Pucker Up...

As a general rule of thumb, I do not much enjoy being outside, especially in the summer when the weather is hot and sticky. I'm not exactly sure how people survived in the days before air conditioning, but I'm happy to have been born into the era of central air. Otherwise, I would have had to pursue science as a career track, so I could spend my life engaged in research in Antarctica.

Nevertheless, for some reason, I really enjoy picnics. I loved them when I was little, and my mom would fill up a cooler with special treats, pack up an old Native American blanket she'd purchased long before I was born, and take me to the park to eat and play. In college, my friends and I made a tradition of having a picnic every year, often in old, dilapidated cemeteries around St. Louis. I've tried to maintain that tradition on my own, and I've been moderately successful with making it to Grant Park for an annual alfresco dining experience. Justin and I even went on a picnic on our second date.

Tomorrow, I'm meeting Mireya, Natasha, and Natasha's family for my annual pilgrimage to the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park for a free concert, so it seemed only right to combine a picnic with the evening's events. Naturally, I assumed responsibility for dessert production, but with my self-imposed moratorium on Martha Stewart, I had to look elsewhere for inspiration. I settled on a recipe I'd bookmarked from one of my favorite food sites, Serious Eats. They have a seemingly ever-expanding roster of authors contributing there, and have recently launched a dessert-focused subsection called "Sweets," where I'd spotted a recipe for Lemon Ginger Bars. Since I've become a convert to the ease of baking bar cookies, I was saving this recipe for just the right occasion.

As it turns out, Natasha is a huge fan of ginger (I've used her as a guinea pig for my last two ginger-centric baking experiments), and Justin loves lemon, so I figured this picnic gathering was the perfect opportunity to test this recipe. Despite making a rookie mistake when I turned the bars out of their baking pan that resulted in them shattering into a dozen or so irregular shards, the resulting cookie shrapnel turned out delicious, if somewhat unattractive by my usual standards. Not being a fan of lemon myself, I preferred the bits that had less glaze, as the bars themselves have a subtle hint of lemon flavor from the included zest, while the majority of the lemon punch comes from the topping. The cookies are warm from the ginger, with an occasional kick from the chunks of crystallized ginger, in addition to being pleasantly soft and buttery.

Besides being quite tasty (which is hard for me to admit, as a self-identifying hater of lemon-flavored desserts), this recipe came together quickly, which I also appreciated. They'll definitely be a strong contender for the citrus cookie category in this year's Cookie Bonanza come December. Until then, consider giving them a try of your own.

Lemon Ginger Bars
adapted from Nick Malgieri

2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. sugar
2 tablespoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 large egg
1/4 c. crystallized ginger, finely chopped
2 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons lemon zest

Lemon Glaze
2 c. powdered sugar, sifted
3 tablespoons freshly-squeezed lemon juice, plus extra if needed

Preheat oven to 375. Line a 9x13-inch jelly roll pan with foil and spray with Pam.
1. Mix the flour, sugar, ginger, and baking powder in a medium bowl.
2. Melt the butter in a glass container in the microwave, and immediately add to the dry ingredients. Use a rubber spatula to stir into a smooth, shiny dough. Add the egg, crystallized ginger, honey, and lemon zest, beating vigorously until smooth.
3. Press the dough into the prepared pan, smoothing the surface with the palms of your hands.
4. Bake the bars until well-risen, golden brown, and firm, about 20-25 minutes.
5. While the bars are baking, combine the lemon juice and powdered sugar. Add additional lemon juice to thin to a spreadable consistency, if needed.
6. As soon as the bars are baked, remove from the oven. Place a cooling rack on top of the pan and invert, removing the foil. Pour the glaze over the bars, spreading to coat, and allow to cool completely before cutting into 2-inch squares.

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