When it comes to choosing a dessert, one that spotlights lemon rarely makes the top of my listâ€”not when there are sexy indulgences with bittersweet chocolate, ripe berries, or stone fruits vying for my attention. Itâ€™s not that I donâ€™t care for lemon; I do! I love it; I value it ; I mean, think how bleak cooking world would be without this bright citrus!
But Iâ€™m easily seduced by the sounds of a dish, the lure of its place, whether it features damson plums grown at a neighboring farm or cacao beans gathered in an exotic rainforest. The lowly workhorse lemon seems, well, lowly. Unfairly or not, Iâ€™ve tended to regard it as a fine supporting player, not the star.
I have encountered, however, this exception: Lemon Tirami Su
A number of years ago, while searching for something a little uncommon to complete the menu for a clientâ€™s springtime Sunday brunch, one of my bakers, Michele, found this recipe in Jane Freiman’s Dinner Party. Always a fan of the traditional cocoa-espresso-based version, I urged her to give this one a try. For a recipe whose ingredients scarcely stretched beyond Lemons-Sugar-Eggs-Cream, the results were astonishing.
Hereâ€™s the line up:
Soak lemon-infused simple syrup into
spongey ladyfingers, follow with
a slather of intense lemon curd, top with
a pillow of barely sweetened mascarpone.
Oh, my. It’s this happy marriage of acid and dairy:Twang-Twang in the midst of dulcet cream that makes this a sublime dessert. Tirami-Su, lyrical Italian for lift-me-up…or let me just plunge into that dreamy lemon pillow.
I’ve got the simplest way listed first, by steps. But if you have the time, feel the least bit ambitious, I’ve included recipes for making your own mascarpone and ladyfingers. Both are not hard at all to do.
Homemade mascarpone requires only heavy cream, lemon juice, cheesecloth, and time.
I recommend trying this. The lemon juice acts as the thickening/separating agent for the cream, but doesnâ€™t sour it. It remains true to what mascarpone is all aboutâ€”a concentrated sweet cream. The lemon barely scents it, making it all the more perfect for this dessert.
Lemon Tiramisu, simplest way
adapted from Dinner Party, Jane Freiman Harper&Row 1991
Lemon Simple Syrup
1 cup water
Â¼ cup Sugar
Zest of 1 Lemon
4 Tablespoons Rum
Dissolve sugar into simmering water in a non-reactive saucepan. Simmer for 5 minutes, then add lemon zest and rum. Simmer for 5 more minutes, then cool. Strain the zest from the syrup.
Note: the rum creates a complex, almost bitter bottom note to the syrup but if you prefer to not use alcohol, simply omit.
2 teaspoons Cornstarch
Â¾ cup Sugar
4 Tablespoons softened Butter
Zest two of the lemons. In a heavy, non-reactive saucepan, mix the zest with sugar and cornstarch.
Juice the lemons: you’ll need about Â¾ cup. Pour half of the lemon juice into the saucepan and stir into the sugar. Gently heat while stirring constantly, about 3 minutes, until the sugar dissolves.
Beat the eggs with salt and remaining lemon juice. Whisk into the saucepan and continue stirring. After a few minutes, the mixture will begin to bubble and thicken, becoming pudding-like. Whisk in the softened butter and cook for another minute. Transfer to a heatproof bowl and cool.
3 Eggs, separated
Â½ cup sugar
1 lb. mascarpone (or 1 recipe of homemade mascarpone–see below)
Beat the eggwhites until soft, stiff peaks form. Whip the mascarpone with the egg yolks and sugar until smooth and well incorporated. Fold in the beaten egg whites.
This basic recipe will fill an 8×8 baking dish and serves 8. In the photographs here, I had doubled the recipe for a friend’s special dinner for 15.
Start with the ladyfingers: You’ll need about 2 Dozen. Dip them one-by-one into the lemon syrup and line the bottom of your baking dish.
Spread a layer of lemon curd over the ladyfinger layer and top with half of the mascarpone mixture.
Repeat this process; cover, and refrigerate overnight.
Before serving, garnish with a little lightly sweetened whipped cream and slices of lemon.
Feeling A Little Ambitious ?
Making your own mascarpone is cost-effective and fun!
3 cups Heavy Cream
3 Tablespoon Fresh Lemon Juice
Pour cream into a mixing bowl and allow it to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Whisk in the lemon juice, and stir well for about 5 minutes; the cream will begin to thicken and become sour cream-like.
Line a strainer with a piece of doubled cheesecloth and place the strainer over a bowl. Scoop the thickening cream into the cheesecloth. Allow this to stand in a cool place for 5 hours–or overnight in the refrigerator. The whey will separate and collect in the bowl, leaving behind a luxurious, dense mascarpone.
Don’t worry about making “perfect finger” shapes. It all gets lost in the layers. Once, when we had to make this dessert for 250 guests, Michele made “Lady Slabs”—entire shallow baking dishes of thin sponge that we carved into pieces for tiramisu.
Homemade Lady Fingers
4 Eggs, separated
Â½ cup sugar
1 cup flour
Â½ teaspoon baking powder.
Beat egg white until soft, stiff peaks form, set aside. Beat egg yolks and sugar together until thick. Beat in flour and baking powder. Fold in egg whites. Scoop into pastry bag and pipe onto baking sheetpan that has been lined with parchment.
Bake in preheated 375 degree oven for 7-8 minutes. Cool and remove. Makes about 2 dozen.