Coming up fast

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. 

Twirl aaaaaaand dip.

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


Pia said...

It's good to have you back, Jess. Instagram's great, but your words are a little more wonderful xx
PS: Those packing boxes! I have a love/hate relationship with them. It's been three years since we last moved; our longest Sit-Tight yet.

Sally said...

I'm thrilled that you're back! I've missed your writing and your blog, and look forward to your book so much. I have the SK cookbook, and have made many wonderful things (the red wine cake - swoon!), but not these bars, so I'll make them soon.

Congratulations on SF! I'm sure that Hi-Rise misses you, but your timing was impeccable. This past winter in Boston was horrible. ENJOY!

deb said...

Yay! WelcomeBack! I'm so happy now. Your blog is my favorite!💕💕💕

Gemma said...

So happy to see you here again! I've been meaning to make these lemon bars ever since I got the book so thank you for the reminder - soon, hopefully...

britt (pigbook1@gmail.com) said...

someone else moving from the boston area to the SF area. I made that trek 2years ago, it's quite a change. Congratulations!

Amanda Hawkins said...

Hurrah for all of it: Homecoming! The book! Google buys! And movements west of the west with salt-topped chocolate-dip! All good things. Welcome to California. :)

Julia said...

so happy you're back! we've missed you so.

Kelly said...

Wonderful news!
And I would love to make those bars sometime soon!

Anonymous said...

Oh, envy!:-) I used to live in the East Bay. So much good food. Have you discovered Bi Rite ice cream? Lush gelato? rainbow Grocery! The farmers markets? Congratulations, welcome back and have fun!

Hannah said...

I recommend the Ice Cream Bar at Carl and Cole. It's just off the N, and getting caramelized honey in a homemade cornmeal waffle cone is amazing!

MichelleJ said...

Woohoo! You're back! One to two children would be enough reason to take a break because - having been there myself - I know you don't want to miss a moment with those lovely little people. But I kept hoping.

And not just because it is so much more fun to pull up my favorite recipes-of-yours on my ipad than to look at a notecard when baking.

And here you are. You are amazing.

Question: I am wondering if I could make them lemon filling in this wonderful Vitamix I just purchased, since I do not have a food processor? I just might have to try it.

Rogue Unicorn said...

So excited for your book. I can't wait to read it. xx

molly said...

San Francisco! THE BOOK!!!!! (Google?!?!) And lemon bars made of whole lemons???


So good to hear your voice.

Welcome "home".


Katie said...

Gosh, you know what's awesome? Logging into your blog reader, and thinking, "I could really go for reading some good writing today!" and seeing a Sweet Amandine post. So good to see you here, Jess. I missed your words.

P.S. Strawberry season is about to commence in Oregon. xo!

Elishag said...

Cambridge misses you. And by that I mean the people in apartment 24 who miss the company of you, your Google hot shot and your two little humans. Happy belated to F and how I wish we were still taste testing but So incredibly happy that your book is done!!

Mel said...

Yay! So lovely to have you back, I missed your blog posts all the way from Melbourne, Australia. Congrats on a fantastic and eventful year and looking forward to more posts and your book!

Isabelle Hulm said...

So wonderful to see you back. Can't wait for the book to be in print.xxx

Natalie So said...

I love this post!! Funny enough I've split my life between Cambridge and San Francisco, though the Bay Area is where I grew up and where I think I plan to stay forever!! Hope you're enjoying the city - the lemon bars look delicious.

Jennifer said...

These are amazing, pure, lemon bars. Thank you! I tried them today, confident in your review, but somewhat worried as having not used a full lemon when making lemon bars before. And WOW! I loved them! And can't wait to share the recipe and make them again! Thank you!