Food column: When life gives you lemons, make lemon bars!
Lemons are everything. They have so many uses and are very affordable. While the origin of lemons is a bit murky, their worldwide appeal is undeniable.
Citrus fruits, including lemons, are the highest-value crop in international trade today, according to statistics from the Department of Agriculture. Their popularity could be attributed to many factors. For me, it all boils down to a lemony scent and sweet, sweet dessert.
It’s strange to think that something so sour and acidic could also be sweet and savory, but sugar does indeed make everything better.
With summer approaching, I daydream about hot afternoons and cold lemonade. Even though drinking pure water is far healthier, many of us find lemonade to be incredibly thirst satisfying. Acid actually stimulates salivation which tricks our bodies into feeling hydrated.
Not only are lemons and copious amounts of sugar mouthwatering to drink, but they make delicious desserts.
I knew I wanted to create some sort of lemon dessert for this column, but I struggled to find something that I could modify to make my own. Coincidentally, I was browsing Reddit recently, and I stumbled across a simple lemon bar recipe that would be perfect for me.
It is easy to prepare, but there is also space to make it more unique and personal. Specifically, I replaced some of the butter with coconut oil in the crust for a flakier and more exotic flavor. I also added lemon zest to the filling for texture and color, based on what other Reddit users were recommending.
If you aren’t familiar with Reddit, it is a content and threaded discussion platform, and the sixth most visited website in the U.S. Users can post most types of content, and then other users can comment and vote on the post. I have come across so many different creative ideas there.
Since Reddit is peer-moderated with content that is voted up or down, the highly rated posts usually indicate the quality of their content. It is also helpful to read some thoughts and suggestions from other folks who have tried the recipe.
Some of these other users commented that they substituted lemons with different citrus fruits such as grapefruits and oranges. I needed my lemon fix, but if you want to make something different, then please try using other fruits. The “Redditers” recommend it!
The recipe I found has been upvoted 14.6k times and has 201 comments. The top commentator said, “…the recipe is incredibly easy and forgiving to make. I highly recommend this to [those] who want to learn how to bake sweets but not confident in their skill level yet.” Other users enthusiastically agreed, so I decided this was worth a shot.
Lemon Bars recipe
Serves six to eight people
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup coconut oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups high altitude flour
2 cups granulated sugar
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
6 large eggs
1 cup lemon juice, fresh or bottled
pinch of sugar, powdered or turbinado
1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Lay parchment paper along the bottoms and side of a medium baking pan (recommended). If you don’t have parchment paper, rub butter and sprinkle flour in pan instead (optional).
2. For the crust, in a medium bowl, mix the melted butter and coconut oil with sugar, vanilla extract and salt. Stir thoroughly until the mixture has the consistency of wet sand.
3. Gently spread and then press the crust mixture evenly into the baking pan. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until edges are browned.
4. For the filling, sift together sugar and flour into a medium mixing bowl. Whisk in the eggs and lemon juice and mix until sugar is completely dissolved and mixture is a uniform consistency.
5. When crust is finished baking and warm (not hot!), gently pour the filling over it. Bake for about 25 minutes to boil down filling or until the center is firm and doesn’t ripple when pan is tapped.
6. Best served chill, so cool in refrigerator for at least two hours. Sprinkle lemon zest and powdered or turbinado sugar on top. Cut into squares, and store in a refrigerator short-term or freezer for longer term storage.
Personalize your creations
For me, cooking is a lot like writing, and it helps to read someone else’s words for creative inspiration.
I had most of the ingredients in my pantry, so I only needed fresh lemons from City Market. For under $5, and with common ingredients, I could make enough to feed six to eight people. I forgot to use parchment paper, and I kind of regretted it. The crust is fragile and tends to stick to the pan. If you don’t want to use paper, then try using nonstick cooking spray or spread butter and flour on the pan.
After I juiced the lemons, I kept the rinds and boiled them down in a small saucepan. Not only did my house smell fresh, but this liquid also has many potential uses at home from cleaning to skin care.
Lemon peels have antimicrobial properties and pleasing scents, so they can be used as counter disinfectant, garbage disposal cleaner and microwave refresher. The juice can also be used to keep fruits from browning and as a facial mask that brightens skin. Never throw away your lemon peels, as they have many useful applications.
Those who have read my columns before are probably noticing a pattern. I love many different kinds of food, and I’m always trying to make easy and fun dishes, so I usually turn to the web for inspiration.
Finding good, simple recipes can be challenging, so where does one begin? I have always used Pinterest as a cookbook, but now I have learned that Reddit also has thousands of recipes. I found an amazing recipe that I know has been highly-rated by others. Fellow users also offered some creative ideas to tweak this recipe further.
You can make these dessert bars with lemons or any citrus fruit of your choice. You could even mix types of fruit such as lemon and blueberries or oranges and strawberries.
When we make recipes our own, they become personal stories to tell instead of someone else’s poetry. If you need inspiration, look to what others have done.
When life gives you lemons, make anything you want. Just make sure to save the peels.
Jordan Callier is an avid foodie and business owner in Glenwood Springs.
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