Research and development

[Recipe: Alice Medrich’s Very Tangy Lime Bars]

What was that I was doing on a recent Saturday night? Oh, yeah, reading a freaking cookbook.

Lamentable choice of activities, I know. But let’s consider the alternatives: I could’ve disconnected a few synapses dropping in on a showing of House Bunny; I could’ve made a dent in my Tivo-ed cache of Iron Chef; I could’ve stocked up at Target on Charmin and nail polish remover and wiled away a few good minutes wondering why they’ve started making deodorant smell like salad.

All relentlessly entertaining activities, right? So the cookbook reading turned out to be a rather unobjectionable activity, thank you.

And besides, I have this new life goal that fits right in with my choice of reading material. I’ve decided that, one of these days, I want to be in the room when a cookbook happens.

Wouldn’t that be impressive? Standing by while a trained and seasoned cook/chef/baker makes the magic happen.  And I don’t want to just be a fly on the wall. I want the equivalent of a backstage pass, with the privilege of asking questions, of taking notes. Not only do I want to learn all that goes into recipe R&D, I want to get at the people behind the recipes, and to translate their pro wisdom to my daily kitchen.

I’m an amateur, after all. A home cook with bursting curiosity and a self-sent mission. I may not have a day’s baguette’s worth of Cordon Bleu-esque experience, but I’ve got spirit.

I promise a couple of things: One, that I won’t get in the way or talk during crucial moments. And two: that all this will be for the betterment of my own cooking, not to be used in any unauthorized manner.

Right now I’m settling for the sort-of dorky habit of reading cookbooks, instead of just turning to the specific recipe I want and going at it. How else am I gonna know that Joanne Harris (“My French Kitchen”) thinks salad is beautiful, or why the heck Alice Medrich would tinker with buckwheat on behalf of cookies for “Pure Dessert”? (It’s why I fancy cooking blogs, for that matter.)

These insights into the minds behind the recipes seem important somehow. It’s no longer just about getting taste to the table. I want to be privy to the journey, even if it’s vicarious.

In a way, that’s part of the current zeitgeist as it pertains to what we eat: the move toward transparent packaging, to knowing the route something took to get into our reusable tote. The whole farm-to-table culture we’re downing dinner in the middle of.

Being in some way acquainted with the people behind our food — including recipe creators — enlivens the entire food experience. It’s why I wish I could’ve stood witness to Medrich’s experiments, her trials and errors, her breakthroughs.

Even if I wasn’t around for it all, I still get the benefit of her thought processes from the pages of her books. And when I’m done reading, I get to go to work on any number of her carefully constructed, always thoughtful recipes. And then I get to eat. That’s a perfectly acceptable Saturday night activity.

Alice Medrich’s Very Tangy Lime Bars

adapted from Pure Dessert

She’s right — these are tangy and not at all overly sweet, a perfect execution of taking lime in the direction of dessert.

For the crust:

8 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

1/4 C sugar

3/4 tsp pure vanilla extract

1/4 tsp salt

1 C all-purpose flour

For the topping:

1 C plus 2 tbsp sugar

3 tbsp all-purpose flour

3 large eggs

1 1/2 tsp finely grated lime zest

1/2 C strained fresh lime juice

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Line the bottom and up the sides of an 8-in. square baking pan with foil.

Make the crust: In a medium bowl, combine the melted butter with the sugar, vanilla and salt. Add the flour and mix just until incorporated. Press the dough evenly over the bottom of the pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the crust is well browned at the edges and golden brown in the center.

While crust bakes, make the topping: Stir together the sugar and flour in a large bowl until well mixed. Whisk in the eggs. Stir in the zest and juice.

When the crust is ready, turn the oven down to 300 degrees F. Slide the rack with the pan out, then pour the filling into the hot crust. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the topping no longer jiggles in the center when the pan is tapped. Set on a rack to cool completely in pan.

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8 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Lucy said,

    Beautiful post.

    Those Medrich bars are KILLER.

    My Saturday night was remarkably akin to yours…and just as blissful, I might add.

  2. 2

    Alice Medrich used to write for Cook’s Illustrated – if you haven’t already, check out their magazine. It gives a lot of insight as to what goes into developing a recipe.

  3. 3

    esbandido said,

    Nothing wrong with reading cookbooks on a Saturday night. Everyone is on a quest of some sort. Being on one devoted to discovering the secrets of culinary alchemy is a worthy pursuit, indeed. Sure beats the ones many of my young co-workers are on for vodka and Red Bull cocktails every weekend. And they wonder why I’m not riveted by their exploits every Monday morning.

  4. 4

    Lisa said,

    What a delightful recipe. Keep reading those cookbooks so you continue to come up with tasty creations to share with your readers.

  5. 5

    Trisha said,

    Lucy: Just noticed you’ve been over at Nourish Me making the lemon version with your lemon bounty. Delightful coincidence.

    Croquecamille: I happen to be a Cook’s Illustrated subscriber, and yes, I read the articles detailing their recipe processes (loved finding out that Medrich wrote for them once upon a time). I find it fascinating, and useful. Just don’t tell my 14-year-old former self.

    esbandido: Right on. I appreciate your particular stamp of approval!

    Lisa: Thank you! The reading’s always worth it when I find a gem to share with you.

  6. 6

    kristina said,

    Hey, there’s a new website about to launch called Behind the Burner: it features exclusive tips on products and cooking techniques, as well as video demonstrations with New York City’s best chefs! Be sure to check out the website,, where you can sign up for email updates and more info.

  7. 7

    You are so right in everything that you said! I love blogging and reading other blogs for much the same reason! It is just too darn interesting! 🙂

  8. 8

    […] Alice Medrich’s lemon bars, a yearly […]

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