Lemon Squares

Sometimes my Mom thinks I'm overly opinionated in the kitchen (i.e., an asshole) and she no doubt has a point.  When I saw her pulling out a box of lemon squares mix I held my tongue, but not my expression.  She said, "I know, I know."

I said, "I didn't even know they made boxed mixes for lemon squares.  Mom, why?"

"I guess I was afraid they wouldn't turn out."  She paused.  "I used to make Susan Ziegler's all the time."

Is it Duncan Hines and Betty Crocker and the evil Kraft Foods that have trained us to think we are such colossal idiots in the kitchen that we can't measure a cup of flour on our own? That our response to an actual lemon bar recipe would be to stick our finger in our nose and look away?  We have to buy a $3 boxed mix and supply our own eggs?  People!  You can leave the cave!

When Mom said she still had Susan Ziegler's recipe, I asked her to get it.  She did, read it and said, "That's it?"

"Yes, Mom, that's it."

I think she felt so chastened, she overcooked the boxed mix on purpose.

So herewith the lemon square recipe of my youth from a neighbor then on our block whom I still know, slightly adapted (more lemon juice).  I started making these in fourth grade.  The above lemon square was made by James, currently in fourth grade.  It results in a sweet buttery shortbread crust and a soft creamy curd in almost equal proportions, so they are almost like cookies.  I like the balance but if you wanted more curd, I don't see why you couldn't increase the curd ingredients by half, adding a tablespoon of corn starch perhaps to ensure the extra volume sets up. Taste the curd as you mix it—you may want to add more lemon or less to taste.

Susan Ziegler’s Lemon Squares

The Crust

4 ounces butter, melted

1 cup flour

¼ cup confectioners sugar, plus 1 tablespoon for dusting

The Curd

2 eggs

1 cup granulated sugar

½ teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoons salt

5 tablespoons lemon juice (one lemon)

Heat your oven to 350 degrees.

For the crust, combine all ingredients till well mixed and press into an 8X8 or 9×6 baking dish. Bake 20-25 minutes or until lightly browned.

Combine all the ingredients for the lemon curd, mix well and pour over crust.  Bake 20
minutes.  When it's completely cool, put a spoonful of confectioners sugar in a fine mesh strainer and dust the top.

That's it.  Come to think of it, you probably don't even need the baking powder.  But I'm afraid to call Susan to ask.  She may reply, "Because that's what it said on the box."


78 Wonderful responses to “Lemon Squares: Boxed Mixes?!”

  • Cameron

    A couple of years ago, my mother gave me a box of some Duncan Hines cake-strosity. AS A GIFT. ON VALENTINES DAY. Like you, I am a known kitchen asshole, so I can’t figure what possessed her to think I would want that.

    The box is still in my pantry for two reasons: 1) I can’t stand the idea of just throwing it away; and 2) I’m confident that it has enough preservatives in it to last until I think of something productive to do with it. Maybe it would make nice smelling play-do for my 3 year old?

  • Tags

    Simple Fi !

    – is our battle cry.

    Who knew it was so easy?

    If you’re nervous about desserts, get any of Maida Heatter’s exhaustively researched dessert books. (She’s from Palm Beach, too)

  • The Yummy Mummy

    My mom was a pretty good baker – everything from scratch, everything perfect. There was always an abundance of freshly-baked everything in the house. It was her thing. But she cooked with “convenience foods” to lessen the burden and work load of the 1960’s housewife. She loved to bake, but not so much the cooking.

    I never felt I could live up to her baking so, I cooked, everything from scratch. But for years, the only cake I thought I could master was the box. I no longer use the box mixes, but I only make desserts I know I can pull off (I’m pretty proficient with home-made ice creams, for example) and things my mom never attempted, but I still won’t even make an attempt at a cake. Some things are hard to shake.

    Maybe I’ll try these lemon squares, see if I can ease myself back in the sweets game. Thanks for the inspiration, Michael!


  • Frank

    These were known as “Lucy’s Lemon Squares” in our family.

