LEMONS are available all year, but for me, anyway, they seem like a signal of spring. I received so many good recipes that I'll need more than a week to cover them, but I'll start with two today: Lynn Hamilton sent in her Aunt Isobel's lemon angel food cake recipe, a favourite for family birthday celebrations, while Heida Bottrell offers a recipe for lemon cream in phyllo cups.
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Aunt Isobel's lemon angel food cake
Lemon cake filling:
75 ml (5 tbsp) cornstarch
1 ml (1/4 tsp) salt
250 ml (1 cup) white sugar, divided
500 ml (2 cups) water
3 egg yolks
7 ml (1 1/2 tsp) grated lemon zest
30 ml (2 tbsp) butter
75 ml ( 5 tbsp) freshly squeezed lemon juice (from about 2 lemons)
1 angel food cake, cut into 3 horizontal layers
250 ml (1 cup) whipping cream, whipped
In a small saucepan, mix together cornstarch, salt and 125 ml (1/2 cup) sugar. Slowly stir in water. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes. In a small bowl, mix together yolks, zest and remaining 125 ml (1/2 cup) sugar. Stir in a few spoonfuls of hot mixture (this tempers the egg yolks before adding to the heat) and then pour the egg mixture into the saucepan, cooking and stirring for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in butter and lemon juice. Pour into a small bowl and cover with plastic wrap, pressing wrap right onto the surface to prevent a skin from forming, and chill.
Spread about 1/3 of the chilled lemon filling on each of 2 stacked cake layers and cover with last layer. Fold the remaining lemon filling into the whipped cream and frost cake on top and sides. Chill until serving time.
Tester's notes: I like the contrast between the clear lemony filling and the creamy outer frosting. My cake was delicious but a bit messy -- but that's probably me rather than the recipe. I recently saw an ad for a horizontal cake-cutter contraption, which I dismissed as a ridiculously over-specialized kitchen gadget until I had a bit of an ordeal with my purchased angel food cake. It's important, too, to chill the filling to give it enough body when you go to fill and frost the cake. Freshly squeezed juice isn't an absolute necessity -- good bottled lemon juice can now be found in the produce section of most stores -- but make sure to include the lemon zest. It really adds an intensity to the lemon flavour.
Phyllo cups with lemon cream
150 ml (2/3 cup) white sugar
3 eggs, beaten
10 ml (2 tsp) grated lemon rind
60 ml (1/4 cup) freshly squeezed lemon juice (from about 2 lemons)
30 ml (2 tbsp) butter
8 sheets frozen phyllo pastry, thawed overnight in the fridge
60 ml (1/4 cup) whipping cream
In top of double boiler or in a heatproof bowl, stir together sugar, eggs, lemon rind, lemon juice and butter. Place over -- but not touching -- boiling water and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens. Pour into bowl, place plastic wrap on surface, and chill in fridge. Meanwhile, prepare phyllo cups. Preheat oven to 180C (375F) and grease 12 standard muffin cups. Stack two sheets of phyllo pastry and brush top with melted butter. Using a sharp knife, cut in half lengthwise and then cut crosswise into three, making 6 squares in all. Repeat this process 3 more times, for a total of 24 squares. Place 1 square into each muffin cup -- points will extend well over the tops of the cups -- and then place another square crosswise to the first in each cup. Bake for about 8 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool and carefully remove from cups. (Can be made ahead and stored in an airtight container up to 2 days.) In a small bowl, whip cream. Gently fold in lemon mixture and then spoon mixture into cups.
Tester's notes: You could use regular pastry in this recipe, but the crispy delicacy of the phyllo really makes a nice balance with the lovely lemon cream. (By the way, I'm sure someone, somewhere in the world, makes her own phyllo pastry, but I think this is one of those ingredients that one is justified in purchasing in the frozen food section at the supermarket.) The size of my sheets didn't work with the cutting directions in the recipe, so you can just cut the squares so the points of the square overlap the muffin tins by a few centimetres. I also found that I didn't have enough curd to fill 12 cups. You might want to make fewer cups or more curd. (Extra lemon curd is always nice to have around.) I tend to strain my curd through a fine-mesh sieve, just in case there are any small cooked bits of egg. You can also make this dessert, as Heida did with the original recipe, with lime.