Those of us who write food blogs spend our days dealing with the light hearted and the festive, the pretty to look at and the delightful to eat, yet sometimes when we turn off the laptop and rejoin our friends and family we have to deal with the less than cheery, the sad and even the terrible. Sickness, death, we are all touched by it yet we rarely see it in the food blogosphere. We shield ourselves and our readers from the pain and the reality, we use our food blogs to paint a colorful picture of good food, good friends and loving family celebrations. No one really expects to visit a food blog and be faced by something so personal, so awful as illness. Yet we have all been touched by tragedy, faced illness and loss. These past five years or so, my husband, sons and I have faced more than our fair share. As anyone who knows me well, I am not a person to hide the turbulence, the raw emotions that grow dark inside of me. Life is a Feast and not everything that is served up is tasty and satisfying.
I am not the only food blogger who has taken the risk to write about our own or a loved one’s illness or death. For those if us who dare, who break the barriers of the expected, our blogs become a personal diary, a place where we actually feel safe to open ourselves up and share our innermost secrets with our readers who we have come to think of as friends. I find writing about sadness and fear, illness and death therapeutic, comforting, allowing me to think about it, talk about it, look at it straight on rather than pussyfooting around it or burying it deep down inside. Writing about it allows us to work through the thoughts, the fears and we end up walking through the dark tunnel and somehow coming out the other end to a brighter place; we find strength and courage in the sharing, and the words become part of the healing process.
I stumbled upon Barbara’s blog Winos and Foodies over a year ago and there is no other word to describe Barbara better than lovely. Her soft words and beautiful images inspire and make us smile, her mouthwatering food and recipes make us keep coming back for more. And her honesty and courage in her own personal battle against cancer have touched so many of us and helped us get through our own personal tragedies. After Barbara was diagnosed with cancer in 2004, she felt inspired by famed cyclist and multiple winner of Le Tour de France Lance Armstrong’s own struggle with cancer. She explains “For many of us diagnosed with cancer, Lance has become a hero in our own fight to overcome the disease.” What, you are wondering, does this have to do with food? October 2 is LiveSTRONG Day; in conjunction with Armstrong’s LiveSTRONG Foundation, some 1,500 events will be staged worldwide by both individuals and organizations, their part in the fight against cancer, a way to call the public’s attention to the cancer issues and increase awareness of the need for research and global solutions. One of these events is A Taste of Yellow, a food blogging event created and hosted each year by Barbara on her own blog, her way of supporting the Foundation. And A Taste of Yellow gives the food blogger the opportunity to participate in this worthy cause by doing what he or she does best: cook and bake!
Or you might like to honour a family member or friend touched by cancer by dedicating your heart to them.
-Barbara of Winos and Foodies
Food bloggers around the world were invited to prepare a dish or drink that contains a yellow food, the color of the LiveSTRONG bracelet and post their yellow dish today, October 2, LiveSTRONG Day. This year, the fourth year of A Taste of Yellow, Barbara decided to add her own personal twist to the event by asking everyone to incorporate hearts into their food either by creating a dish in a heart shape or decorating the dish with hearts. So take a stroll around your favorite food blogs this week and you will see an outburst of yellow love! Barbara will be posting a round up of all the Taste of Yellow entries next week. This will surely be an event to remember.
This is my second year participating in Barbara’s A Taste of Yellow event and I have created something very special: a Lemon Charlotte ringed in lemon yellow hearts. The beautiful Lemon Sponge Cake, light as air yet dense with lemon flavor, is baked in jellyroll pans allowing me to cut out the shapes I need to line ring molds as a base for this ethereal Charlotte. The shining star of my Charlotte is an incredibly light mousse cheesecake made of mascarpone and 0% fat fromage blanc (like a creamy smooth quark or sour cream), the perfect balance of sweetness and sharp, tangy, lively lemon. Chilled, this dessert only gets better everyday: we have been nibbling slices of it for 4 or 5 days now and it has only gotten better: the sponge remains perfect while the flavors meld together, still tangy and bright yet somehow mellower, smoother. A very special dessert to surprise and please while being so easy to make. And as it only gets better, this Lemon Charlotte is the perfect make-ahead dessert.
Lemon Sponge Cake filled with Lemon Mascarpone Mousse
LEMON SPONGE CAKE
This fabulous Lemon Sponge gets added to my Sponge Cake repertoire hot on the heels of my Chocolate Sponge and my Vanilla Sponge. For the Charlotte, I’ve baked this in two jelly roll pans but this is perfect baked in a 10”-tube pan and served on its own. It is wonderfully light, fluffy and lemony!