    Mom had a copy of the classic “Peanuts Cook Book”, which included the famous “Charlie Brown’s Mother’s Buttered Oven Potatoes”, too.

    I still have this one in a 3-ring binder full of family recipes that she gave us for Christmas many years ago.

    I think I know what my kids will be bringing to school this week for snack time!

  • Laura

    It does seem a bit ridiculous…I mean what does the mix supply…flour, sugar and leavening products? Another genius invention by the large food companies…how to overcharge the average consumer for basic foodstuffs.

  • Jenna

    I thought the same thing when I had a friend bring the box result to a potluck.

    I grew up in Hawaii, and in high school I made my own version of lemon squares using Lilikoi juice from the plants in our yard. I had to find the right proportions of juice, since lilikoi was much more mellow than lemon juice, and I was also concerned about putting 8 egg yolks into the curd, so I fooled around with that. So after many tries, I now have my own recipe. More importantly, I learned something from this process.

    My point is that the box method is a shortcut, and it is an assurance of success, so a lot of people worried about wasting time and ingredients will turn to it. What it misses are the lessons of baking and cooking methods that you get from using a real recipe, even if means messing up.

  • Allison

    I’m afraid the situation is even worse: when I’m invited to the homes of colleagues and people from church, the desserts are purchased from a supermarket bakery — blech! When people say “homemade” they mean made from a mix. I get the feeling they don’t even know that real food tastes much better than frankenfood. I think we’ve gotten to the point that people can’t even distinguish between lemon curd made from fresh lemons and the synthetic neon-yellow stuff from a factory.

  • carri

    Lemon Bars are one of our most popular items, if there aren’t any in the bakery case I know there’s going to be trouble! Our recipe is a little heaveier on the custard side and the salt is added to the crust, not the filling…I’d definitely leave out the baking powder (doesn’t this make the custard kind of grainy?) and for a little more lemon flavor, zest the lemon before you juice it and throw that in the mix! Yum!

  • Rhonda

    The last boxed cakemix I used came with my Betty Crocker Easy Bake oven when I was 6.

    We then moved to the UK and I had to leave my beloved oven behind. Haven’t used a package mix for anything since then.

  • dadekian

    Honestly, I’d be an asshole too. I’m not saying baking is easy, but when it comes to the more basic things like flour, sugar, eggs, butter, etc. it’s so not hard. My mother-in-law uses cornbread mix from a box. I made cornbread yesterday in about 4 minutes, the oven wasn’t even at temp yet. I don’t get the packages at all.

  • Victoria

    I have never had these although I have eaten lots of lemon curd (called lemon cheese in our house) in my life as my mother was English.

    Can you make these with oranges? Actually, I know you CAN make them with oranges.

    The question really is – do you think these would be good with oranges?

  • joyciel

    I don’t get cake mixes at all. I’m pretty tolerant to these things, like I hate boxed/canned/cube stocks but I can understand why some people use them. But cake mixes? It’s not convenient to me, you still have to add most of the ingredients yourself? Why not just buy flour and sugar? It’s costs less and it’s not hard to measure ingredients and I think as long as you follow a recipe they’re pretty hard to screw up.

    And lets not get into the taste…ugh…

    I’ve seen something even more absurd though, I saw a mix for graham cracker pie crust…and you still have to add your own butter.

  • milo

    It’s funny, my wife always makes cookies from scratch plus a number of other desserts…yet she still always uses a box for cakes and brownies. I really need to break her of that habit. It’s not like it’s really that much quicker, I’m sure it’s more expensive. The only advantage I can think of is that there’s no risk of missing an ingredient, but most cakes probably don’t even need things we don’t already have.

  • Vivian

    Great going James! That looks absolutely delicious!

    It never ceases to amaze me what can be made from fat, flour, sugar and eggs. It still boggles my mind that people feel the need to buy boxed anything when homemade just always tastes so much better and is not difficult when you follow simple instruction.

