Sweets

Raphaelle Peale, “Lemons and Sugar,” 1822

Lemon curd
This is not the classic way to make lemon curd, but it is a foolproof method –as long as you keep stirring and don’t let it boil.

Ingredients

3/4 to 1 cup sugar, depending on how tart or sweet you like it
6 Tablespoons butter, softened
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
2/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1 Tablespoon grated lemon zest

1. Cream the sugar and butter together with an electric mixer until smooth, then add eggs and egg yolks and beat again.
2. Mix in the lemon juice. The mixture will look curdled, but don’t worry — it will come back together when heated.
3. Put the mixture in a medium saucepan and heat over moderately low heat, stirring constantly. Do not let the mixture boil.
4. Cook until thickened — when the mixture coats the back of a wooden spoon. This will take about 10 to 15  minutes (or maybe a little less).

making lemon curd

5. Take the mixture off the heat, and stir in the lemon zest. Let the curd cool, stirring every once in awhile to prevent a skin from forming. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Lemon curd is delicious on plain cookies, crackers or toast–if you can resist eating it with a spoon!

lemoncurdspoon

If you don’t sample any of the recipe above, or if you make a double batch, you can turn your lemon curd into a lemon tart, with the next recipe.

Once you've made lemon curd, it's simple to make a lemon tart

French Lemon Tart

This pastry shell is an easy pat-in-the-pan version, which is filled with the lemon curd above. You may want to double the recipe for curd for a more generous amount of filling.

Ingredients

  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • ¼ teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
  • ¼ cup confectioners sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 ¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon flour
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter sides and bottom of a tart pan
  2. In a medium bowl, combine butter, vanilla, confectioners sugar and salt
  3. Add enough flour to form a smooth, soft dough.
  4. Place dough in center of tart pan and press evenly on bottom and sides.
  5. Place tart pan in the center of the oven and bake until dough is firm and lightly browned, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool at least 10 minutes before filling.
  6. Fill the tart with lemon curd and put tart in the middle of an oven preheated to 325 degrees. Bake 15 minutes. Remove to a wire rack and let cool. Refrigerate well before serving. If you have fresh berries, they’re nice for decoration.

Lemon Meringue Pie

Lemon pies topped with meringue have been made in Europe for centuries, but the American version was distinctive for using cornstarch as a thickener. Cornstarch was developed in 1842 by Thomas Kingford, an employee in a wheat starch plant in Jersey City. It was originally considered a laundry starch, but eventually was sold as a flour. This pie uses four eggs: the yolks in the filling, and the whites reserved for the meringue. 

One pre-baked 9-inch pastry shell

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees

Filling

Ingredients

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  1. In a heavy sauce pan whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, water and lemon juice until well combined and cornstarch is dissolved.
  2. Place over medium heat and stir constantly until mixture is thickened and lightly simmering.
  3. Mix together the egg yolks in a small bowl, and stir in a little of the hot mixture with a little of the hot mixture to temper the eggs, then whisk the egg yolks quickly into the simmering mixture.
  4. Cook about one more minute, stirring constantly, until totally thickened.
  5. Remove from heat and whisk in lemon zest and butter.
  6. Cool very slightly, stirring often. While filling is still warm, pour into the cooked pie shell and top with meringue.

Meringue

The airy confection of egg whites and sugar called meringue has been employed by European cooks since the seventeenth century, and is notoriously tricky, especially in humid climates. Cornstarch comes to the rescue in this version, adding stability to the mixture.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/3 cup cold water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4  teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 4 egg whites
  • 1/2  teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Mix the cornstarch with the cold water in a small pan and cook over medium heat until it thickens. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
  2. Combine the sugar with the cream of tartar in a measuring cup or small bowl.
  3. Beat the egg whites until frothy, then add the sugar mixture slowly, a tablespoon or so at a time, while beating until the mixture forms soft peaks.
  4. Add the vanilla and slowly add the cornstarch mixture, a tablespoon or so at a time, beating quickly until the peaks are stiff and glossy, but not dry.
  5. Pile the meringue on top of the warm lemon filling, being sure to seal the meringue onto the crust to prevent shrinking of the meringue.
  6. Bake at 325 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until the peaks are golden.

Cool the pie on a wire rack for an hour or until cool; then refrigerate for four or five hours before slicing and serving.

German S-cookies.

