, plus 1 tablespoon for dusting

The Curd

2 eggs

1 cup granulated sugar

½ teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoons salt

5 tablespoons lemon juice (one lemon)

Heat your oven to 350 degrees.

For the crust, combine all ingredients till well mixed and press into an 8X8 or 9×6 baking dish. Bake 20-25 minutes or until lightly browned.

Combine all the ingredients for the lemon curd, mix well and pour over crust. Bake 20 minutes. When it’s completely cool, put a spoonful of confectioners sugar in a fine mesh strainer and dust the top.

That’s it. Come to think of it, you probably don’t even need the baking powder. But I’m afraid to call Susan to ask. She may reply, “Because that’s what it said on the box.”


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