    Jenna, your Lilikoi curd sounds great! Would you be willing to share the recipe? I love anything with passion fruit in it.

    M.R. hope you had a great vacay. Welcome back!

  • Laurie

    Oh my gosh.. boxed mixes do have there place in a kitchen and here is my view on this. My mom taught us to bake and cook from scratch, but not until I could measure out ingredients and hold a measuring spoon steadily. So when I was in preschool I was baking by a box. It intrigued me, It encouraged me, it made me believe I could bake. It was a precursor to the real thing and I thank my mom that she wasn’t such a snob that she would never allow it in the kitchen. I have four children and just like the appeal of an easy bake oven my kids love to bake and cook because they were given “baker baby steps” within a box. My youngest at the age of three was mixing up frozen yogurt pie by herself. Yogurt from a container, whipped cream from a container and a pre-made graham cracker crust. We all enjoyed it and she was so proud of herself. I even have a picture on my blog of her creation.

    My fifteen year old son is now making sauces from scratch preparing a real roux and implementing his own taste style. So yes.. sometimes our moms in their old age shock us a little by using unorthodox methods.. my mom uses a pairing knife to chop garlic and I go crazy watching this, but I honor her for what she has taught me and allowed me and then am thankful for the professionals who gave me skills she didn’t have.

    Sometimes the absurd, like boxed mixes can leave lasting impressions..

  • milo

    While I agree that boxes are silly, I’m not convinced that homemade always tastes that much better. In the case of something where all the ingredients are powdered (add your own eggs) and the box just has the same things you’d use at home, what exactly would make homemade better?

    Obviously this wouldn’t apply to something like this recipe which uses fresh lemon, but what about a cake mix with all powdered ingredients plus eggs?

  • Ross

    I can’t get my brain around this, yet I see it all the time. When did basic baking become an insurmountable mystery? People claim quality and consistency from mixes, but that seems disingenuous — the quality, while consistent, is very low. It’s not just lemon bars; many friends of mine are blown away by things like from scratch pancakes — pancakes! There’s hardly anything in a pancake — as long as you don’t burn it or over-beat it, how can you go wrong?!

    Is it any wonder, really, that we here in the US eat so poorly when we don’t even trust ourselves to make pancakes and lemon bars?

  • Rhonda


    I agree with you. The mixes I used when I was 6 gave me a great feeling of accomplishment. I felt proud and grown up and went on to develop a real love for cooking. I think it is important though to graduate to the real thing as soon as the child is ready.

    My brother who was 4 years younger than me never used a mix for anything. He started baking by scratch at 7, mastered omeletes at 8 and made duck a la orange when he was 10. We have no idea where his talent came from, it certainly wasn’t genetic. It guess it depends on the child

    Don’t be too hard on your mother. I watched Marco Pierre White chop garlic with a paring knife on television just last week.

  • MessyONE

    I think I have that recipe! It’s from the Better Homes and Gardens gold binder-format cookbook from the ’60s. I know it’s quirky, but I collect oddball cookbooks like that.

    I don’t “get” the boxed mixes, either. The lemon squares are easy – if I must buy them, then the best in Chicago are at the First Slice Cafe. We made pigs of ourselves on them one winter in Hawaii, too. The neighbor had a lemon tree that was producing like crazy that year and he just told us to take as many as we wanted.

    Cakes are NOT difficult to make and most are no more time consuming than something out of a box anyway. I tend to make them on days when it’s hideous outside and I have to be in the house all day anyway. If you time it right, you can get cookies made, turn the oven down for the cake, then turn it down again and do a braise or a stew for the rest of the afternoon. That way, by the time the cocktail hour rolls around all of the work is done. Most people find that terribly impressive – if only they knew!

    I think I finally have the chiffon cake mastered (well, to MY satisfaction anyway) and so now it’s off to angel food land!

  • Sharon

    My preschoolers don’t bake from a box, not because I’m such a snob, but because I don’t like all the added, artificial junk in many boxed mixes because I don’t bake that way and they KNOW that!

