This light lemony mousse started with a recipe for Mousse Légère au Citron in La Bretagne Gourmande by Nathalie Beauvais, a cookbook I bought when we were staying at our friends’ house in Brittany. The method used is very similar to that for Soufflé Milanese in Georgina Horley’s excellent Good Food on a Budget , which I have had since about 1978. This no longer seems to be in print, although you can find copies on AbeBooks. It is arranged seasonally and doesn’t regard being on a budget as any excuse for lack of culinary ambition. It cites her mother, Muriel Downes, Rosemary Hume (the cook behind Constance Spry) and Boulestin as her culinary influences. You can see from the state of the page how often I have used this particular recipe!
Whereas Horley’s recipe uses double cream, the Breton one makes it a bit lighter by using fromage blanc. I wanted a light dessert to follow an Italian Venison Stew, and as mascarpone has a similar fat content to fromage blanc I thought it might work equally well, and be in line with the Italian theme. I like recipes which call for whisking egg whites, as they give me an excuse to use my much-loved copper bowl; purchased in my early cooking days, it has been a pleasure to use for over 30 years.
Remember that if you are cooking for vegetarians you will need to replace the gelatine with Agar Agar (and follow the instructions about method and quantity on the packet – I haven’t tried this yet). My quantities differ slightly from both recipes (more egg-to-lemon than Horley, less than Beauvais) and filled four medium ramekins; naturally you can multiply the recipe up if you’re cooking for more or hungrier people, though you would probably still only need one extra egg white for every four whole eggs. Serves 3-4
1 large unwaxed lemon
2 eggs and 1 extra egg white
75g sugar (or xylitol)
1½ leaves of gelatine
a pinch of salt
Finely grate the zest and juice the lemon and put both in a small bowl. Put the gelatine into a shallow bowl, cover with cold water and leave to soak. Separate the whole eggs, and put all 3 whites into a copper bowl or into the mixer. Put the yolks into a medium heatproof bowl which will sit on one of your pans. Into that pan, put a little water (say, 2 centimetres) and heat it to simmering point.
Add the sugar to the yolks and whisk them together, gradually adding the lemon zest and juice. Sit the bowl on top of the pan, making sure the bowl doesn’t touch the water and keeping the water just at a simmer – ie. a few bubbles rising to the surface. Keep whisking the eggs, sugar and lemon rind and juice until the mixture is thick, mousse-like and you can write your initial on it. This takes about 12-15 minutes, so you either need a strong arm or hand-held electric beaters. I think you get better volume with a balloon whisk – but that may be because I don’t have any option as I don’t have hand-held beaters!
Squeeze the water out of the gelatine and beat it into the mixture. Take the bowl off the pan and beat for another 5 minutes until the mixture is starting to cool. You can speed this up a bit by sitting the bowl in a larger bowl or pan with some cold water in it. Don’t be tempted to skip this step – I have in the past, and found that the mousse separated in the fridge and all that hard beating had been in vain.
Whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks with a pinch of salt. Beat the mascarpone in a bowl to soften it, then whisk it with a few tbsps of the lemon mixture to slacken it further before folding in the rest of the lemon mousse with a spatula. Finally, fold in the beaten egg whites. Divide the mousse between four ramekins or small bowls, and put in the fridge to set for at least three hours. I tend to cover the dishes with cling film but it’s probably not essential.
Nathalie Beauvais suggests cutting a few fine strips of candied lemon peel to decorate the mousse, and serves it with ‘son amandine’ – a nice, plain almond cake. In terms of texture, I think a crisp biscuit or shortbread might be a better accompaniment. A Muscat de Rivesaltes is recommended to drink with it. Georgina Horley’s recipe has a more dressy presentation: the mousse is turned into a small (1 pint) soufflé dish with a paper collar, which is removed when set, and the exposed edge of the mousse decorated with chopped toasted almonds, and the top adorned with whorls of whipped cream. Not that I ever did that, I might add.
I won’t pretend that this recipe is light on washing up – I used four bowls, a pan, two whisks and a spatula – and beating the mixture takes time, but you are rewarded with a feather-light dessert that is a bit special and not too wicked, with the taste of brighter days ahead.