I know, I know – I say I’m not a fan of lemon and then go and post tons of lemon recipes.  What can I say, maybe I’m changing my mind!  Last week some great friends of ours came over for dinner.  I always love the opportunity to entertain at home because it gives me a chance to make a special dessert I wouldn’t normally make for just the two of us.  This is a perfect example of that.  These were definitely time-consuming because of the various steps involved, but the end result was so gratifying.  They looked absolutely gorgeous and tasted great too – even I thought so!  Our guests raved about them, so they were well worth the effort.  

I love the look of small cakes and personalized desserts, but this recipe could certainly be adapted to fit one larger pan (maybe an 8-inch springform.)  I used ramekins carefully lined with parchment paper for mine.  The lining process definitely took some time, but it paid off in the end when these came out of the dishes beautifully without a single problem.  While I was cooking the base for the mousse, I was convinced that I was going to hate the taste of these, because it smelled so strongly of lemon curd (which I do NOT like).  However, I was reassured when I took them out of the refrigerator and the smell was replaced by a sweet, light lemon scent.  The mousse itself is not overly sweet, and I would consider adding a tiny bit more sugar next time, but these were great and were rapidly devoured after dinner. 

Lemon Poppy Seed Cakes with Lemon Mousse
For the cake:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 tbsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup egg whites (from about 3-4 eggs)
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
zest of one lemon
1 tbsp. poppy seeds
8 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

For the lemon syrup:
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup water
2 tbsp. sugar

For decoration:
fresh strawberry slices (you could also use fresh raspberries, etc.  Be creative!) 

For the mousse:
1 1/2 tsp. gelatin
2 tbsp. cold water
1 1/4 cups whole milk
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
3 large egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tbsp. lemon zest
1 cup heavy cream

To make the cake, preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.  Line the bottom of a 9×13″ pan with parchment paper.  In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.  Stir to combine.  In a separate bowl combine the egg whites and milk.   Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and slowly add the egg white mixture while stirring with a whisk.  Add the poppy seeds and the melted butter and mix with a whisk until smooth.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan.  Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Allow to cool in the pan for 5 minutes.  Turn the cake out onto a wire rack to cool completely.  

While the cakes are cooling, prepare the lemon syrup.  Combine the lemon juice, water and sugar in a small saucepan and heat until the sugar is dissolved.  Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature. 

Prepare to assemble the desserts.  Line the bottoms of 4-5 ramekins with rounds of parchment paper.  Make a ring out of another piece of parchment paper to line the edges of the dishes.  (You could also use clean soup cans.)  Once the cake has cooled, cut out rounds of cake and place into the bottoms of the prepared containers.  (I cut a piece of card stock to fit the bottom of a ramekin, and then traced around it with my knife to cut the rounds so that they fit nicely.)   Brush the cake rounds with the lemon syrup. Place strawberry slices around the perimeter of the dishes, snugly against the parchment paper.

To make the mousse,  in a very small bowl sprinkle the gelatin over the water and let sit while you prepare the cream.  In a medium bowl, whisk the sugar and egg yolks together.  Add the cornstarch and whisk until you have a thick, smooth paste.  Set aside.  Meanwhile, add the milk to a saucepan.  Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the milk, and add the remaining part of the bean to the pot as well.  Heat over medium-high heat until boiling.  Remove from the heat and add slowly to the egg mixture, whisking constantly to prevent curdling.  (Pour through a fine mesh strainer if this happens.)  Remove the vanilla bean.  Return the mixture to the saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens.  Add the lemon juice and zest, cook for 30 more seconds, and remove from the heat.  Immediately add in the gelatin and stir until completely dissolved.  Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pastry cream so that it does not develop a skin as it cools to room temperature.

Whip the heavy cream until stiff peaks form.  Gently fold it into the cooled pastry cream.  Spoon the mousse immediately into the prepared ramekins so that it reaches just above the top of the strawberry slices.  Level the top and refrigerate until set.  Remove the desserts from the ramekins, peel off the parchment paper and serve.

Source: adapted from Tartlette