    For example, I told my 5 years old that we would make a ginger bread house for new years day. I was prepared to make one from scratch (as usual) but while I was getting candy canes and stuff to decorate it, I found an all natural kit at Whole Foods on sale for 1.99 from $16! So I bought it, I needed the gingerbread cookie cutter anyway.

    The first thing my son said when we dumped the mix in the bowl was “why did they mix it together already? They should have not done that so I have more to do!” We then added eggs, butter and made the icing from the packet.

    Honestly, it was delicious (really, crazy good) but my son would have preferred to mix the flour, sugar and spices himself (with me helping) then add the butter and flour.

    When I bought it, I didn’t think he would notice – just that one of the ingredients came from a box instead of our usual bag of flour/sugar etc. but I give him a lot of credit – he noticed that is not how we usually do it and he wants to do it like Mom.

  • Cameron S.

    Wow – those look just like the way my mom made. I need to make these soon, maybe next weekend for when I return from a long mountain bike ride 🙂

  • Richard

    I have no problem admitting that I often use box mixes for cakes only. Why? Because most of the recipes baking cookbooks don’t work. From elevation to humidity to ovens to the pans to the hand that’s mixing the batter, it’s a wonder anything ever turns out. I consider myself to be a decent baker, and I’m amazed that I cake I bake ever turns out ok. I’ll make the same recipe the next week, and it’s a flop. It’s enough to drive someone mad and quit baking altogether. I think this is where the mixes come in, because, let’s face it, they are dependable. They’ve been tested and re-tested and modified to ensure that they work every single time. I’m willing to sacrifice a bit to know that the cake will be perfect. The ones that tend to be the best are those where you have to add your own fat, eggs and liquids. I draw the line at frosting, I will NEVER, EVER, use a canned frosting. The crud on those ingredients lists is scary.

  • Angry Brit

    When I was a wee imp the only lemon meringue I had ever tried was the one my grandmother used to make which was a boxed mix, complete with a small capsule of lemon oil of which you snipped off the top and squeezed into the mixture. One day, for a dinner party, my mother made a lemon meringue pie with real lemons and pastry from scratch. It had a profound effect on my napping tastebuds and, to this day, lemon meringue pie remains my favourite dessert.

    My mom’s is still the best. 🙂

  • Canice

    Not sure whether I’ve seen lemon bar mixes in the store, but I know for sure I saw a boxed “apple crisp” mix. Wha’? Never mind philosophical arguments, I don’t even understand how that works. ??!

  • cdelphine

    I’ve never had from scratch sugar cookies come out as good as the premade dough. I use brownie mix and occasionally cake mix. However, pancake mix is just ridiculous. Same with instant oats. Why do we need little packets of instant when old-fashioned rolled oats can be made in 2 minutes in the microwave and taste so much better?

  • Kate

    I think all boxed mixes taste of metal. And the texture is all wrong. I think people have just forgotten how cake is supposed to taste.

  • Beanie

    @Richard…yeah, I gotta say I screw up cakes every time. Then Betty Crocker comes to my rescue. I’m not too proud to say it.

    But Lemon squares? Even I can make that! In fact, I think I will.

    You know, Ruhlman, every time you blog, I cook. It’s getting to be a nasty habit.

  • Dick Black

    I think Duncan Hines and Betty Crocker could build a good case for buying the occasional box of cake mix. It is not as if the list of ingredients is a heinous as you find on some frozen foods.

    Some people are even now saying “semi- homemade” is like a gateway drug to doing things from scratch. Small steps. At least it makes you learn how to turn the oven on.

  • Scott

    I love how people are surprised to hear that you CAN make things from scratch. I corned a beef (maybe brined is a better word) for St. Pat’s again this year (recipe from Charcuterie) with great success. But the fact that people think that it’s HARD!! Can I buy a brisket? Sure. Measure salt and sugar and spices? Yup! Let it sit for 5 days in the fridge? Man, I can do all these things. And then boil it? C’mon, it doesn’t get much easier. You almost have to stop reminding people that it’s easy, and just say, Thanks, I’m glad you liked it.

