It wasn’t until the 14th century that Valentine’s Day, the feast day of an early Christian martyr, became associated with romantic love. British poet Geoffrey Chaucer explicitly linked the day, love, and spring in his poem Parliament of Fowls, writing “For this was on Saint Valentine’s Day, when every bird comes there to chose his mate”.
When tasked with choosing a dessert that channels the spirit of this worldwide lovers’ celebration, Gennaro Russo, chef of one of Italy’s most romantic restaurants, La Sponda at Le Sirenuse, turned to the Delizia al limone. This single-serving sponge, lemon and cream cake was invented by a Sorrentine pasticciere in 1978 as an homage to the flavours and aromas of this charmed peninsula south of Naples, and has since become a firm favourite in the region’s restaurants and cafés.
The dessert is part of a Valentine’s Day menu that chef Russo has assembled by choosing from among the dishes to be presented this season at La Sponda and Aldo’s Cocktail Bar & Seafood Grill. The other tracks on this aphrodisiacal culinary mixtape are a warm seafood salad, a scampi and porcini mushroom risotto, and a perfect marriage of blue lobster and pumpkin, served on the plate in two variants, poached and roasted.
Gennaro’s version puts a contemporary spin on this enduring classic, one that’s sure to impress that special person on this special day. Feel free to bring out your inner architect by experimenting with the shape of the white chocolate casing. And don’t be put off by the long list of ingredients, it’s easier than it looks!
There’s one piece of baking equipment you’ll need to secure before you start: a dome-shaped mould for small cakes, which generally come in silicone sets of six, twelve or more. If you can only find muffin moulds, however, never fear – you’ll just have a differently shaped delizia!
Delizia al limone
to serve six
ounces and cups are US measures
For the sponge
- 10 eggs
- 220g (7.8 oz) plain white flour (in Italy this would be 00 grade)
- 190g (6.7 oz) white sugar
- 80g (2.8 oz) potato starch
- 3g (0.1 oz) lemon zest
Whip the eggs and sugar until creamy. When the mix is fully aerated, add the lemon zest, then, with a metal spoon, add the sifted flour and potato starch one spoonful at a time and stir in carefully.
Then place the mixture in the dome-shaped silicone moulds, and bake in a preheated oven at 175°C (350°F) for 20 minutes. Leave to cool, then remove from the moulds.
For the limoncello marinade
- 500ml (just over 2 cups or 17 fl oz) water
- 175g (6 oz) white sugar
- 100ml (0.42 of a cup or 3.4 fl oz) limoncello
- The grated zest of 5 lemons
Place the water, sugar and lemon zest in a saucepan and bring to the boil. As soon as it boils, take it off the heat, add the limoncello, and stir.
For the lemon cream
- 200ml (0.85 of a cup or 6.75 fl oz) single cream
- 800ml (3.4 cups or 27 fl oz) milk
- 250g (8.8 oz) white sugar
- 200g (7 oz) egg yolks (around ten eggs, depending on size)
- 100g (3.5 oz) plain white flour (in Italy this would be 00 grade)
- The grated zest of 5 lemons
Make a batter by whipping together in a bowl the egg yolks, sugar and sifted flour. Place the milk, cream and lemon zest in a saucepan and bring to the boil; as soon as it starts to bubble, take off the heat and add to the batter, a little at a time, beating to amalgamate after each addition. Return the mixture to the pan and heat to 84°C, then cool rapidly by pouring it into a bowl sitting in an ice bath.
For the coating
- 500ml (just over 2 cups or 17 fl oz) single cream
- 120g (4.2 oz) white sugar
- 50g (1.75 oz) lemon juice
- 50g (1.75 oz) milk
Beat together the cream and sugar, then add the milk and lemon juice and beat again to mix in. Store in the fridge until needed.
For the chocolate shards
- 250g white chocolate
- a few strands of lemon zest
Melt the chocolate in a bain-marie, then pour it onto a cold marble slab, spread it out with a spatula, and sprinkle strands of lemon zest over the surface. Once the chocolate has cooled, cut it into shards of the required shape.
Once all these preliminary steps are done, all that’s left to do is to fill the delizie with the lemon cream, marinade them, and cover them with the creamy lemon coating. To fill them either use a confectioner’s syringe or turn the sponge domes upside down and scoop a smaller sponge dome carefully out of the base. Put a generous dollop of lemon cream into the hollow, then place the small dome ‘plug’ back in and turn the cakes again so that they are the right way up.
Now prick a few holes in the top of each with a toothpick and pour on a little of the limoncello marinade so that it soaks through the sponge.
Finally, pour the lemon cream coating on top until each delizia is entirely covered, and place in the fridge until ready to serve. Before serving, decorate with the shards of white chocolate.
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