When I go to a restaurant and the waitress hands me the menu while reciting the daily specials, I have a rude habit of completely tuning her out, flipping to the back of the menu, past the drinks, apps, and mains in a focused search for a complete and detailed list of the restaurant’s dessert offerings. Here's why: I don’t want to stuff myself on steak and fries only to be presented with a dessert menu offering a peanut butter tart that I can’t shoehorn into my stomach no matter how great my desire for it. I refuse to be caught out like that, so I scan the sweets first and foremost, determine whether they are worth saving room for, and then proceed with checking out the rest of the menu.
Now, there was a time in my life when I simply wouldn’t eat a meal without ending with a dessert. In fact, there were times when I would forgo eating a meal so that I could gorge myself on some ridiculously decadent dessert. I like to think I’ve grown up since then; well, at least a little bit. I’ve become pickier about what desserts I will and won’t indulge in. Hence, the list I have compiled below.
1. Cake- I never, ever eat cake at a restaurant. Honestly, I was a self-proclaimed “cake-hater" until my early twenties when my mom’s best friend, Shirley, made the most incredibly life-altering pumpkin layer cake for me (a recipe I will be making during one of the cooking classes I’m teaching this fall; click here for details). Since that time, I like to eat the occasional piece of cake, but chose to forgo it when eating out.
2. Bread pudding of any type-In my mind, that just speaks for itself.
3. Crème Brulee- This one is a true tragedy. I used to LOVE crème brulee. Then I made it for dessert one night when I was pregnant with our first child. It became a casualty of pregnancy-induced nausea, and it still gives me the shivers to this day.
4. Lemon-flavored desserts- Not sure why, but lemon just doesn’t do anything for me in a dessert… or so I thought.
About a month ago I was perusing some recipes that I’d torn out of magazines, looking for something to take to a family get-together, and my sole aim was to find something that I already had all the ingredients for. Well, the only thing that fit into that category was a recipe from Southern Living for Lemon Bars. “Oh, well,” I thought, “At least I won’t be tempted to eat them myself before I make it to the dinner.” How wrong I was.
I actually tried to make lemon bars back when we were first married, but they turned out all oily and crumbly, and I had visions of the same thing happening this time around. But these bars turned out so beautifully neat and delicate, exactly what a lemon bar should always be.
And these babies tasted good, so good that my husband who is a self-proclaimed “lemon-hater” couldn’t keep his grubby little paws away from the cooling bars. “I’m just cleaning up the crusty edges,” he kept saying. “You wouldn’t want to take them to the dinner looking like that.” Truth is, I kept diving in for a nibble as well when he wasn’t looking. I very easily could have eaten the entire pan, and that’s a saying a lot from someone who has always snubbed lemon desserts in the past.
Thank you, Trisha Stevens from Southern Living, for bring these little lovelies into my life!
2 ¼ c. flour, divided
½ c. powdered sugar
1 c. cold butter, cut into pieces
4 large eggs
2 c. granulated sugar
1 tsp. lemon zest
1/3 c. fresh lemon juice (Fresh is the key word here. Don’t go getting RealLemon for this recipe. Just take the extra 30 seconds and squeeze a couple lemons yourself.)
½ tsp. baking powder
Powdered sugar for dusting
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line bottom and sides of 9x13 inch pan with foil and give yourself some overhang on the sides to lift the bars out when they’re done. Make sure you butter the foil.
Stir together 2 cups of flour and ½ c. powdered sugar. Work the cold butter into the flour mixture till it has a crumbly texture. Press this into the bottom of your pan. Bake the crust for 20-25 minutes or until lightly browned.
While that’s baking, whisk eggs in a large bowl until smooth; whisk in granulated sugar, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Stir together baking powder and remaining ¼ c. flour; whisk into egg mixture. Pour mixture over hot baked crust.
Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until filling is set. Let cool in pan on wire rack for 30 minutes. Lift from pan using foil sides as handles. Cool completely on wire rack. Remove foil, and cut into bars; sprinkle with powdered sugar.
Seriously, if you’ve been in the habit of baking your lemon bars from a box of Krusteaz mix, well, just be prepared for a serious upgrade to your lemon bar experience thus far, and I give you permission to throw out any those sneaky boxes that may be hiding in your pantry.