6 eggs, separated
Zest of 1 lemon
1 tsp vanilla
1 ¼ cup (250 g) sugar, divided
Juice of 1 lemon (about ¼ cup / 62 ml) + water to make ½ cup (125 ml) total liquid
1 ¼ cups (160 g) flour
Preheat the oven to 325°F (170°C). Lightly butter 2 jellyroll (15 x 10 x 1-inch) pans/baking sheets, line with parchment paper and lightly butter the parchment. * Set aside.
Separate the eggs. Put the whites in a very clean bowl, preferably plastic or metal, add a drop or two of lemon juice and a few grains of salt (which help to stabilize the whites) and set aside.
Place the yolks and 1 cup (200 g) of the sugar in a large mixing bowl and beat on high speed for about 5 minutes until thick and creamy, pale and doubled in volume. Add the vanilla and the lemon zest and beat to combine.
With the mixer on low speed, beat the flour into the batter in three additions alternating with the lemon juice/water in two. Give the final mixture one good spin to make sure it is thick and blended.
With very clean beaters, beat the egg whites on high speed until foamy and starting to turn opaque. Continue beating while gradually adding the remaining ¼ cup (50 g) sugar until you have stiff peaks.
Using a spatula, gently fold in about a third of the whites into the cake batter to lighten it. Then gently fold in the rest of the whites in two additions until all the whites are folded in and it is well blended (no chunks of whites remaining).
Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared jellyroll pans/baking sheets and gently spread until smooth and even. Bake each cake for about 15 minutes until the cake is golden brown and set. Remove from the oven and slide the parchment off of the hot pan and onto a table or work surface and allow to cool completely while you prepare the Lemon Mousse Cheesecake.
* Alternately, the batter can also be poured into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan and baked for 55 – 60 minutes until risen, golden brown and completely set (test by pressing on the top of the cake near the center tube; it should feel rather like a marshmallow, not foamy).
LEMON MASCARPONE & FROMAGE BLANC MOUSSE CHEESECAKE
Simple to put together, light, ethereal yet sassy with tart, tangy, bright lemon flavor with just the perfect balance of sweetness. This only gets better! Keep chilled for up to 5 days.
1 cup (250 g) fromage frais or fromage blanc 0% fat
1 cup (250 g) mascarpone
2 large egg whites
1 tsp vanilla
1 ½ tsp (6 g) powdered gelatin
2 lemons, juiced and zested
¼ cup (50 g) sugar
Begin by placing the gelatin with the juice of 2 lemons into small saucepan and allowing the gelatin to soften for 5 minutes. After the 5 minutes, slowly heat the lemon juice over low heat, stirring with a whisk, until the liquid gets hot and the gelatin melts/dissolves and completely disappears – do not let the liquid boil. This takes 3 – 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk or beat the fromage frais and the mascarpone together with the lemon zest, the sugar and the vanilla. Whisk in the lemon juice with the gelatin.
Using very clean beaters, beat the egg whites until stiff. Fold a third of the whites into the lemon/mascarpone mixture. Fold half of the remaining whites into the lemon mixture then the rest of the whites until all of the whites are folded in and no lumps remain. It should be smooth and very light and fluffy.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow to chill in the refrigerator until set just enough so it can be spooned into lined molds without running or oozing through the gaps. You can use the mousse immediately to fill dessert glasses, ramekins or other closed molds.
Once chilled and beginning to set without being too firm you can prepare your Charlottes: using your ring molds – any size: I used single, individual serving-sized molds, molds for two and molds to serve 4 and this recipe should fill one 8-inch dish or ring – cut out circles of cake to use as a base. Place each mold either on dessert plates or on a parchment lined baking sheet, which will fit in your refrigerator. Cut out pieces of cake to line the sides of your Charlotte – I used my heart-shaped cookie cutter, but you can cut out strips which then line the mold in one piece or any shape you like. Use them to line the sides of the mold sitting on top of the base cake. Fill the cake-lined mold with the Lemon Mousse Cheesecake filling all the way to the top. Once the molds are all filled, simply cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Or two.
By the next day the mousse/cheesecake is set and smooth and creamy but I found that after a further day in the fridge the flavor had become crisper, a deep lemon flavor with just the perfect balance of sweetness and the texture was one step closer to the perfect cheesecake texture albeit much lighter and creamier than a classic cheesecake. Perfect! Dust the top of the Charlotte with cocoa powder for an elegant finish.