Maida Heatter celebrated her 100th birthday in the beginning of the month and I just had to acknowledge her. I do not know her, but after reading her cookbook and owning it for over 20 years, I feel like I do. Her cookbook, New Book of Great Desserts, was the first dessert cookbook I bought for myself back in 1982. I had other cookbooks but none solely dedicated to desserts. I believe her book was the first cookbook that I actually read front to back. Her anecdotes before each recipe are personal, thoughtful, funny, informative, and always friendly. She is a great teacher and her recipes are clear and easy to follow.
I did not realize it at that time but her cookbook started my preference for cookbooks with a personal narrative. These cookbooks are instructive and give me a personal sense about the author, as if we were developing a friendship. Thank you Maida Heatter for your wonderful dessert recipes that will continue to instruct and inspire many more generations. Happy Belated 100th Birthday Maida.
As a kid I believed chocolate mousse was “the” supreme fancy French dessert. It was my go to dessert when my parents took us out to dinner on special occasions. Chocolate mousse was very popular in the 70’s and it was very rich and chocolatey and I loved it. In Maida Heatter’s cookbook, New Book of Great Desserts, there is not one chocolate mousse recipe, but there are several other mousse recipes with fruit flavors. From the beginning of my owning her cookbook the lemon mousse recipe caught my attention and I have made it several times over many years. This is a special lemon mousse recipe. It is as light as air, despite the heavy cream, with a clean lemon flavor that is not overpowering or too sweet.
“This is food for angles, it is like eating a sweet lemon flavored cloud, like a glass of delicious nothingness”
Maida Heatter, New Book of Great Desserts
It is hard to top Maida’s own description. This lemon mousse is a luscious lemon cloud to float away on.
Tips for making mousse:
Mousse is about smooth, light and airy texture. Over-whipping the cream and the egg whites will ruin the texture of the mousse. Careful attention should be paid to the different stages of whipping the cream and egg whites, so the mousse texture will be perfect.
Folding the whipped cream and the whipped egg whites is just as important as the whipping them. You do not want to deflate all of your hard work.
How to fold whipped egg whites and whipped cream into batter Use a large rubber spatula and cut through the whipped cream, or whipped egg whites, through the center of the mixture scraping the bottom of the bowl. The rubber spatula should run sideways through the center, then rotate the spatula up and over the mixture, bringing some of the mixture over the whipped egg whites. Rotate the bowl and repeat the process several times, cutting-scraping-turning-folding-rotating, until the egg whites, or cream, is just incorporated. It is important to not overwork the whipped cream or whipped egg whites so you do not deflate them.
This is a great instructional video from the Culinary Institute of America about whipping egg whites and folding them into a batter. It is all done by hand and I highly recommend watching this to learn about the different stages of whipping egg whites and how to fold in egg whites.
Lemon Mousse from Maida Heatter's New Book of Great Desserts, is so light and airy you will feel like you are floating on a cloud. This is a very special lemon dessert recipe that can be made ahead of time and served for a luncheon or dinner party. In Maida's own words, "This is food for angels." I love it and enjoy serving the mousse with light but crispy cookies or just by themselves. It is an impressive dessert served in large wine glasses.
Lemon Mousse will last for a couple of days in the refrigerator.
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
2 Tb cold water (30 ml)
Finely grated lemon zest from 2 lemons
1/2 cup plus 1 Tb lemon juice (133 ml)
1 cup granulated sugar (7 oz/ 202 g) -divided 3/4 cup (152 g) and 1/4 cup (50 g)
1 cup egg whites, (237 ml) approximately 8 egg whites
1/8 tea salt
1/8 tea cream of tartar
1 cup heavy cream (237 ml)
Make the lemon Mousse
You will need four bowls. One large bowl for a stand mixer to whip the egg whites, One medium bowl to whip the heavy cream. One large bowl to assemble the lemon/gelatin mixture with the egg whites and heavy cream, and one bowl to use for an ice bath- large enough for the bowl with the lemon/gelatin mixture to fit inside.
Put the bowl you want to use to whip the cream, and the beaters from a handheld mixer (or stand mixer, or balloon whisk if making by hand) in the refrigerator to chill.
Pour the gelatin into a small cup then add the 2 Tb of cold water. Let the gelatin and water rest on the counter.
Prepare an ice bath in a large mixing bowl. Take a large bowl and partially fill it with ice cubes and cold water. Make sure your second mixing bowl can fit inside and rest in the ice bath. Set aside.
In a small saucepan add the lemon zest, lemon juice and 3/4 cup (152 g) sugar. Turn on the heat to medium high and stir until the sugar is dissolved and comes to a boil. Add the gelatin and stir until it has dissolved. Turn off the heat and pour the mixture into a large mixing bowl.
Place the bowl with the lemon/gelatin in the ice bath and stir the gelatin-lemon mixture until it cools, but before it thickens. Remove the bowl from the ice bath and set aside. Reserve the bowl with the ice bath.
Pour the egg whites into a bowl of an electric stand mixer, (or a large bowl if using a handheld mixer.) Add salt and cream of tartar to the egg whites and whip the egg whites on high speed until they hold soft peaks. Lower the speed slightly and slowly add the remaining 1/4 cup (50 g) sugar- 1 Tb at a time, (so you do not deflate the whipped egg whites.) Bring the speed back up to high and whip the egg whites until the whites just hold a shape. The whites will look stiff but will not look dry. Set aside. See video in post about whipping and folding egg whites.
In a chilled bowl with chilled beaters, whip the heavy cream until it barely holds a shape. The whipped cream should look fluffy or like billowy clouds, not stiff or dry.
Place the bowl with the lemon and gelatin back into the bowl with the ice bath and scrape down the sides and stir with a rubber spatula until the liquid becomes syrupy and thick. Not too thick so that it begins to get stiff. Remove the bowl from the ice bath and quickly, but carefully fold in one quarter of the whipped cream. Continue to add and fold in the whipped cream adding one quarter of the whipped cream at a time until all of the cream is folded into the lemon gelatin mixture.
Fold in the whipped egg whites to the lemon cream, about one heaping spoonful at a time. With each addition, carefully fold in the egg whites so you do not deflate them. You do not have to be thorough with the folding. They should be just barely mixed together.
Use a large spoon, or a soup spoon, fill 8 wine glasses with the lemon mousse. It is a little tedious, but do not worry about any messes, you can clean those up after you fill up of the glasses. Use a damp paper towel or clean cloth and wipe the edges of the wine glasses clean.
Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight. If you can cover each glass with plastic wrap without touching the mousse do so.
Lightly decorate each glass of mousse with mint, or berries, or candied violets, and serve. I like to add crispy cookies like crisp ginger snaps or amaretti cookies. The lemon mousse is also delicious on its own.
After graduating from college and living on my own, I did not have the luxury of large kitchens with many different small kitchen appliances. For over 25 years I depended on my handheld mixer and my own horse power to blend, mix, stir and whip ingredients. Do not hold back from making this recipe if you do not own a stand mixer.
There will be a lot of juggling around with bowls and cleaning beaters if a handheld mixer is all that you have, but it can be done. If you have the stamina and determination to make this by hand, go for it. You will need a balloon whisk to help you do the job.