  • milo

    Scott, the issue with something like corned beef isn’t so much that it’s hard to do as that it takes five days (and takes up that space in the fridge).

  • tokyoastrogirl

    This recipe must be simpler than using a box mix! I’ve seen various box mixes for everything from lemon squares to pecan bars and it boggles my mind. It’s funny- I’m sort of the opposite type. I remember when I was about 6 years old, a co-worker of my mom would make these bars- the base was crushed pecan sandies, the middle layer was green pistachio pudding from the box and the top was Cool Whip. I thought it was the best thing I’d ever tasted! Lately I’ve been thinking of making my own version- scratch made pistachio pudding with a buttery, nutty shortbread crust and all topped with freshly whipped cream. Of course I’d HAVE to toss in a couple dashes of green food coloring for old time’s sake:).

  • Tags

    Always keep one thing in mind about mixes –

    the people who put the mix in the box don’t care about…

    your taste buds
    your prosperity
    your health

    they only care about your money, and only until it becomes their money.

    If that means cutting corners makes them more profit, then they cut corners.

    Cheap unhealthy ingredients and shelf-life priorities are SOP.

  • Suzanne

    I so completely agree. I think when you need to use a box mix to make lemon squares you’ve basically given up.

  • John

    A boxed mix for a graham cracker crust? That’s insane! There are only two ingredients besides the butter.

    I made a key lime pie for a party on Saturday. I used to make them regularly, but I haven’t made one for about three years, so it took me about 20-25 minutes to get it together instead of 10-12. But, it still wasn’t that difficult. Especially not the graham cracker crust.

  • Ginger

    I love lemon bars and never made them until a few years ago when I made a batch for my grandma as they are her favorite. I like them super lemony so I add a lemon or two’s worth of zest to them and zing!

    By the way, I don’t recommend attempting grapefruit bars, not tart enough and they end up sort of pinky grey looking.
    Since I can’t eat gluten, I guess I am lucky that I rarely make anything from a box, always from scratch and gluten free too. Lemon bars are an easy convert.

  • lisadelrio

    I’m a bread baker and I don’t even like cake, much less bake it. However, if I did make a cake, I might opt for a box mix because it probably contains flour with a really low protein content.

    I have a feeling that a lot of cake recipes fail because of too much protein in the “all purpose” flour. I know the protein content makes a huge difference with bread. Why not cake?

  • luis

    I wouldn’t worry too much about the pre-mixed food trend. That train left the station in the fifties and now boarding is your “ready made everything” in the freezer aisle of the mega market trend.
    The new condo’s highrises downtown and the beach come equiped with tiny sailboat kitchens that are unsuitable for cooking or baking. This is why Target, Wholefoods and other markets are selling complete finished meals wholesale.
    I bake and cook from scratch because I can not tolerate the levels of ingredients such as sugar found in most recipes. It’s all about the ratios. When I screw something up there is usually a reason and a lesson so no big deal.

  • Adrienne

    Random anecdote about what drove me to using a boxed lemon square mix:

    In college, my one of my housemates and I made lemon squares from her old family recipe. They went in tasting like lemon. They came out tasting like egg.

    So we figured there was something screwy with the recipe. Next time I was at the library, I grabbed another recipe — this was well before the wonder of the internets — and we tried again.

    And got the same result.

    Long story short – we started dinking with the recipes, adding more lemon juice, adding lemon rind, etc. Same thing kept happening. They’d go in tasting of lemon and out tasting of egg.

    We never did figure it out (and I’m starting to wonder if one of the other housemates (a chemistry major, natch) was just messing with us.)

    Still, I tend to use a boxed mix just because I no longer trust myself on the lemon square front.

    I do make brownies from scratch, tho, if that redeems me at all.

  • MessyONE

    lisadelrio –

    I’ve been baking a lot lately, and I find that most of the cake recipes out there are designed to be used with all purpose flour – it’s not the same as bread at all (which is a good thing, I suck at making bread). That said, I use cake flour most of the time. It makes a better crumb.

