Regular readers will know that the ideas for these articles can come to me in the strangest of ways.
I know at least two dishes have come to me in my dreams, and many others have arrived through odd conversations, barely-glimpsed photographs or random thoughts whilst out shopping or in the garden.
I’ve outdone myself this week, though, because today’s recipe came to me whilst in the shower. It’s said that’s where one often has one’s best ideas, and it seems that adage bears some fruit.
In this case, that fruit is the lime, one of my favourites. It has a sharpness and perfume like nothing else, and is one of my most favoured ingredients for cooking, whether it’s sprinkling over grilled fish, or adding to fruit for sharpening up berry compotes or sauces.
It’s essential in a G&T and on its own it can make some pretty wonderful mousses and sorbets.
The idea came early one morning as I popped open a new bottle of shower gel, scented with lime and mint, and the smell was just incredible.
It made me instantly think of cooking something with exactly that combination, and as I got ready for work the recipe started taking shape.
Mint and lime are very comfortable companions, as anyone who’s enjoyed a mojito cocktail will attest, and it’s a combination that modern beverage manufacturers seem keen to exploit. Several fizzy drinks now use this brilliant blend of flavours.
I hit upon the idea of a lovely, wobbly old-school jelly, all clear and shiny. I envisaged a dome of jelly made with lime juice, in which are suspended shreds of fresh mint and shreds of lime zest.
Keeping with the nursery pudding tradition, I thought a nice blob of chilled just-whipped cream would add a nice smooth, dairy element to the dish, and, if you know me at all, you’ll know that I like some crunch for contrast.
I’d been after an excuse to make proper old-fashioned macaroons for a while, and I thought these almond-y treats would be perfect here, with their combination of crunch and chewiness.
As I made up the jellies, I realised I had some lovely fresh lemon verbena growing outside, and decided to pop a few leaves in for added citrussiness, if that’s a word. Making the jelly with cordial was a last-minute change – I really wanted that unmistakeable sweet, summery
flavour to boost the fresh lime juice, but you can use water for a more refined jelly if you wish.
The formula of 1 leaf of gelatine to 100ml of liquid is foolproof. Before we start, please note that the macaroons require rice paper for baking.
Do not think you’ll get away with baking parchment, because the whole lot will end up in the bin. Macaroons stick like superglue, and the rice paper is the only solution.
Plus, it’s quite nice texturally, as the smooth underside feels very pleasant on the tongue.
You can find rice paper in cake supply shops or easily online. So let’s get wobbling.
For the jelly:
400ml Rose’s lime juice cordial
200g caster sugar
8-10 leaves gelatine
A small bunch of fresh mint
Lemon verbena leaves (optional)
For the vanilla macaroons:
110g ground almonds
170g unrefined golden caster sugar
2 tsp plain flour
2 medium egg whites
A few drops of vanilla essence
Rice paper or a silicone-style baking sheet
Extra mint leaves
1 small tub whipping cream
Jelly moulds or suitable cup-shaped utensils
First, let’s make the jellies. Set your selected moulds on a tray that will fit in the fridge. Zest the limes and extract the juice. Heat the water, cordial, lime juice and caster sugar in a pan until simmering. Remove from the heat.
Measure the liquid – there should be about a litre. Use 1 leaf of gelatine for every 100ml of liquid; soak the gelatine in cold water until completely soft, then squeeze dry and gently stir into the hot liquid.
Allow the jelly to cool completely. Pour a little into each of your moulds, and sprinkle in some lime zest, hand-torn mint (using a knife may discolour the leaves) and verbena, if using.
Refrigerate until set, then repeat the process and chill until set once again.
Do this as many times as it takes to fill the jelly moulds, then cover the tray carefully with clingfilm and leave the jellies to set up fully while you make the macaroons.
Heat the oven to 180ºC / Gas 4. In a bowl, mix together the ground almonds, the sugar and the flour. Lightly whisk the egg whites with the vanilla essence and mix into the almond mixture.
Beat for a couple of minutes, then leave for 5 minutes to incorporate. Quickly beat again, then spoon or pipe onto your rice paper sheets, spacing them well apart, as they will spread a bit. Bake for about 20 minutes, until they take on a nice deep golden colour.
Cool on a wire rack before removing from the tray.
Trim away the rice paper from each macaroon, leaving the base intact.
Store in an airtight container until you’re ready to serve.
To finish, whip the cream until just holding a soft peak.
To assemble the dish, dip each jelly in a bowl of hot water to loosen it, and place a plate over each jelly. Invert quickly, and shake to release the jelly.
Wipe the plate clean, and serve a dollop of cream to one side, along with a couple of macaroons.
Garnish with a little fresh mint.