Fair Warning

January 23, 2009

(Note: There are some who think that one should only write about successes in a food blog. I think it humanizes us all to read about occasional failures especially if tips are given on how to succeed next time.)

If you yourself write a food blog, or if you read a fair number of them, you will have noticed that there are certain trends that bounce around the blogosphere. One is the no-knead bread that I still haven’t made, another is the chocolate chip cookie recipe that appeared in the NY Times this past summer. Recently, it seems that everyone is enamored with the Baked cookbook. One of my favorite blogs, Smitten Kitchen, has been raving about this book since before it actually came out so, of course, I bought it.

It is a very cool book. Terrific photography and very interesting and different recipes. I have a lot of baking books and whenever I open a prospective purchase, something has to really catch my eye. I have lots of recipes for chocolate cakes and chocolate chip cookies and gingerbread in my 20-something baking books so I want to see something new and different. Baked has some things I never thought of (pumpkin whoopie pies anyone?) and some classics done with a twist.

I now have made three things from it and I have to say I am, um, underwhelmed. I know three recipes does not a cookbook review make, but I am feeling a little bummed by the book. The whoopie pies were great and my clients loved them, but the proportions of the recipe were totally off (for me anyway.) I also made their Chocolate Pecan Pie for Thanksgiving and was just not happy about how it turned out, although my brother Michael (a pecan pie lover) thought it was great. And now these bars.

First let me say that I LOVE lemon bars. For a chocolate and caramel lover that is saying something. My go-to recipe is actually from the Betty Crocker cookbook. It is totally no frills and for that reason it is perfect. The Baked recipe caught my eye because the bars masquerade as lemon bars but are actually much more sophisticated. The crust, instead of being more or less shortbread, is made from graham cracker crumbs, butter, sugar, and toasted coconut. The filling is a lemon and lime curd with lots of fresh juice and zest. I thought I would knock it out of the park with this one because almost everyone I know loves lemon bars.

Let me just detail out the dishes involved in making these little guys:

Food processor for grinding graham crackers
Small saucepan for melting butter

Baking sheet for toasting coconut

Reamer for juicing lemons and limes

Zester for zesting lemons and limes

Large saucepan for mixing curd

Whisk for mixing curd

Fine mesh strainer for straining curd

Knife for slicing bars

Spatula for excavating bars

Pan bars were made in

Now, I recognize that dishes are a necessary evil of cooking and especially baking. I curse them while I do them but when the end result is delicious, I forget about them. Here is what I thought about the end result here…

The first problem is that I couldn’t get them out of the pan in time to bring them to my Tuesday clients. The recipe says that you need to refrigerate them at least 2 hours, which I did, but even then the filling was so mushy and the crust was firmly cemented to the pan (in spite of the fact that I buttered it well.) So I waited a fully 24 hours before I tried again to pry out a square and had to sacrifice 3 other innocent squares to get my photo candidate out. One of those, of course, had to be tasted and boy oh boy were they SWEET! Between the coconut and the graham crackers in the crust and the almost 2 cups of sugar in the curd – they made my teeth ache.

So, no thank you Baked. I am going to stick with Betty Crocker on this one. If you have the Baked cookbook and are dying to try their recipe (after the above rousing endorsement), here are some things I would suggest. Bake the crust until it is starting to brown – I may have pulled mine out too soon which resulted in it not releasing from the pan. Add a little less sugar to the curd – maybe just 1 1/2 cups. The crust is plenty sweet so if the curd is a little sour, it will balance better. And finally, refrigerate these (after they have cooled) at least 24 hours and preferably 48. The crust may get a tad soggy but you will be able to get them out of the pan. Be sure to use a very thin metal spatula to lift them out or you will lose half your crust.

Or, you can just save yourself heartache and many dishes and make the alternative recipe below.

Lemon Bars
Adapted from The Betty Crocker Cookbook

Makes 16 small bars

1 cup flour
1/2 cup butter, softened

1/4 cup powdered sugar

2 eggs

1 cup granulated sugar

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

2 tbsp. lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix flour, butter, and powdered sugar in an electric mixer until the dough starts to come together. Press into
an ungreased 8 x 8 inch pan, building up an edge. Bake 20 minutes, until light brown.

Wipe out bowl. Beat remaining ingredients for 3 minutes until light and fluffy. Pour over hot crust. Bake another 25 minutes longer, or just until no imprint remains when touched lightly in center. Allow to cool completely, then sprinkle with powdered sugar and cut into squares.


  1. Thanks for this, it is always nice to know I’m not the only that makes mistakes or has trouble in the kitchen :) I love the white and blue plate!

    Comment by veggie belly — January 23, 2009 @ 10:27 pm

  2. ha! i appreciate a woman who can admit mistakes. i did on one of my posts that, of course, involved baking (which i really can’t do). i actually forgot to add baking powder to my cake and it never rose. i thought if i kept it in the over for longer and longer it would eventually work…but now. it was a black, hard, hallowed piece of yuck.

    Comment by we are never full — January 25, 2009 @ 12:34 am

  3. I totally agree about not only posting successes. I learn just as much, if not more, from my failures as I do my successes.

    Comment by Candy Girl — January 25, 2009 @ 4:58 pm

  4. Oh too bad, I love lemon bars (but now I know where to go if I ever make them). I tend to admit to my failures too, but I don’t bake much, and most savory things can be saved somewhere along the way, don’t you think? I’ve heard mixed reviews on Baked, so you’re not the first one.

    Comment by Andrea — January 26, 2009 @ 2:44 pm

  5. Sorry to hear about your cookbook disappointment – I just hate buyer’s remorse. It just goes to show that often the simplest answer, or in this case recipe, is indeed the best. I am also a huge fan of lemon bars and am really eager to try this time-honored recipe. Thanks :)

    Comment by Chris — January 28, 2009 @ 4:18 am

  6. oh no! I get so angry when I spend so much time on a recipe and end up with a sink full of dirty dishes and a bummer of a dish.

    on a happier note, if you ever decide to make another recipe from baked, try the granola. it’s super tasty and doesn’t dirty nearly as many dishes.

    Comment by kelly — January 30, 2009 @ 12:09 am

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