    Mixing is crucial for cakes. If they fail, that’s generally the reason. Some are easier than others, others rely heavily on all of the ingredients being the same temperature, or mixing until the sugar is not just incorporated, but dissolved. That’s why I was messing around with chiffon cakes – so many people whine about how hard they are to make, but I’m convinced that the main part of their problem is in the mixing.

    If you don’t particularly like cake….make cookies!

  • ntsc

    I just went and looked, we have two boxes of potato pancake mix, various condiments – although I also make my own mustards and can them, we also make some of our own salad dressings, pastas and we do use a commercial stuffing mix.

    Flour comes into this house from Costco in 25# bags, 50# is too large for me to deal with. Sugar same source and size.

    We do use canned stock for cold soups we don’t want to jell. I haven’t figured out a solution to that yet and am not certain I want to.

  • S. Woody

    My mom used boxed mixes for cakes all the time. She was not known for her cakes. What she was known for was her pies – particularly lemon meringue and pumpkin – which were always from scratch.

    Meanwhile, from this supermarket cashier’s POV – I can always tell when a customer will be baking, just from what she (sometimes he) is buying. And I’d say the scratch bakers outnumber the box bakers by two to one, at the very least. (Aw, c’mon, everyone knows that baking from a box is hard and scary!)

  • Kate in the NW

    I cop to occasionally buying a Whole Foods-y-type cake mix now and then.

    Why? My kid can’t eat wheat, and I’m not that into baking, so I have my hands full just coming up with decent recipes for her bread, pizza dough, pancakes, etc. And eating wheat-free is NOT inexpensive (check out the cost of other flours next time you’re in the market!). Every mistake costs a fair chunk of change.

    So when her classroom is having a party or her Campfire group is having a bake sale, I’m not going to make 4 dozen wheat-free cupcakes that everyone will think are “weird” because of the texture and also cost me $2/each to make. And I’m not going to buy a whole big bag of wheat flour when half of it will just sit in the cabinet and attract meal moths.

    So: get a “decent” mix (yes there are some), add some extras of my choosing (God forbid I ever make anything straight from the recipe), and call it good. No waste and people will eat it.

  • Sara

    My mom always made cookies, and pie crust from scratch but she still does the box cakes.

    I make cakes from scratch and I don’t think it’s anymore work.

    I don’t give her a hard time though since she still makes me a lemon torte for my birthday-
    it’s from a box but it’s pretty good-when I haven’t lived at home in a long time.

  • milo

    I’m skeptical that anyone sells graham cracker crust mix.

    Are you sure you didn’t just see a box of graham cracker crumbs?

  • Tags

    Biting into a “homemade” cake only to discover it’s a box mix is like paying for tickets to a Rolling Stones concert and arriving to find cardboard cutouts of Mick & Keith and the rest of the band on the stage with a pair of tinny speakers playing scratched records.

    This happened (“homemade” cake) at a diner I take my family to for breakfast. If they ever start making boxed mix sausage and eggs, I’ll never darken their door again.

    It seems like more and more, diners that used to be known for their fresh ingredients are running into the Bisquick Buzzsaw.

  • Sara

    For my son’s first birthday party I went all out and made vanilla buttercream cupcakes and a milk chocolate 4 layer cake from scratch that turned out fabulously. Definitely my biggest cake baking success so far, and hardly anyone ate it! “I’m full…watching my weight…on a diet…”

    Maybe they thought it was from a box? How sad…though the leftovers were amazing 🙂

  • Devon

    I made lemon squares a few weeks ago and they were fabulous and maybe two shakes more complicated than the box. When are people going to realize that they wouldn’t have to diet so much if they didn’t eat processed food. I could never say no to a homemade cupcake; never…

  • HarryLou

    I see this boxed mix thing all the time. These cakes have a softer texture; people seem used to this and feel that “scratch” cakes are too coarse. Someone gave me a recipe for “Strawberry Cake” made from a mix that I was tempted to try. But looking at the mixes, all contained partially hydrogenated stuff. No way … was lucky to find a fine recipe online for a “scratch” strawberry cake. I have had a problem with 9×13 cakes falling in the middle after they come out of the oven…so mostly I bake stuff in a bundt pan.

