Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Gingered Lemon Bars

Saturday I went to a read-through of Singin In The Rain, which is being presented by North Country Community Theatre in July. The weekend before, I screwed up my courage and did an audition, and landed a role in the chorus. It's a great place to be for a first theater experience! And as it turns out, the chorus is on stage for more than half the scenes, which I'm told is unusual for a musical. Yippee!
[By the way, the audition process wasn't nearly as scary as you might think. The people were incredibly kind, delighted to have a newcomer since they often see the same faces at all the auditions. I had already set their expectations fairly low, saying I don't dance at all and don't sing much, and I had set my own expectations very low, thinking even if they didn't want me, I would have had the experience. So when they asked me to stay for a dance audition (what a joke!) and read some lines (terrific fun!), I was just really flattered. ]
Anyway, the first step evidently is to read through the play with everyone sitting in a circle, so we all could be acquainted with the scenes and who is in which. (Wow! We have some really talented people playing the leads!) The afternoon started with a potluck lunch so we could all get acquainted. I'd been wanting to try Elise's Gingered Lemon Bars, originally posted on her Simply Recipes website. I love lemon bars. Truth be told, I love lemon desserts of all kinds! Lemon mousse, lemon meringue pie, lemon cake, it's all good.

I have a recipe for lemon bars that I've used for years, but Elise's recipe has crystallized ginger and ground ginger in the crust. Doesn't that sound yummy? I thought the peppery bite might complement the sweet-sourness of the filling beautifully. And it did! I'm happy to report that by the end of the read-through there were very few bars left, and one fellow stopped by to declare them "addictive."

A successful debut!

I won't post the recipe here, since it's really Elise's recipe, but you can scoot over to her website to get it. Here are some comments, though, of some things I've learned over the years and one new thing I learned with this recipe. I hope you try it yourself someday, and if you do, please drop me a comment to tell me how they turned out!

Elise's Gingered Lemon Bars

The first step was to chop the crystallized ginger. You may know that crystallized ginger, also known as candied ginger, consists of strips of ginger root cooked in sugar syrup and coated with sugar. I can buy it relatively cheaply from the bulk department of our local cooperative food store; you might also find it in the produce section or the baking section of your supermarket. If you find it somewhere else, will you let me know so I can update this little guide?

Crystallized ginger has a very peppery taste and a sticky kind of a gummy-worm texture, which doesn't lend itself well to being chopped. After a bit of experimentation, I learned that freezing the ginger before chopping it makes it eminently choppable. Even for the half-cup needed, though, I found that I had to refreeze the second half, because it softened up incredibly fast. You might want to take half out of the freezer and chop it, and then the second half.

I used my beloved chopper from Pampered Chef (comes apart completely, wash it in the dishwasher, great for taking out any frustrations you might have on the cutting board!) but obviously you could use whatever you like to chop with.

Next, prepare the crust per Elise's directions. As you can see from this photo, the chunks of ginger make the crust look deliciously freckled. Isn't it wonderful that you can pat a crust into a pan without having to make it look perfectly flat? The filling will cover any evidence of your lack of perfectionism. Perfect. :) This photo was taken when the crust had just barely begun to brown, which is when you want to take it out of the oven.

Although the recipe doesn't comment on this, I have learned that it is very important to have your filling ready to pour into the crust while the crust is still sizzling hot. This will cause the filling to begin to cook from the bottom and prevent it from soaking into the crust and making it soggy. Just mix it up as soon as you put the crust in the oven, and then give it a quick swish when you take the crust out of the oven, and pour it right in. I love hearing the sizzle when the liquid hits that hot crust. Cooking is a delight for ALL the senses!

Another tip that probably doesn't need saying is that fresh lemon juice is much better than the refrigerated kind like ReaLemon. And it's really important to add the zest. I've skipped that at times when I didn't have any handy, and the bars just don't have the same punch without it.

Last fall, I bought a whole bag of lemons anticipating making lemonade, but for some reason never made it. So I zested all the lemons and froze the zest in those tiny little jars that you get jam samples in, the one-ounce size. Then I juiced the lemons, froze the juice in ice cube trays, popped the lemon cubes out of the trays and put them in freezer zip-lock bags. If I poured them carefully so the cubes were less than full, each cube was just about 1 tablespoon. I've been using the cubes slowly, all winter long. I don't know about you, but I can't tell the difference between this frozen juice and fresh!

I even used one in a cooking class recently, and at the end of the class when the students filled out their feedback forms, one student said the most useful thing she learned was that you can freeze lemon juice in cubes. You just never know what simple little trick is going to strike someone as most helpful. It makes it fun to throw out lots of information.
There's nothing prettier than the bright yellow color of lemon filling, is there?

So, you pour it into the crust and get a nice sizzle, give it a quick swirl to make sure it's spread evenly across the crust, and pop it into the oven. 12-15 minutes later, you have beautiful lemon bars.

This is my entry in the Sugar-High Friday: Ginger event, hosted at Once Upon A Feast this month. Entries are due noon the 28th, so if you have a yummy ginger dessert, blog it and send Ruth your link to be included in the roundup!


ilsa said...

Hey, you should bring some of these delectable delights to acting class. Maybe that will make the teacher forget that i didn't do my homework. lol

Elise said...

What great step by step instructions! So glad you liked the lemon bars. Three cheers for old issues of Gourmet.

Ruth said...

Pat what a fabulous post. The bars look awesome and I can't wait to try them out.

Break a leg as they say with the musical. It sounds like a blast. Keep us posted with your journey with the stars.

Eva said...

You can also make your own crystallized ginger if you're really ambitious. I've never done it, but my brother, who works here, does this sort of thing for fun.

Gabriella True said...

They look amazing!

My Life As A Reluctant Housewife

Janet said...

I get candied ginger "nibs" from the Spice House, so I can skip the ginger chopping part (I don't work for them, I just buy lots of spices from them)