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Lemon Bars

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Lemon Bars

Lemon Squares are a great sweet-tart treat to keep in the freezer for anything from school lunches to book club gatherings.

Recently, my 20-year-old book club, now defunct, got together for a reunion dinner. I literally hadn’t seen some of those friends since they (and I) were pregnant. I think the youngest of those babies might be in eighth grade, the oldest have graduated college. How was it that we all looked exactly the same as we did 20 years ago? (You can’t see, but I’m winking.)

We had a respectable turnout for the busy weeks leading up to back-to-school. A couple were missing because they had moved away – one to Crested Butte and one to Beaumont. One had a daughter’s college boyfriend in town. And a couple more were busy settling kids into far-away dorms. The one we all missed, though, was our friend Sarah, who passed away four years ago this summer.

Sarah did everything beautifully. From her home to her clothes (her Ray Bans matched her belts) to her dinners, everything was always just right. She used her silver every day. Sarah was a devoted fan of Ina Garten and not only owned all of her cookbooks but also had indexed all of her favorite recipes in one, central document. You know what a gem that document is if you’ve ever flipped through all of Ina Garten’s cookbooks looking for “that one” recipe.

While they didn’t come from the Barefoot Contessa, Sarah’s lemon bars were famously perfect. With a shortbread crust, a lemon filling that balances sweet and tart and never tastes eggy, and a crunchy sugar glaze that tops it all off, these are the best lemon bars I have had. Thankfully, Sarah taught a few of us how to make them that summer, four years ago. When she got tired of directing everyone in the kitchen, a few friends left, and she and I moved to her bed to rest as the crust baked. When it was almost golden, I brought the pan of crust to her, just out of the oven, and she showed me how to spread the filling. While we waited for that to bake, we went through Sarah’s party journals, where she had recorded every dinner, every menu, every guest she’d hosted through the years, some of them being book club get-togethers. 

While we didn’t have Sarah at last week’s book club reunion, we did have her lemon bars, and we remembered her birthday, which would have been this week. Of course, we would rather have had our friend with us, but these beautiful, perfect lemon bars brought us smiles, nonetheless.

Sarah’s Lemon Bars

Lemon Bar ingredients: 

1 cup butter, soft
2 ¼ cups flour
½ cup powdered sugar
2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
4 eggs, beaten
4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Frosting ingredients: 

1 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Recipe directions: 

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Mix the butter, 2 cups of the flour and the powdered sugar in a stand mixer. Pat the dough into the bottom of an 8 ½” x 13 ½” Pyrex pan. Bake for 15 minutes, until slightly golden.

Sift the granulated sugar with the remaining flour and baking powder. Combine the dry ingredients with the eggs and lemon juice. Spread over the warm crust and bake 25 minutes longer. 

For the frosting, mix about a cup of powdered sugar with enough lemon juice to make a “thick cream.” Frost when the lemon bars have cooled but are still slightly warm. Cool well or partially freeze before cutting into small squares. Store in an airtight container at room temperature or in the freezer.

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