  • Carol

    Imagine how happy I was to know I happened to pick up two lemons at the store the day before reading this post. I had all the other ingredients on hand and was able to whip these up right away. Very, very nice (I did add the zest of one lemon as one comment suggested).

  • YOD

    I was recently out visiting friends in SoCal and could kick myself for not pilfering a few lemons off their gorgeous lemon tree. They would be perfect for this one.

  • Dean Estes

    I wonder if the simplicity of this classic recipe has something to do with why so many baking bloggers and cookbooks offer less basic variations? Perhaps some feel that there’s not enough challenge unless the crust is made from home-baked ginger cookies or the curd prepared via more complex method. In any event, this is the most quintessential lemon squares recipe I’ve seen. Thanks for sharing it!

  • Natalie Sztern

    for the ready-made graham cracker crust: the philosophy is “i’m too f’in lazy to make the crust”….

    Boxed mixes are too full of sugar as their main ingredient which is usually listed first, as opposed to homemade where sugar is not the first ingredient…

  • Paul Kobulnicky

    Lemon squares from scratch … yes.But cakes? My wife is a great dessert baker and you can always tell her homemade cake vs her box cakes (no matter how well doctored). The homemade crumb is always coarser. She says that box cake mixes, like commercial cake mix the bakeries use, have fats very finely mixed in with the flour … to a fineness that you cannot duplicate at home. I think she is right. Try an experiment. Try a white or yellow cake from scratch (even with cake flour) vs the cheapest box mix. The box mix makes a finer and drier crumb cake. The homemade is coarser and kinda greasy.

  • cybercita

    i haven’t read all the comments, so i don’t know if anyone else has said this — but dude! a lemon does not give five tablespoons of juice! two, if you’re really lucky and have a nice thin skinned one. roll it on the counter first, and use a reamer.

  • milo

    Natalie, next time you see it let me know what brand it is, I’ve never seen a mix for that at any of the stores I’ve ever shopped at. I don’t know, maybe it’s a regional thing.

  • Aaron Salvo

    Boxed mixes are to food what sitcoms are to TV. They’re both dumbing us down big time.

    Being a member of the cult of butter and sugar (i.e. a pastry cook), I see the most heinous of food crimes: emulsified shortening (http://tinyurl.com/cd6d4h ). This stuff doesn’t melt until it’s heated well above body temp, which means it’ll coat your tongue for a while, making tasting anything else impossible until it finally dissolves chemically, but the worst part is that people have eaten so many cakes made with this stuff that when they get a cake made from all butter, they don’t like it.

    And don’t even get me started on buttercream made with butter vs. the Crisco and sugar we get in the supermarket.

    I will, however, forgive people like my wife who just despise cooking. If she makes a cake out of a box it’s a very special day, but in those rare cases it’s the fact that she made anything that makes it special not the cake.

  • Frances

    I’m the baker in the house. After crunching some numbers, we determined that we can bake our own bread for less than half the cost of store-bought. No bread machine, no fancy artisan bread, just plain old whole wheat that my kids will eat. The dough hook is attached to that genious gadget called my hand. Who brings a bag of Arnold’s bread home, and has the family hovering around waiting for a slice of it?

    As for cakes from scratch versus ones from a box, yes there is a difference. It’s like the difference between store brand white bread and homemade. I will warrant that if you can’t tell the difference, then maybe the extra effort is wasted? Seriously.

    There is a certain amount of pride and sense of accomplishment that only great effort (and good results) can provide. My son came home from school one day and asked if I could bake a cake for his class Valentine’s party. He said he told his teacher that I made a pretty good cake. Made me feel good and I was a little surprised that he already knew the power of flattery. Ten-year-old boys are often very lacking in the compliments department. The baking thing is kind of my “in” with him. And he’s showing an interest in it himself.

