Lemon Bars, Child Labor, and Tough Love

Buttery, tangy, sweet, gooey, crisp--all the things I love in a lemon bar.

Buttery, tangy, sweet, gooey, crisp--all the things I love in a lemon bar.

This is really a recipe post. The girls baked a scrumptious batch of lemon bars this afternoon. But I have a longish intro; scroll down if you want to skip it and go straight to the recipe.

Raine, who turned 9 a couple of months ago, decided that she was old enough to bake on her own (I agree—I was 8 when I started experimenting in the kitchen). So last Tuesday, we started with a batch of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, which she insisted on dying purple. They came out some sort of sickly green-gray, and she dubbed them Zombie Cookies. But they were delicious.

High on the success of their Zombie Cookies (Breeze was the official mixer), Raine decided to make lemon bars, because it’s one of her favorite pastries. She asked Aling Lourdes to buy her lemons yesterday, and today they went to the store by themselves to buy butter. I actually didn’t want her to bake lemon bars today because I was working on a deadline, and I wouldn’t be able to supervise, or help. But as I had already been saying no all day to swimming, a trip to the park, cooking on her palayok set, playing Monopoly and a few other activities, I decided to let her go ahead and bake anyway.

Raine and Breeze did quite well. They got out all the equipment, and Raine measured out the ingredients while Breeze mixed. From my desk I barked out ‘helpful’ instructions: put out everything you need first. Clear the table of all things except the ones you’ll use. Wash your hands! Did you use soap? Are you measuring exactly? Make sure the cups are dry.

I did have to step in and crack the eggs and and turn on the oven; and I converted our 9x13 pan into a 9x9 one with the help of a makeshift aluminum foil wall (because apparently when a recipe calls for a 9x9 pan, the crust won’t be enough to fill a 9x13 pan).  But everything else went well, and soon the buttery aroma wafted around the house.

The trouble started when I told Raine to clean up after herself. Cleaning up has never been her favorite thing to do, and washing the dishes is at the top of her OMG-I-love-doing-this-not list. But I told her that baking is fun, but it also comes with the responsibility of cleaning up after. So she haphazardly ‘washed’ the bowls, cups, whisks and spoons. But when I checked on them, most of the items still had spots of dough clinging to them. So I had her do them again. And again. And again. By the fifth round, our frustration levels were high, and we were most likely not each other’s favorite people at the moment. She finally burst into tears, and instead of comforting her, I said something like, “Well don’t drop that cup and break it while you’re crying.”

I was hard on her because I wanted her to learn to do things well the first time. I wanted her to be attentive to detail. I wanted her to excel at everything she does, be it a test at school or washing a whisk. I didn’t want her to do just the bare minimum. I know that her attitude towards these mundane house chores will also be her attitude towards other things that she doesn’t like in the future, and that’s going to affect her work, her life, her chances at success. I know because I am the same way. I don’t want her to be like me. I want her to be better.

Of course, I should have been kinder and gentler. I should have showed more patience and more grace. I always tell the girls, watch your words, use a gentle tone of voice. And there I was, blatantly not practicing what I preached. Definitely not one of my best mommy moments.

Baker and assistant happily at work

Baker and assistant happily at work

But I am blessed to have forgiving daughters. I did apologize to Raine after for being so unkind. I admitted that I could have said things in a better way, and I said I was sorry for acting the way I did. I also commended both of them for doing a good job baking (and I praised Breeze for not only helping her sister wipe the table, but for going beyond what I asked of her, and wiping all the placemats as well).

In the end, we all enjoyed the buttery, tangy-sweet gooey goodness of the girls’ lemon bars.

Here’s the recipe without the drama.

What you’ll need:


  • ½ C butter (a stick of butter)
  • 1¼ C all-purpose flour
  • 3 tbsp granulated sugar
  • ¼ tsp salt


  • 1 C granulated sugar (will cut down on this next time we make)
  • 3 large eggs
  • ¼ C lemon juice
  • 3 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • ½ tsp baking powder

What to do:

  1. Heat the oven to 350°F or 175°C.
  2. Mix all the crust ingredients in a bowl. The girls tried using the hand mixer, but found that mixing by hand was easier. It took some time before the dough came together—it passed through a crumb stage first before it started to resemble dough (I told the girls to keep mixing until it looked like clay).
  3. Grease a 9x9 inch baking pan. The girls just wiped the little bits of butter stuck in the wrapper all over the pan. Nothing wasted!
  4. Press the dough into the bottom of the pan. Try to make it was even as possible. You don’t want the crust to be too thick or too thin.
  5. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes or until golden.
  6. Put all the custard ingredients in another bowl. Make sure that the sugar and flour have no lumps before you put the dry ingredients. This will make it easier to whisk the mixture into smoothness.
  7. Pour the custard mix over the crust (taking the pan out of the oven first, of course).
  8. Bake for 20 more minutes or until set. I had to return the pan into the oven after 20 minutes because it was still a bit too gooey. Five minutes more did wonders.
  9. Cool on a rack, and cut into bars.
  10. Take a bite and marvel over its buttery, gooey, sweet tartness, and your ability to produce such magic.
  11. Clean up after yourself.

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