 This recipe for rich delicate butter cookies flavored with lemon zest was brought from Germany by my grandmother, and is my family’s cookie of choice for celebrations and special occasions. They require a two-step process, mixing and refrigerating one day, dipping and baking the next. Be sure to reverse the “S” when you shape the cookies for refrigeration, so you can turn them over to dip in egg whites and sugar. Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup unsalted butter (1 ½ sticks), softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • grated rind of 2 large lemons
  • 2 to 2 ½ cups all-purpose unbleached flour
  • dash of salt
  • large-grained sparkling decorating sugar
  1. Separate the eggs and put the whites in a clean, closed jar in the refrigerator
  2. Cream the butter in a large bowl, mix in the sugar and add egg yolks, one at a time until well combined.  Add grated lemon zest.
  3. Add the salt to the flour, and stir flour mixture into the butter mixture, about half a cup at a time until it forms a soft dough that is not sticky.  Use a spoon or your hands to gently press the dough together.
  4. Take chunks of the dough (golf ball size or larger) and roll into ropes—about “as thick as a finger.” Cut them into 2-inch lengths.
  5. Form each piece into a backward “S” shape (like a soft “Z”) and place shapes on two cookie sheets. The cookies can be close together if they are not touching.  Cover the sheets with plastic wrap or plastic grocery bags and store in the refrigerator overnight (or, if you are in a rush, in the freezer for a few hours).
  6. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Pour decorating sugar into a large flat plate.  Beat egg whites in a large bowl until they hold peaks but are not dry.
  7. Pick up each cookie and dip it, first in the beaten egg white and then in the sugar.  Place the cookie back on the cookie sheet with the egg white and sugar facing up.  You may need to replace the sugar on the plate about halfway through this process.
  8. Bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes, or until the cookies are golden.  Let the cookies cool for a minute or two on the cookie sheet before you place them on a cooling rack—these cookies are fragile until they cool.

Rachel’s Lemon Squares (& Whole Lemon Bars)

Rachel’s recipe is a classical very rich lemon bar and she swears they are sooo good! This recipe makes a lot for a party or potluck. For a simpler version of tangy lemon bars that use a whole lemon, read my “Lemon bars at last” post.

Crust:

  • 3 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 c. confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 3/4 c. (3 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into
  • small pieces

Filling:

  • 6 large eggs
  •  2 to 3 c. granulated sugar ( I use 2 c.)
  • 1 Tbls. finely grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 c. lemon juice
  • 2/3 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  1. Preheat the oven to 350º F.
  2. To prepare the crust, in a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar and salt.  With a pastry blender or 2 knives, cut the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse cornmeal.  Press the dough into a 17″ X 12″ X 1″ baking sheet (with sides !).
  3. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the crust is lightly browned
  4. To make the filling, in a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat the eggs until blended, then beat in the sugar.  Add the lemon zest and gradually fold in the lemon juice.  Sift the flour and baking powder into the egg mixture and blend until smooth.
  5. Pour the mixture over the crust and bake for 25 minutes.  Let cool in the pan on a rack. 
  6. Using a sharp knife, carefully cut into squares and dust with confectioners’ sugar.  Makes 4 dozen squares.

Granita di limone

Made with only the simplest equipment—a freezer, a metal pan and a fork—the texture of the finished granita is a bit like icy snow. I like it this way but if you want a smoother texture, you can freeze the ingredients with an ice-cream machine, or add a couple of tablespoons of vodka to prevent ice-formation, place ingredients in a bowl in the freezer and use a whisk to break up the crystals. I also like the little bits of lemon zest in my granita, but if you don’t like this texture, put some strips of lemon zest in the hot sugar-syrup and let it rest overnight to infuse the syrup with flavor.

One more thing: people differ in what sour-sweet balance and intensity they find most pleasing. I like granita on the tart side, but you may prefer a little more sugar and water. You can start with less and add more to your taste before freezing. This recipe makes four servings.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice (6 to 8 lemons)
  • 1 cup sugar, or to taste
  • 2 to 3 cups water
  • grated zest from two lemons
  1. Make a syrup of the sugar and 1 cup of water, bringing it to a boil and cooking it just until the sugar is completely dissolved.
  2. Allow to cool, and add lemon juice, grated zest and remaining water to taste.
  3. Stir well and pour into one large shallow metal pan or two smaller pans, such as metal cake or pie pans. Carefully transport the pans to your freezer and set on a flat surface.
  4. Check the pans after about 45 minutes, and when the liquid starts to crystallize along the sides of the pan, remove the pan from the freezer and scrape down the sides and bottom of the pan with a fork, breaking up the solid crystals and blending the frozen mixture into the part that’s still liquid. Repeat every half hour until the granita is slushy.
  5. Serve right away in small dishes or wine glasses. Or if you plan to eat it later, pack the granita into a plastic or glass container with a lid and return to the freezer.

Meyer Lemon Marmalade

In the winter, my dear friend Cathy sends me a box of Meyer lemons from her tree in northern California and I make this marmalade. It’s the look and taste of sunshine through the winter.

