A Lemon Bar Recipe
and musings on my favorite bread book
It has been a long, snowy winter here. I live in Colorado, so it would be understandable if you have been under the impression that winter here would be much like any other mountainous, cold place; that it would be freezing, snowy, and grey here from November through March. But that is usually not the case.
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Colorado is very sunny even in the winter, so in the 10 years I have lived here I have rarely seen the snow last more than a few days before melting away. And not to brag, but, we also usually get 60-ish degree days throughout the winter that can give spring fever even in January. It’s typically so dry here that I usually need to water my plants and trees outside at least a few times throughout the season.
But, like many other places around the world, this year has been different. While we have had many sunny days, it has been too cold for the snow to melt much. As of mid-January, we had already hit the average snowfall that we’d expect to see by March. I haven’t had to water outside once yet this season.
All that said, and even as a self-identified “summer girlie”, I actually do appreciate the seasons. I can also usually talk myself in to some resemblance of appreciation for the snow. At the very least, winter is a cozy time when I don’t feel so bad going to bed early; when the sun sets at 5pm you can’t convince me that 9pm (*ahem* at the latest) is too early for bed.
Simply put, this winter has felt especially arduous.
Which brings us to lemons.
I often think how lucky I am to live in a time and place where I can usually buy lemons whenever I want. Lemons, much like salt, seem to me to be one of the perfect additions that give dishes that special something. They are an essential for vinaigrettes. A squeeze of their juice into some greek yogurt with some garlic and salt makes a perfect drizzle for grain bowls or fried eggs.
This time of year, though, I crave the sunshine-in-my-mouth feeling that lemon-focused recipes bring.
While I haven’t worked up the courage to make pie dough yet, and thus the courage try to tackle a lemon chiffon pie which is one of my absolute favorites, I can manage a shortbread cookie, aka the base for lemon bars.
Which brings us to my favorite bread book.
A few years ago, Mr. Domestique gifted me The Tassajara Bread Book by Edward Espe Brown. I had never heard of this book, but later found out that since the original publication in 1970, it has been considered a go-to bread book by not only home cooks, but also well-known chefs. Edward’s writing feels gentle and empowering while still giving clear instructions on how and why to do things the way he suggests. I feel like he perfectly sums up his approach by saying:
Bread makes itself, by your kindness, with your help, with imagination streaming through you, with dough under hand, you are breadmaking itself, which is why breadkmaking is so fulfilling and rewarding.
Recipes do not belong to anyone - given to me, I give them to you. Recipes are only a guide, a skeleton framework, to be fleshed out according to your nature and desire. Your life, your love, will bring these recipes into full creation. This cannot be taught. You already know. So plunge in: cook, love, feel, create. Actualize breadmaking itself.
This bread book is usually the first one I grab when I feel like baking. More than just bread, it has a little bit of everything; the content section includes yeasted breads, yeasted pastries, unyeasted breads, sourdough breads and pancakes, “pancakes and other things to eat for breakfast, lunch, or dinner”, muffins and quick breads, compound butters, and desserts. Mr. Domestique swears that the flaky biscuits from this book are the best he’s ever had.
So, on a this-year-typical cold and grey day last week when I remembered that I had 3 big lemons waiting to be used, all I could focus on was making the lemon bar recipe in the Tassajara Bread Book.
And you know what? Making the lemon bars did end up evoking some warm sunshine feelings. It reminded me that nothing is permanent, even if it feels like the snow will never melt and the temperature might never get above 40°F again. It helped me to remember the feeling of the sun on my skin when I closed my eyes and savored the tangy-sweet lemon bar.
Lemons give a gentle nudge of warm weather remembrance, that no matter what it feels like (or looks like) today, spring will come. The temperatures will rise. The snow will melt. The flowers will bloom.
Tassajara’s Lemon Bars
Edward describes these lemon bars as “uncommonly lemony, simple, and quick to prepare, these lemon bars provide a crisp tartness in a refreshing, light dessert - one of those desserts that I find so good, as in ‘where have you been all my life?’”, and I couldn’t agree more. I made these without the use of an electric mixer, using a pastry blender to mix the crust. You could also cut the butter into the flour-sugar mixture using 2 knives.
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