When I began a brief stint, working as a barista at Starbucks, one of the overseeing managers first asked me if I was an actor and then, if I was a writer. He didn’t ask me if I knew to listen for the sound of paper tearing from the spigot while steaming fluffy cappuccino milk to get it just right.
I worked in a green hat and black apron that smelled always of mocha, for the first months that followed a very different kind of cap and billowy black graduate’s gown in a dark, unseen passage from undergraduate school.
Although I began in the sweatiest months of summer, our heart-of-Manhattan store, was perpetually cold. I don’t mean that the management was particularly icy or insufferable, I mean that it was actually cold.
Dipping my hands, over and over into that deep icebox to scoop ice chips with scoopers that each had different sized handles, to make cup after cup of iced tall iced coffee (one-pump-hazelnut, nonfat).. etc., left me with cold wrists and elbows in a space that was always vacuum-packed with air-conditioning against the warm of outside.
I spent a lot of time deciphering initialed letters in small neat boxes on cups of plastic and paper, and listening to The Beatles and Adele, over the store’s speakers. And I spent a lot of time making espressos that jolted into action the dreams of other people, who over time expected that I would remember their names and that she only drank soy, but he adored doppios, with just two ice cubes, swimming. Everything was shoveled, glistening, with ice, (unless you were one of the few who could drink sweltering in the sweltering), because it was hot out there and what we offered were cold things to cope.
I remember: walking back from my half (break), feeling the humid sidewalk breathing hotly up my coffee-stained pant-legs. Even though it had rained, the sky was still somehow mysteriously bright. There was also this: iced lemon loaf and its cohort of dedicated followers.
But this is not really about ice-on-the-fringe Macklemore, or ice-fringed lemon loaf and how its regulars are different from those who eat pumpkin loaf sprinkled with pepitas in the summertime. This is about my sister and how much she loves lemon and how much she loves these lemon bars, and how much I think you will like them, too, especially with your favorite tea and your sister, if you have one. It’s about the really good kind of bittersweet, for when life gives you lemons and you’re dreaming about shortbread, preferably in squares.
With lemon bars, I find that usually there’s double the filling and not enough shortbread. In this case, there’s just as much cookie-crust as there is lemon curd, which strikes a satisfying balance, since this bar makes full use of the sharp, freshness of its lemon. And the powdery, puff of Confectioner’s sugar on top is something like this:
Adapted from Rose’s Christmas Cookies by Rose Levy Beranbaum via Epicurious.com.
- 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- pinch of salt
- 4 large egg yolks
- 3/4 cup sugar
- scant 1/2 cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed (about 2 1/2 large lemons)
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 2 teaspoons lemon zest, finely grated
- pinch of salt
- Confectioner’s sugar, for dusting
Preheat oven to 350°F. Set aside either an 8×8″ glass baking pan lined with aluminum foil and a light coating of vegetable oil (reduce oven temperature to 325°F, accordingly) or or a metal baking pan.
In a large bowl, whisk together sugars and salt. Add softened butter, and either using wire whisk or with an electric mixer, beat until light and fluffy. Using fingers or a pastry blender, add flour, squishing it together with the creamy sugar-butter mixture.
Turn shortbread mixture over into prepared pan. Pat shortbread mixture evenly into prepared pan and pierce surface all over with a fork.
Bake shortbread 30-40 minutes, do not allow to brown. Remove from oven and set aside on a baking rack to cool, reducing oven temperature to 300°F.
For lemon curd:
In a small saucepan, whisk together egg yolks with sugar. Add softened butter lemon juice, lemon zest and salt and stir until combined. Over medium-low heat, continue to stir lemon mixture, constantly, for about ten minutes until mixture has thickened, coating spoon a pale opaque yellow. Do not allow curd to boil at the risk of it curdling. Remove from heat briefly if steaming occurs.
Pour lemon curd into pan immediately, making sure that curd is evenly spread, covering shortbread. Bake 10-15 minutes, or until center of curd begins to firm up (should not be viscous or liquid).
Allow to cool completely in pan, and then refrigerate for at least one hour, or until ready to serve. Remove from pan and then cut cold curd-shortbread on a flat surface, into small square bars. Sprinkle tops with powdered sugar.