March 30th, 2009

Lemon Lift-Me-Up

When it comes to choosing a dessert, one that spotlights lemon rarely makes the top of my list—not when there are sexy indulgences with bittersweet chocolate, ripe berries, or stone fruits vying for my attention. It’s not that I don’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 I’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, I’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 client’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.

Here’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.
And repeat.

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 doesn’t sour it. It remains true to what mascarpone is all about—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

Step 1
Lemon Simple Syrup
1 cup water
¼ 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.

Step 2
Lemon Curd
4 Lemons
2 teaspoons Cornstarch
¾ cup Sugar
4 Eggs
4 Tablespoons softened Butter
pinch Salt

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 ¾ 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.

Step 3
3 Eggs, separated
½ 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.

Step 4
The Assembly
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!

Homemade Mascarpone
3 cups Heavy Cream
3 Tablespoon Fresh Lemon Juice

cheesecloth, strainer

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
½ cup sugar
1 cup flour
½ teaspoon baking powder.

pastry bag

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.

Posted in Desserts, Recipes

15 Responses to “Lemon Lift-Me-Up”
  1. Judy Says:

    That looks heavenly! And that gorgeous color…….I am drooling. Thanks for another fabulous entry.

  2. Dana D Cummings Says:

    Glad you are a convert to the joys of lemon – If you ever want someone to write an ODE TO THE WONDERS OF LEMON DESSERTS just let me know. Childhood birthday request: Homemade gingerbread in a bowl with hot lemon sauce poured over [very liquid confectioners sugar fresh lemon juice concoction]. Will try new “Lemon Lift-Me-Up” in a Jiffy – for those of us not so ambitious – is Mascarpone available ready made and under that name? And what is a good brand of “sto-bought” ladyfingers?

  3. mark Says:

    Lady fingers can be found at the Cash and Carry located at 51st and Charlotte.

  4. Suzanne Says:

    I just drooled a little…..
    What a great spring time dessert!!


  5. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Mascarpone can be found in the more chi-chi cheese section of a major grocery store–often packed in 8-10oz sized tubs. It’s a little pricey…

    For the ladyfingers, you’ll find 2 types: the true Italian ones (”savoiardi”) are hard, dry, but soften overnight once dipped in the syrup and layered with thte curd and filling. In Nashville, you can find them at the place Mark referenced above–in your part of the world, I don’t know.

    In the grocery stores, you’ll find the more common spongey kind, which I have used as well. Just take care not to pick up the package of “cream filled” ones–they are horrible.

    In the meantime,
    I believe the world is ready for your Ode, failing that, the recipe for your childhood wonder bowl would suffice.

  6. Madeleine Says:

    I am very tempted to make this for Friday happy hour party at my pad… it looks and sounds so good!

  7. Kelli Says:

    Is it strange that I have been staring at this recipe at least 2-3 times per day since its post? This takes one of my favorite desserts, lemon bars, to a whole new level! I have been “spring cleaning” all week long and plan on making this lovely lemon treat as my reward for my efforts.

  8. claudia (cook eat fRET) Says:

    i just want to bathe in a vat of this.

    not kidding.

  9. Leisa A. Hammett Says:

    Nancy, your blog is beautiful!

  10. pat mcnellis Says:

    March at Good Food Matters has been a delight! You’ve inspired me to finally rip out the kitchen wall to make more room for us all to cook and play on the lakeside of the bungalow. Looking forward to seeking out your menupoem in NYC this week with my Berlin friends. Ralf, the chef, has enjoyed feeding the family from your archives before Nikolas heads to Bard this summer….

  11. Tony Says:

    Madeleine did make this for happy hour and it was scrumptious. Much more popular than the pistachios.

  12. Claudia Says:

    Just a small note in appreciation of not only for this lovely and tempting recipe…but also the fact that you have shared it with all of us.
    The photos of the procedures are great.

    I will definitely add this to my Lemon category of must try desserts!

    Again, thank you ;0)
    Laval, Quebec, Canada

  13. Kath Says:

    Oh my, I was looking for your lemon meringue and found this. It looks fabulous, this is going to be on the menu here soon, very soon.

  14. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Kath–this is one of my favorite lemon desserts—ever! I hope you’ll enjoy it.

  15. Good Food Matters » Blog Archive » Fascinating and a little different: chocolate zucotta-domed chocolate cake Says:

    [...] similar to the cake. Short on time, I used packaged ladyfingers, although I have recipe posted here for them, if you’d like to make them [...]

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