A five-minute walk into Golden Gate Park from the entrance at 9th and Lincoln Way, you'll find a yellow ice cream truck called Twirl and Dip where you can get this:
Top to bottom, that's a sprinkle of salt, a dark chocolate dip, vanilla bean soft serve, and a handmade cone. On any given day, it's a short, straight shot on the bus from where I sit to this beauty, because where I sit now is San Francisco. Where I live now. Where I live is San Francisco.
If you've been following along on Instagram (and please do! I love the community over there), this San Francisco thing isn't news. It's been, what, three months since we left Cambridge? No - almost four! In any case, HELLO THERE. I am so happy, so thrilled, so relieved to be here. To be back in a place where I can be here. Whoa.
So, let's see. Where were we? Brownies, right? That was the end of May, when Freddie (remember her?) (she looks like this now!) was two months old. I hadn't touched my manuscript since before she was born. Then June happened and I got writing again, and though my work time looked different than it had pre-Freddie, the book swallowed me right back up. I was grateful to discover that it still could. (I told me so!) Meanwhile, something secret was in the works, a long shot that was no way going to happen, then did: Eli's company, Directr? Google bought it. (GOOOO ELI!!!) And by the end of the summer we found ourselves with an infant and a toddler, a book not yet done, and a cross-country move coming up fast.
We landed in San Francisco on December 30 and in the months that followed I set myself to the extremely difficult task of not unpacking, not settling in, so that whenever I wasn't chillin' with the little people of the household, I could write, write, write my way through the final-final-for-real-forever edits of my book. And you know what? I did it. The book is d-o-n-e, done. Getting to write those words here, here, where it all started, means more than I can say.
But more about the book another time. Today, we feast! On Deb Perelman's Whole Lemon Bars. I've been holding onto them for you since December when, fueled by some combination of insanity, denial, adrenaline, and fierce love for who and what we were leaving behind in Cambridge, MA, we decided to go ahead and host our yearly Chanukah party for 80-ish guests three days before the moving truck arrived. We made 400 latkes, several quarts of cranberry apple sauce, and an assortment of cakes, cookies, and treats. Because business as usual, right? Why not? (Don't answer that.)
Honestly, those hours in the kitchen were golden. It felt exactly right: frying, baking, stashing things away in freezer bags and airtight containers for a crowd we love, looking up to see the familiar, sweeping view of Harvard Square framed by the windows of our fifth-floor apartment. I can't imagine a better way to have spent those last days in the place we called home for nine years. (Also: procrastibaking. I am a pro.)
I did, in the end, pull back just a bit. No homemade candy this year, no sandwich cookies or anything I'd have to frost. I made those terrific brownies, instead, and a double batch of my favorite almond cake, among other things I could throw together quickly, with my eyes closed - so I wouldn't have to see the stacks of unassembled moving boxes breathing down my neck. It had never occurred to me that lemon bars, with all the zesting and juicing of multiple lemons required, might have a place in this category. But the single lemon rolling around our crisper drawer got me thinking about a recipe in The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook that I remembered marking with a pink sticky tab a couple of years earlier, a recipe for Whole Lemon Bars. "Whole" as in the entire lemon, minus only the seeds. "Lemon," indeed, just one.
What comes of that lemon, puréed by machine with sugar, butter, eggs, cornstarch, and salt, is the smoothest, most beautiful lemon custard I've ever seen atop a shortbread crust. No tiny craters along the surface - you can forgo the classic powdered sugar topping, if you'd like, and they're just as pretty - no threads of lemon zest snagging the silky cream. These bars are sleek, a word I've never thought to use to describe something that's come out of my kitchen. The flavor is something special, too, thanks to the pith and peel. There's an edge, a faintly bitter note that you've probably never missed in lemon bars gone by but, unless you're eating these, you will now, forever more. (Sorry? You're welcome?)
In the parlance of the day (thanks to this wonderful, wonderful column-turned-book), Deb's Whole Lemon Bars is a "genius recipe," for sure, making me rethink the way lemon bars become lemon bars, showing me an easier, faster way to ones that turn out better than what I knew to expect.
I'm off now, but not for long, I promise. Thank you, friends, for being here, for showing up despite so many long months of silence. I told a friend of mine last week that one of the best parts of having the book and the move behind me is that I'll be able to start blogging again. I meant it. Blogging for me is writing for writing's sake alone. I've missed that very much.
I'll be back later this week with something book-related and fun. I can't wait.
Deb Perelman's Whole Lemon Bars
Adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman
For the crust:
1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (65 grams) granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
8 tablespoons (115 grams) unsalted butter, cut into chunks, plus more for greasing the pan
For the filling:
1 medium-small lemon, about 3 inches long (around 130 grams)
1 1/3 cups (265 grams) granulated sugar
8 tablespoons (115 grams) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons (15 grams) cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Cut two 12-inch by 8-inch strips of parchment paper. Press one strip into the bottom of an 8-inch square baking pan with a couple extra inches of parchment hanging over each side. Press the other strip down into the pan in the opposite direction, perpendicular to the first strip, to create a parchment plus sign. The two strips will overlap on the bottom of the pan, and you'll have formed a parchment sling with four "handles" for lifting the bars up and out once they have cooled. Lightly butter the exposed parchment and set the pan aside.
Make the crust:
Blend the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture looks like a heap of crumbs, but holds together when you squeeze it. Dump the crumbs into the prepared pan and press evenly along the bottom and about 1/2 inch up the sides. Prick the dough all over with a fork and bake for 20 minutes, or until lightly browned. Leave the oven on.
Make the filling:
Cut your lemon in half. If the white part of the skin is 1/4 inch thick or less, you're good to go. If the white part is thicker than that, you'll want to remove the skin from half the lemon to keep your bars from turning out too bitter. (The second lemon half, even if the pith is just as thick, can be used as is.) Cut your lemon halves into thin rings and discard any seeds. Toss the lemon slices into the bowl of the food processor with the sugar and process for about 2 minutes, until the lemon is thoroughly puréed. Add the butter, and run the machine until the mixture is smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the eggs, cornstarch, and salt, and pulse together until everything is evenly combined.
Pour the lemon custard over the crust and bake until the filling is set, about 35 to 40 minutes. (The finished custard should jiggle slightly when you bump the pan.)
Let the pan cool completely on a rack. Run a knife around the edges of the pan, then use the parchment sling to transfer the uncut bars to a cutting board. I like to refrigerate the slab for 10-15 minutes right on the board before slicing it into bars.
Makes 16 2-inch bars