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from www.shorpy.com, a great resource for old DC photosIntrepid baker and friend Jill has been trying a lot of the recipes here on Baking Family. So many, in fact, that she has done two incredibly helpful things: She found a nasty omission on one recipe — no cooking time, what was I thinking! — and she let me know that she was trying another with enough lead time that I could ask her to try an adjustment to the recipe. Which she did. And reported back that the Lemon Buttermilk Pie recipe was indeed just as good with one tablespoon LESS of butter. Recipe updated and reposted.

For all this, Jill wins a prize. Given that I know what Jill likes, this is easy: A bar of really good dark chocolate. I’m prepared to deliver it at the end of the week.

Unless she happens to come by and collect it.

One of my treasures from Gram is a slim, pale-blue, hard-bound volume entitled “Cook Book,” published by the Day Nursery Association of Richmond, Indiana. It’s your basic school fund-development effort. Back in 1924, however, a fundraising cookbook did not have a plastic binding, and it did have a letter from the First Lady’s secretary (more on that in another post).

Mother's Lemon Butter from Baking Family copyright 2010 Garside Group LLC

There is space at the back to write in one’s own recipes, two or three blank pages with “Memoranda” printed at the top. Only one recipe made it onto these pages, for a lemon spread called “Mother’s Lemon Butter.” It’s written in my grandmother’s hand. Was it her mother’s recipe, or had it been passed down from a generation before that?

For those of you not familiar, lemon butter or curd is a tangy-sweet conserve perfect for spreading on scones or toast. Picture high tea, late afternoon, in your country house with the butler serving. Ah yes . . . when exactly does that happen? My extended clan used to buy jars of lemon curd in England or Scotland to give as gifts; the jars would sit for years in regal glory on pantry shelves, waiting for the “right” occasion. Whatever the occasion, it never quite warranted opening the precious stuff.

If you whip up a quick batch of lemon butter yourself, the pressure is off. You won’t worry about using it all up as the filling for a two-layer cake, or as dipping sauce for fresh spring strawberries. You’ll be fearless about folding it into whipped cream to serve with poundcake, or building layers of creme fraiche, lemon butter and berries in a tall glass bowl. Lemon butter is an ace in the hole: Something that allows you to create a company-worthy dessert, fast.

When my tasters tried the recipe as written, however, they were not about to go home and make this treat: Too sweet, and complete with sugary grit. I cut the sugar by a third, and gave the lemon juice a few minutes to work on dissolving the sugar before the eggs go in. Those tweaks delivered the kind of creamy, tart, bright spread I imagine Grammy’s mother — or grandmother? — would appreciate.

Mother's Lemon Butter from Baking Family copyright 2010 Garside Group LLC

Mother’s Lemon Butter

Makes 1 cup

  • 1 tablespoon butter, softened
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • Grated rind and juice of one lemon
  • 2 eggs

Off the heat, put butter and sugar in the top part of a double boiler. Cream them together, then add grated rind and lemon juice. Let sit for a few minutes to allow the sugar to start to dissolve.

In a small bowl, beat the 2 eggs well. Put the double-boiler top onto its base, and begin to heat the lemon mixture over medium heat. As the mixture starts to heat, add eggs and whisk in, hard. Keep stirring or whisking as mixture heats; after 5-7 minutes, mixture will thicken dramatically, to the consistency of pudding. Take pan off the heat and pour lemon butter into a bowl to cool.

Serve warm, with toast or scones, or cool and refrigerate. Lemon butter will keep up to 10 days in the refrigerator.

All photos and recipes copyright 2010 Garside Group LLC

A bad lemon bar is so easy to make. Do you too have memories of catering trays featuring a parade of rubbery, gluggy, insipid lemon bars? Ever find yourself at a party with a boring lemon bar in your hand, wishing you could quietly put the thing down somewhere and move on to a happier sweet?

A good lemon bar is a find. Tart, soft filling over a buttery crust, these bars are happiness at the end of a big buffet or at a bake sale. The latter is where I used to hawk mine. I wish I remembered what we charged at school bake-sales for cookies or lemon bars or pies. It was pennies on the pound of sugar, I have no doubt. There was lots of “stashing” of favored items, under coats and tablecloths, and a brisk side-market in chess pies and the best brownies.

These lemon bars are tarter and less greasy than the ones I made back then; I updated my own recipe. If you’re not familiar with lemon bars, heads up: There are two parts to this adventure. First you bake the crust, then you add the filling and bake again. Buttering the pan is important. That’s how you get the great crunchy-chewy layer on the outside of the crust.

This recipe fills one square 8-inch pan, half of what many other lemon-bar recipes make. I like baking the smaller amount; this is a rich treat, and worth savoring in smaller bites. For a fancier look cut the cooked and cooled bars into fingers rather than squares by cutting them in thirds across one way, and into sixths the other. They’ll crumble a bit. Which is not a bad thing if you’re the one taking them out of the pan.

Lemony Lemon Bars, Baking Family copyright 2010 Garside Group LLC

Lemony Lemon Bars

Makes 16 squares or 18 fingers

  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons confectioners sugar
  • 7 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon double-acting baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • Grated peel and juice of one lemon (about 2 tablespoons peel, 3 tablespoons lemon juice)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter an 8-by-8 inch baking pan.

In a medium bowl, mix 1 cup of flour, 1/4 cup of confectioners sugar and melted butter. Press mixture into baking dish, using a wooden spoon or a fork to coax mixture into corners. Flatten with the back of a spoon or fork; using a fork, poke several holes in the dough. Bake 20 minutes; remove from oven and cool for 5 to 10 minutes.

While crust is baking, mix together granulated sugar, baking powder, eggs, lemon juice, lemon rind and 2 tablespoons of flour. Pour mixture over slightly cooled crust; put pan back into the oven for 25 minutes. The edges of the bars will have started to brown.

Remove pan from oven and loosen the bars around the edge with a spatula or knife. Cool in the pan. Slice bars once they are cool; sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar.

Photo and recipe copyright Garside Group LLC

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