  • Harry

    I make many things from scratch – and could make many more if it weren’t for this pesky thing known as work – but we make brownies from a box. I’ve tried just about every recipe known to mankind plus tinkering around a lot, but still what we like best is box mix + chocolate syrup. Go figure.

  • cybercita

    you can’t get five tablespoons of juice from one lemon. two if you’re lucky.

  • Palapala

    Dear Frank,

    My “children” are now in their mid- to late- forties, but every time they come home for a visit we make Charlie Brown’s Mother’s Potatoes at least once, for auld lang syne. What fun to read your note about that cookbook too, and our favorite recipe from it. I spent years looking through used book stores but finally found a copy for each of my grown children. Triumph!

  • Laurie

    Today, April 2nd. I saw Giada De Laurentiis use a packaged mix for her strawberry mascarpone filled cupcakes. She said, “Just to make things simple”! It didn’t shock me though.. she quite often simplifies things, and she a baker before a cook who intended to enter her culinary world as a pastry chef. To me that’s playing it real!

    I am a scratch baker and cook.. but I cheat sometimes and buy “puff pasty” from a box. I love making it from scratch but it is timely, having to wait in between refrigeration’s and folding.. I don’t always have the time.

    I think it’s o.k. to once in awhile simplify life..

  • Vivian

    This is going out to all those who are sold on the brownies from a box. I used to feel as you do, but that all changed when I first baked Ina Garten’s Outrageous Brownies. They are truly outrageous as described. The recipe contains about 36oz of chocolate and makes an enormous 1/2 sheet pan of brownies. I used to cut the recipe in 1/2 but it has become so popular that I cannot show up a family gathering without a huge amount of them. Trust me these are so worth the effort!

  • Frances

    Thanks for the recipe Michael! I made them for my boys yesterday, and they loved them. Plus the recipe is so easy that my older son can make them.

    I consulted a conversion chart and a medium lemon has about 3T of juice. So I can see where a large one could yeild 5T.

  • milo

    I’m going to have a homemade cake for my birthday, it’s been a while since I’ve had a scratch one, so will be interesting to compare to the box ones.

    Thanks for the tip on the Outrageous Brownies recipe, I’ll definitely have to try it, though I’ll probably cut it in half.

  • Vivian

    Oops my bad! I just remembered that I normally double that brownie recipe so the original recipe has only 18oz of chocolate and not 36oz.

  • brilynn

    Just a question about the recipe- should the bars be baked at 350F after the curd has been poured on top as well? That seems high and I worry about making scrambled egg lemon bars… Otherwise, I plan on giving these a shot.

  • The American Homemaker

    I LOVE LOVE LOVE cake mixes 🙂 I use them for all kinds of things, not just cakes. I’m actually using a cake mix for my lemon bar crust right now.

  • milo

    This weekend I visited family and they made lemon squares from a boxed mix.

    I probably shouldn’t admit it here, but they tasted pretty damn good. While I’m 100% in favor of cooking from scratch, I wonder how many of the people who go into histrionics over this sort of thing have actually tasted the things they are complaining about?

  • milo

    Oh, and the homemade cake I had for my birthday was great…although I dare say that I suspect most people probably couldn’t tell it from a boxed mix in a taste test.

    I’ll have to try this recipe at some point when I have time to compare.

  • Jessica

    Ruhlman, I love you but these cookies were not that great.

    I like lemon desserts on the tart side but I think any objective taster would agree, these were far too sweet.

    Base tasted like not much (needed salt perhaps) and wasn’t thick enough (9×9 pan) to hold together once cut. Curd burned on the edges before the center had set. Pure hell on earth to get out of the pan at any stage of cooling.

    I made no substitutions and know how to do what I’m told; I am a pastry chef. Obviously tastes vary, but this is not a reliable go-to recipe for this cookie.