Ring in the new year with an elegant treat


I love the San Francisco Chronicle’s food section. It usually has a good selection of recipes that are easy enough for the average home cook. A few years ago, this recipe for Lemon Mousse was featured. At the time, my parents’ lemon tree was covered in fresh lemons that needed to be used, so this was the perfect selection. It was everything I had hoped for. Its light, citrusy flavor, creamy texture and candied lemon peel made for a great light dessert.

I thought this recipe would be a good finishing touch to a New Year’s Eve dinner. You can dish it out in small portions or large portions. I dished it into martini glasses to make it festive. Be sure to make it far enough in advance to give it the time it needs to chill. It even pairs well with a nice glass of riesling, so you can have your dessert and eat it, too.

However you ring in 2013, I hope you’re surrounded by family, friends and good food. Happy New Year!

Lemon peel garnish
3 to 4 lemons
1/2 cup granulated sugar

Using a serrated or vegetable peeler, cut strips from each lemon and julienne strips. Blanche the strips in boiling water for about 5 minutes. Pour into a sieve, discard the hot water and rinse the strips in cold water. (This process eliminates most of the peels’ bitterness.)

In a small saucepan bring the sugar and 3 tablespoons water to a boil, swirling the pan occasionally until the sugar melts. Simmer the mixture for 1 minute. Add the blanched lemon peel strips to the syrup, and stir to coat them evenly with the syrup. Pour into a sturdy container and refrigerate until serving time.

Lemon Mousse
5 large egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
Finely grated zest of 1 large lemon, at least 1 tablespoon
1 pint (2 cups) cold heavy cream

Set a sieve over a heatproof bowl and set nearby. Whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest and 2 tablespoons water in a 1 1/2-quart heavy saucepan until thoroughly combined. Cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens slightly and it registers 165° on an instant-read thermometer.

Immediately pour this lemon mixture into the sieve, pressing it through with a heat-resistant spatula. Discard the lemon zest that remains in the sieve. Allow the lemon mixture to cool before covering its surface with a sheet of plastic wrap. Refrigerate (up to 2 days) until you’re ready to finish the mousse. The lemon mixture thickens as it chills for several hours or overnight. To hasten the chilling, place over an ice-water bath and gently stir occasionally.

To assemble, whip the heavy cream until stiff peaks form. Fold half of the whipped cream into the thickened lemon mixture to lighten it. Whisk the remaining whipped cream in the bowl to thicken the cream more and fold it into the mousse. Divide it among 8 stemmed glasses or bowls and serve immediately, or refrigerate covered with plastic wrap for up to 1 day. Serve garnished with lemon peel.

A new spin on classic lemon bars

My mom has had a well-loved copy of the red-and-white checkered Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book on her shelf for as long as I can remember. It sits beside her small, handwritten cookbook full of some of her — and my — favorite recipes. While Joy is usually my go-to book for American classics, its recipe for lemon bars leaves much to be desired — that’s where The Better Homes and Gardens book comes in.

Once in a while I’ll be in the mood to experiment with a classic recipe, and lemon bars is a great one to modify. I’ve found that the recipes I make well are the best to play with.

On a recent trip to Trader Joe’s, I purchased a bottle of blueberry juice. As I was looking at the lemon bars recipe, it occurred to me that some of the lemon juice could easily be substituted. I also had leftover toasted coconut and coconut milk from the coconut-rum ice cream I made last week that needed to be used.

I set to work and broke up the toasted coconut and added it to the crust, and substituted the coconut milk for the milk called for in the filling. The final product was exactly what I’d hoped it would be. The blueberry flavor mellowed the tartness of the lemon, but both flavors were still prominent in the result. The bits of toasted coconut added a nice bit of texture to the crust. Substituting all of the lemon juice with blueberry juice would likely work, too, should anyone be so inclined to make an entirely blueberry version.

This kitchen experiment definitely goes down as a success.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/3 cup toasted coconut
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup lemon juice (if using fresh lemons, squeeze about 4)
1/4 cup blueberry juice
1/4 cup coconut milk
1 tablespoon vanilla sugar

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a 13-inch-by-9-inch pan.

In a bowl, combine the 2 cups flour, powdered sugar, toasted coconut, cornstarch and salt. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Press mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake 18-20 minutes or until edges are golden.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, stir together eggs, granulated sugar, 3 tablespoons flour, lemon and blueberry juices, coconut milk and vanilla sugar.

Pour filling over hot crust. Bake for 15-20 minutes more or until center is set.

Cool completely in pan on a wire rack. Cut into bars. Cover and store in the refrigerator.