fail: no-cook lemon bars

10 Jan

My brother-in-law turned 30 this weekend.

His lovely wife decided to throw him a big party that involved all of this favorite things; bean bags, meat, chips, bars and friends.

She succeeded.  The party was a huge success and a ton of fun – even if I did not win the bean bag tournament.

Brette and I were in charge of desserts. Brette made his now famous brown butter chocolate chip cookies (I think that will be a future post if he agrees) and I made brownies and my brother-in-law’s favorite butter bars caramel bars.  Because we had so much chocolate, I thought I’d mix it up and make some lemon bars from my new Ellie Krieger cookbook, So Easy.

I was drawn to these bars because I love lemon and they were a no-bake recipe I could put together while my brownies were in the oven. The recipe was pretty straightforward and I followed it exactly. However, somewhere along the way, something went very very wrong. I’m pretty sure it had to do with the gelatin. Okay, I know it did.

First, take a look at the recipe:

No-Cook Lemon Bars

From So Easy by Ellie Krieger


14 whole-grain graham cracker squares

2 Tbsp. melted unsalted butter

1 Tbsp. dark brown sugar

1/4 tsp. salt

Cooking spray


1, 8 oz. pacakage Neufchatel cheese, softened at room temperature

1, 14 oz. can fat-free sweetened condensed milk – I used regular, but I don’t think that was my problem.

1/4 c. pasteurized egg product (egg beaters)

1/2 c. fresh lemon juice

1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest

2 tsp. powdered gelatin

3 Tbsp. boiling water
Place the graham crackers in a food processor and pulse until crumbs are formed. Add the butter, brown sugar, and salt and pulse until crumbs resemble wet sand. Coat an 8-inch square pan with cooking spray and pack the crumbs firmly into the bottom of it. Refrigerate while you prepare the filling.

In a large bowl, combine the cream cheese, condensed milk, and pasteurized egg product and beat on high with an electric mixer until smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes. Add the lemon juice and zest and beat until fully incorporated, another 30 seconds. In a small bowl, combine the gelatin and boiling water and whisk until the gelatin is entirely dissolved; let cool for 2 to 3 minutes. Using a spoon, stir the gelatin into the cream cheese mixture until incorporated. Pour the filling over the crust. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours. Slice into 2-inch squares using a chilled knife coated with cooking spray.

It doesn’t sound difficult, does it?

Here is where things went bad:

I dissolved and whisked the gelatin as instructed. I let it cool for a couple of minutes. I added it to my mixture and started stirring. I noticed I was creating some stringiness – it literally looked like I was pulling shoelaces out of my batter. Can someone tell me how that happens and how to avoid it?

At the time, I decided to ignore it, finish the recipe and hoped it would work it’s magic overnight in the fridge.

No such luck.

When I took the pan out to cut the bars, here’s what happened:

It was essentially lemon soup with some strings mixed in.The flavor of the soupy bars was good, but I did not want to serve the bars  in bowls.

So, it ended up in the trash.

So, faithful readers, where did I go wrong? Was my gelatin to hot? To cold? Not dissolved enough? Did I stir to much? Not enough?

I’ve never worked with gelatin before. In fact, I’ve never made a successful batch of jello. I’m thinking I should just avoid the stuff all together and stick to what I know.

Please  – let me know your thoughts!

The good news is, the other desserts were a huge hit and no one asked for a lemon bar.


4 Responses to “fail: no-cook lemon bars”

  1. Lee January 11, 2010 at 1:04 pm #

    Your experience with the gelatin made me LOL. i haven’t done much with gelatin either but perhaps your gelatin was old- expired?

  2. Fav Sista January 11, 2010 at 4:43 pm #

    No clue honey. I would not have made nor touched these bars – not a big fan of lemon from the beginning I had an icky face going. I did not know you were gelatin challenged. I make jello and it turns out fine each time. Sorry you had trouble and I have no idea where the issue occurred. I would also have you check your gelatin date – was it past it’s prime? Sure glad your other desserts turned out fine and the family was happy. Sounds like a fun weekend!

  3. Jackson January 12, 2010 at 9:27 pm #

    I love lemon bars, however, I cannot tell you where you went wrong.


  1. gourmet dinner club: brunch « She said. She said. - November 19, 2010

    […] was an updated and very swanky jello mold.  I have never been successful with gelatin of any kind (remember this?), so I was so impressed with this. It might give me the courage to try again. The prosecco gelatin […]

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