Ingredients

  • 6 Meyer lemons, medium size (about 1 1/2 pounds)
  • 4 cups water
  • 4 cups sugar
  1. Cut lemons in half crosswise and remove seeds. Put seeds in a square of doubled cheesecloth and tie the bag with string. Quarter each lemon half and thinly slice. Place the lemons and bag of seeds with the 4 cups of water in a 5-quart nonreactive heavy pot and let mixture stand, covered, at room temperature 24 hours.
  2. Bring lemon mixture to a boil over moderate heat. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until reduced to 4 cups, about 45 minutes. Stir in sugar and boil over moderate heat, stirring occasionally and skimming off foam, until a teaspoon of mixture dropped on a cold plate gels (or reaches 100 degrees Celsius), about 30 minutes.
  3. Ladle hot marmalade into jars, filling to within 1/4 inch of top. Wipe rims with dampened cloth and seal jars with lids. If you’re going to keep the marmalade in the refrigerator, you can skip the next step.
  4. Put jars in a water-bath canner, adding enough hot water to cover jars by 1 inch. Bring water to a boil and boil jars, covered for five minutes. Using tongs, transfer jars to a rack and cool completely.

The marmalade keeps, stored in a cool, dark place, for up to a year. But it’s so good that it’s very unlikely to be around that long.

Candied citrus peel
adapted from “How to Pick a Peach” by Russ Parsons. Yes, it’s pretty time consuming and labor intensive but it’s a wonderful treat.

Ingredients

  • 2 ½ pounds of organic citrus—oranges, grapefruit, lemons or Meyer lemons. If using lemons, choose the freshest, as they’ll peel the easiest.
  • 2 ½ cups sugar
  • 2 cups water
  1. In a medium saucepan, bring 2 cups of sugar and 2 cups of water to a boil. Cook, stirring occasionally, over medium heat until you have about two cups of thin syrup. This will take about an hour.
  2. Meanwhile, score the skin of each citrus fruit in sections about two inches wide.  Cut through the skin but not into the fruit. Peel the fruit with your fingers. There will still be pith attached to the skin. Use the fruit for another purpose.
  3. Put all the sections of peel into a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, drain the peels and rinse briefly under cold water. Then blanch the peels in the same way two more times. After the third blanching, drain and rinse the peels under cold water.
  4. Press excess water from the peels, and using a thin sharp knife, carefully remove as much pith as possible, until you can see the color of the skin.
  5. Cut the peels into shreds, 1/8 inch to 1/4 inch wide.
  6. Cover the shredded citrus peel with cold water and bring to a simmer. Cook until the peel loses its raw look, about 5 to 10 minutes. Drain but do not rinse the peel and transfer immediately to a large bowl. Cover the hot peel with the hot syrup and set aside for 1 hour to candy.
  7. Heat the oven to warm. Place the remaining ½ cup of sugar in the bottom of another large bowl. Drain the candied peel, add it to the sugar and toss to coat well with sugar. Shake the sugar and transfer the peel to a wire cake rack, set over a cookie sheet to catch the sugar. Arrange the peel in a single layer. Place the rack and the pan in a warm oven for 30 minutes.
  8. Remove the pan from the oven and let the peel sit at room temperature to finish drying.

Candied citrus peel will become firmer and chewier over time, so you can let it sit out overnight or for one, two or three days until it is just the way you like it. Store candied peel in an airtight container, such as a tin, for up to several months – if you can resist eating it for so long.

Lemon Panna Cotta

Marlena Spieler has a delightful story about why it took her three years to make her “famous Meyer lemon panna cotta.” The link to the story and recipe, published at SF Gate, is here.  My version, with credit to Marlena, uses regular lemons and is more tart. And a second lighter version, developed recently, uses buttermilk instead of cream and half the amount of sugar, resulting in far fewer calories!

Little glasses, wine glasses or teacups are happy containers for lemon panna cotta

Lemon Panna Cotta

Ingredients
1 envelope gelatin
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 cup lemon juice
2 Tablespoons grated zest
1 cup cream
1 cup nonfat Greek-style (strained) yogurt

  1. Sprinkle the gelatin over half cup of cold water in a small ramekin or cup and let soften for five minutes or so.
  2. Meanwhile, combine the cup of sugar and other half cup of water in a saucepan, bring to a simmer and stir until the sugar dissolves.
  3. Take the pan off the heat, add the gelatin mixture and stir until dissolved. Let cool slightly.
  4. Add the cream, lemon juice and zest to the gelatin mixture.
  5. Put the yogurt in a bowl and whisk  to break up the yogurt. Gradually add the cream mixture to the yogurt, whisking gently — you do not want to add air bubbles to the mixture. Pour into six individual cups or wineglasses or into one larger bowl or mold. Tap each container on the counter to remove air bubbles.
  6. Cover and chill until set — six hours or overnight.

Light lemon panna cotta: Substitute buttermilk for the cream and use only half the amount of lemon juice and sugar. I usually make only half the recipe, and put it in four glasses or cups (you know, portion control) for a light and tasty dessert. No, it’s not as rich and creamy (naturally) as the cream version, but it’s still very nice and especially good with fresh berries on top.

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One response to “Sweets

  1. Pingback: How to choose and use lemons | lemons, lemons, lemons

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