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Heyo! I’m Lauren, a high school sophomore who loves reading too many fantasy novel series, listening to music, and eating a probably unhealthy amount of ice cream.

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The Lemon-Flavored Endeavors of a Kitchen Idiot

June 15, 2020

I’m not the best chef. Sure, I can follow a recipe pretty well—as long as I keep my eyes glued to the paper and my hands within reach of measuring tools. There is no inspired sprinkling of this and that, an artistic swirl of that and this. Rather, it’s just me, a terrified teen, following someone else’s recipe exactly and hoping for the best. At least, that’s what I thought.

My metamorphosis from complete kitchen idiot to advanced kitchen idiot began with lemon bars—those buttery, lemon-y confections positively glowing with extra calories you don’t need, but positively jam-packed with that extra flavor you’re craving.

I first encountered lemon bars in a book I was reading, where some character decided to buy a few from a bakery. Being completely ignorant of the confections, I immediately went and searched up “lemon bars” on Google, a decision I do not regret. Image after image of sugar-dusted perfection—sunshine-colored, citrusy custard perched upon buttery crust. At the behest of my sweet tooth, I ended up looking for a recipe.

I picked the first one I found on YouTube, asked my mom to help me, and started baking. Things didn’t turn out as I hoped. There was no perfect, crisp top; only a caramelized, overly burnt wasteland—steaming with curlicues of a treacherously yummy smell. Slicing the wasteland yielded greasy squares, dripping with barely set filling, smushed on rock hard shortbread. My heart broke, along with a couple of my teeth.

My dreams of the perfect lemon bars fell apart like the crumbled bits of my crunchy shortbread. With a vengeance, I watched the YouTube video again, comparing the oily, browned square on my plate to the gloriously beaming square in the thumbnail. I bristled with fury. What sorcery was this? I had followed the recipe exactly! I had enlisted my mom’s assistance! I had—

But wait, perhaps, there were other factors I had not considered. I stopped and began to think. I put on my metaphysical lab coat and became a culinary forensic scientist, scouring the scene for the culprits of my failure.

The first culprit was our oven.

Over a decade old, the oven had been a long-term fixture in our house’s kitchen. Its light had broken a while back, meaning we had to rely on flashlights to peer into its dark interior. Its timer had also broken, meaning whatever time we set would be inaccurate. Its temperatures weren’t reliable either, measuring higher than the dial’s display. Aha! No wonder my crust had been crunchy, no wonder my custard had been burnt so.

The second culprit was our recipe.

A close examination of the ingredients it called for and the steps it instructed revealed several oddities. For one, it called for an overwhelming amount of butter compared to flour. For another, it required butter to be mixed into the custard, which explained the greasiness of the finished product.

Having ascertained the culprits, I was ready to start anew. Determined as I was to make edible lemon bars, despite my apparent ineptness at baking, I rooted around the kitchen, scavenged the Internet, scoured every blog post and written recipe I could find. It was during this time that I began to realize my undiscovered potential as a chef—someone who breathed life into recipes, who discovered, remade, and innovated them. And though I still remained a kitchen idiot, floundering at basic cooking skills like flipping omelets and chopping garlic, I realized I had gone a step further. I was now an advanced kitchen idiot.

Rather than snatching a random recipe off the Internet, I had done thorough research across dozens of lemon bar recipes, from which I gleaned basic ingredients and methods. With these in mind, I came up with my own recipe—tailored to fit the wild factors of our kitchen.

And now, recipe in hand, I was going to test it.

I measured every ingredient, fixed every parameter carefully. The shortbread I crisped together with my hands—softly, gently—till the powdery cloud coalesced into a crumbly dough, which I pressed evenly into a tin before it melted. I slid it into the approximate middle of the oven, adjusted the temperature, and set a precise timer. The filling I whisked—eggs, flour, sugar, lemon juice, zest, (no butter)—till the goopy eggs blurred into a silky custard the color of sunshine. I poured the golden custard over the just-baked shortbread—heard it sizzle quietly as I put the tin back in the oven.
I was unbearably nervous, yet excited.

Could this batch be the lemon bars of my dreams?

When the timer went off, squealing jarringly, I rushed into the kitchen. A wonderful smell was everywhere, an invisible, aromatic flower exploding out of the oven, sending fragrant tendrils blooming in every room of the house. But I didn’t trust it one bit. Anxiety racking me, I pulled on mitts and yanked open the oven.

My stomach dropped as I settled my lemon bars on the counter. This…was no failure. The top looked like the inside of a pillowy marshmallow, pocked with tiny bubbles yet light, crisp, gorgeously so. The filling was just perfectly set—tantalizingly bright yellow, meltingly sweet with that tangy citrus explosion after which I had been chasing for so long. The shortbread was soft and crumbly, infused with the savory richness only butter and patient kneading could give you.

In other words, I had done it! I had made the perfect lemon bars.

As I sat down with my family to eat them, I couldn’t help but feel incredibly proud, like an exhausted explorer who had just found El Dorado. Solid gold? Nah. Edible treasure? Yes.

I’m still a kitchen idiot, but I’ve gained the newfound confidence of a budding chef. I learned that you can’t always rely on just any recipe off the Internet. Instead, with some confidence, research, and effort, anything is possible—even perfect lemon bars.


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  • BeTheChange18

    Such an amazing piece of writing! I am so thoroughly impressed by your talent!

    7 months ago
  • Erica Lees-Smith

    I love this! Beautifully written, humorous tone, brilliant personal take on the prompt - I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

    7 months ago