This is an intensely lemony, dreamy dessert that falls somewhere between a trifle and a tiramisu. Though there are a few steps, they’re all very easy – and very worth it. As you work through the recipe, use a fine zester for the lemons, taking care not to zest the bitter white pith.
Speaking of trifle, I have distinct memories of serving trifle to a group of about 10 friends (obviously back when such things were taking place) and they teased me for the way I slapped out portions of trifle into bowls with a less-than-elegant expression on my face. (A sign of exhaustion after cooking for that number of people, perhaps?) Anyway, the point of a trifle is its magnificence in its dish, and never seems to look quite as spectacular once it’s been served. For that reason, choose a bowl you’re proud to serve it in and give everyone the opportunity to admire it before you dive in.
1 x 175g packet sponge fingers (slices of pound cake would work, too)
For the lemon curd:
1 lemon, zest and juice
1 egg, beaten
For the lemon syrup:
1 tbsp water
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 lemon, zest and juice
1 + 1/2 tbsp limoncello liqueur
For the lemon cream:
250g tub mascarpone cheese
3 tbsp double cream
1 tbsp limoncello liqueur
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 lemon, zest and juice
For the caramelised pine nuts:
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 tbsp sugar
Few drops of water (scant 1/2 tsp)
To make the lemon curd, add the lemon zest, juice, sugar and butter to heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering – not boiling – water. Stir occasionally until the butter has melted. Whisking constantly, add the beaten egg. Keep whisking gently for 10 minutes, until the curd has thickened. Scrape out into a clean bowl and leave to cool. To prevent a skin forming, place a piece of cling film over the top, pressing so the cling is sitting right on the surface of the curd.
To make the syrup, combine water, sugar and lemon zest in a small saucepan. Turn the heat on to medium and stir until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat. Add the lemon juice and limoncello. Stir and set aside.
To make the cream layer, add the mascarpone, cream, limoncello, sugar and lemon zest and juice to a mixer or large bowl. Use an electric whisk to beat together until soft and voluptuous. (You’re trying to dissolve the sugar and let down the mascarpone, not whip stiff cream.)
To make the caramelised pine nuts, add the pine nuts to a small frying pan and turn on to medium heat. Cook, tossing often, until you see the first sign of colour. Add the sugar and water, and keep cooking, stirring constantly. When the nuts are golden brown and coated in a crispy, sugary coating, remove from the heat and transfer the nuts to a waiting plate.
Make ahead: Nuts can be made 24h in advance and stored in an airtight container at room temperature.
Select an attractive, medium-sized bowl. (Unlike most trifles, this doesn’t make a huge amount so you don’t need anything massive.)
To assemble, start by adding a layer of sponge fingers to the bottom and slightly up the sides. (You may not need the whole packet.) Drizzle over the syrup, taking care to distribute it as evenly as you can. (If you feel you need to shake over a tiny bit more limoncello, particularly if you have a wide dish and therefore need lots of sponge fingers, then by all means.) The sponge fingers won’t be soaked, but they will be softened by the time you eat this.
Next, add the lemon curd and smooth into an even layer. Next add the cream layer, spreading out to coat. Use the back of a spoon to create some attractive waves and texture to the top, then pop in the fridge, covered, for at least 6 hours, up to 2 days.
Before serving, sprinkle over the crispy pine nuts. Then bring to the table and maintain serene expression while spooning out into bowls.