Lemon mousse and the mother tongue
Why is Paris such a romantic city, where London is not? I’m not suggesting that one has the edge over the other; they are both fascinating in their own ways. It’s the seedier side of life that really demonstrates the difference in perception. Montmartre conjures up thoughts of starving artists, street cafés and the nearby Moulin Rouge with its colour and sparkle captured by Toulouse Lautrec; think of Soho and you picture strippers, peep shows and men in brown macs.
Visiting a major showing of Toulouse Lautrec’s works at the Hayward Gallery on the Southbank in the early 90’s, I was struck by how dull the colours were in reality, often daubed onto cardboard and paper. The caricatures and paintings were no less compelling but it conveyed a brutality of life where any glamour was a veneer. The passage of time and invisibility cloak of French sophistication has transformed our view to something infinitely more appealing.
The French language plays a role in this I think. Take a simple lemon mousse – it is transformed in the mind when called mousse au citron into a cloud of cream and citrus eaten at an elegant table with a delicate spoon while being wooed by the husky tones of an admirer and ravishing music.
This is another recipe in my repertoire of mousses, and my personal favourite (although my family fight over the peppermint white chocolate and milk chocolate versions). I want something refreshing but sweet at the end of a meal but I don’t like ice cream. This fits the bill perfectly and I like to serve them in shot glasses so you can have more than one each but not feel like you’ve overeaten. And you’ve still got room for some runny French cheese afterwards.
I’m taking the teens to Paris for the first time this summer. They simply can’t wait.
Mousse au citron – or lemon mousse (adapted from a recipe by Raymond Blanc) – Printable version
200ml (7 fl oz) milk
grated zest and juice of 2 lemons
1 teaspoon real vanilla essence
4 large egg yolks
70g (2 3/4 oz) vanilla caster sugar
3 1/2 leaves of gelatine*
200 ml creme frâiche
3 egg whites
3 slices of lemon cut into quarters (optional)
- Soak the gelatine leaves in a shallow, wide bowl with just enough cold water to cover.
- Bring the milk to boil in a non-stick saucepan together with the grated zest of the lemon, lower the heat and simmer for a couple of minutes.
- Whisk the egg yolks with 40g of the vanilla caster sugar. Cut the lemons in half and add the juice of 3 of the lemon halves and the vanilla essence to this mixture.
- Pour the warm milk onto the egg yolk mixture while whisking briskly. Quickly wash and dry the saucepan and return the mixture to it over a medium heat. Stir with a wooden spoon until it thickens (this can take about 10 minutes).
- Remove the gelatine leaves from the water with your hands, shaking off any excess water, and add to the milk mixture off the heat, stirring quickly until the gelatine is dissolved. Strain through a sieve into a bowl and leave to cool completely.
- In a large bowl, whisk the creme frâiche lightly to loosen.
- Whisk the egg whites in another bowl until they reach the soft peak stage, then add the remaining caster sugar and whip until they form stiff peaks that are slightly softer than meringue (I use my KitchenAid).
- Add about a quarter of the custard to the creme frâiche and stir in with a spatula, then fold in the remainder, followed by the egg whites (amalgamate gently without losing the air).
- Put 12 shot glasses (or 6 ramekins) on a tray that will fit into your fridge (and clear a space). Spoon in the mixture and leave to set in the fridge for about 4 hours. Garnish just before serving with the lemon wedge if you like.
*Gelatine leaves are sometimes found in the pork section in Dubai. I bring mine from the UK. If using powdered gelatine, use as directed on the packet but slightly less than recommended otherwise they will set too firmly and you’ll lose the light, fluffiness of the texture.
I’m making this mousse au citron with Life’s a Feast as part of the Monthly Mingle (an event created by Meeta). Her theme is April in Paris and, proving my point about language,she cooked a delicious Boeuf à la Mode aux Carottes otherwise known as beef stew with carrots. Which would you rather have?!