I might claim I’m done with lemon dessert, and I might also be convinced to be honest. But in my heart I know that this is false: as soon as I have lemons at hand, it’s dessert time. This time I made a quite light and bright dessert, a bit old fashioned. I wanted to make a variation on my all time favourite strawberries and cream theme, and I thought: why not add some lemon? (of course. Addiction signal.). So I thought of turning the cream into a lemon mousse. I saw quite a few recipes for that around the web but then I said – lemon mousse is a classic, let’s turn to classic sources. I especially wanted to avoid the effect of a lot of lemon mousses round there, stiff as a piece of wood and with a faint chemical aftertaste. Brrr.
Now, when I want to go for the basic classics, I turn to ‘Il talismano della felicità‘. This is a book my mother and both my grandmothers used to cook with. When I moved out, my mother gave me the edition we inherited from my father’s mother – she was not much of a cook and barely used it. The title translates into ”Happiness talisman” – the secret of happiness is good food. It is hard not to agree, and indeed there is much happiness to be derived from this book. It may look desperately old fashioned, and I am not claiming it is not – but it is such a good cookbook. You don’t need to know things beforehand, you can really learn how to cook by simply following it, step by step. As a plus bonus it offers huge variety too, so it is interesting also to the expert cook. It offers a fascinating reading – it plunges you in a world where you grinded your own almonds using a mortar to make marzipan (which may happen also nowadays occasionally, so it is good to know how to do it in case you need to), had no freezer, had only hand whiskers, and ‘sent food to the table’ clearly intending that you had servants to do that for you. It was a time where it was ok to address to a female only public. It also has an amazing amount of recipes with truffle, suggesting that once this item was cheaper: now, I am quite happy the world has evolved in general, but I might get a bit nostalgic for that.
The dessert chapter is my favourite one. I have prepared quite a large number of them and it still manages to surprise me. The only recipe that did not turn out perfect are Baba’, and ice creams. I guess having no proper freezer or ice cream machines or electric whiskers lowered the reader’s expectations in terms of ice cream creamness. On the other hand the pastry based cakes and the small pastry are just spot on, but there is also a large number of recipes for ‘semifreddi’ that are just as amazing. Yu don’t find those desserts around that much in these days, and the flavours are of course the basic traditional ones for Italian cooking – vanilla, chocolate, coffee, hazelnuts, almonds, lemon, strawberry. The recipes are so good though that you can easily tweak them to any taste you like. The selection of semifreddi includes three main types: bavarois, custard made soft with whipped cream, bounded with gelatine, served unmoulded;charlotte, n angel cake or lady finger case filled with bavarois, also served unmoulded; and biscuit, a delicate cream served in little cups. The names are clearly of French origin but for some reason a quick google did not return me compatible results, so I guess the name usage has changed with the years. I prepared then the lemon biscuit.
I paired with strawberries, as I said. I think strawberries are my favourite fruit. I wonder how long the season is going to last there. In Italy it is quite short, which is cruel, because I cannot eat too many of them at a time due to a slight intolerance, and I never got enough. In the UK strawberry season lasts the whole late spring and summer – such a joy, when I found out! Here for the moment I just found imported ones from Italy or Spain. The season here is getting warmer but most of the trees as still bare, and narcissus are in full bloom, so I think strawberries might come later. I have already seen local asparagus at the farmer’s market though, and usually the two of them go together, so who knows.. Here I kept the strawberries basic, because they did not have a huge flavour themselves and they were not overly sweet. I stuck to the traditional Italian way to prepare strawberries: marinate them a few hours at room temperature with sugar and lemon. Traditional variations are with wine, red or white, and with vinegar. I know strawberries and balsamic vinegar sounds like the latest trend, but this is actually how my grandfather had them – only the vinegar was not balsamic, just good, plain white one.
Overall, the dessert turned out very good and light. The lemon biscuit was not very lemony, which let the strawberries shine. I think this biscuit idea is a keeper, because it is very light and quite easy: the procedures seems lengthy, but every step is straightforward and the disaster rick is very low, given that the cream is thickened with cornstarch.
Lemon biscuit with strawberries
Ingredients: serves 4
500 gr strawberries
two tablespoon sugar – or to taste according to how ripe strawberries are
few drops of lemon juice
for the biscuit:
3 eggs, separated
60 gr sugar
150 gr water
juice and zest of one lemon
1 teaspoon cornstarch
200ml whipping cream
Cut the strawberries into small squares, dress them with sugar and lemon to taste and let them sit at room temperature to marinate.
(Put them in the fridge after a couple of hours if you are not using them immediately).
Heat water, sugar and grated lemon zest until it boils, then let it cool.
Meanwhile beat the egg yolks in a bowl (no need to overdo this), and beat also the egg whites in stiff peaks.
Put the cream in the freezer so it will be very cold when you whip it.
When the syrup is cold, add it to the egg yolks. Dissolve the cornstarch in the juice of half a lemon, and add these as well. Put everything in a heavy bottomed pan and leave on the fire, stirring, until the mixture thickens a bit. Let it cool mixing often.
When it is cold, add the egg whites; whip the cream and add it as well. Mix carefully, trying not to loose too much air. Put the cream in the freezer for a few minutes to firm up a bit.
In the meanwhile put the strawberries in glasses. Put the cream in a sac a poche, or use a tablespoon, and arrange it on top of the strawberries. You can also do several layers if you prefer.
Keep it in the fridge until ready to serve.