Sicilian lemon cream (Crema di Limone) is a an ultra simple lemon dessert recipe made with fresh lemons, sugar, cream, and silky mascarpone.
In this country we have a love/hate relationship with dessert ~ we obsess over it and then feel ashamed of our passion. In Italy there’s no moral value attached to dessert. It is what it is: a sweet ending to a wonderful meal and a little perk of life. Lemon cream topped with a few fresh berries is the perfect example of the Italian dolca vita!
What is lemon cream?
Lemon cream is a classic Italian dessert topping or filling with roots in Sicily, where lemon trees grow literally everywhere and lemon desserts are an art form. Lemon cream is like a creamy version of lemon curd, and while it can be used as a filling for cakes and tarts, it’s also served in small glasses on its own. It’s the most refreshing end to a meal ever!
What you’ll need for lemon cream
- regular lemons are absolutely fine for this recipe but Meyer lemons are especially nice if you can get them.
- just enough but not too much ~ the tart lemon flavor shines through in this lemon dessert.
- heavy cream
- you need cream for this recipe: lower fat dairy products will curdle when mixed with lemon juice.
- mascarpone cheese
- my store carries it with the other Italian cheeses, like ricotta and mozzarella. If you don’t see it, ask!
How it works
- Juice lemons and heat in a saucepan with sugar to dissolve.
- Heat cream and mascarpone in a separate saucepan.
- Add the lemon juice to the cream mixture and stir to combine.
- Strain into small dessert glasses.
- Chill until firm.
The key to this rustic dessert is the mascarpone, which is a thick and spreadable Italian cheese, much like cream cheese. You melt it down with cream and combine with sweetened lemon juice. Because cream has a high fat content, the lemon juice will not curdle it. The mixture thickens to a custard texture as it chills.
The result is a wonderful tart lemon flavor with a creamy mouthfeel ~ so refreshing!
Creamy lemon features in other recipes
The combination of tart lemon and a creamy element is relatively rare, and especially inviting. I love it so much I’ve featured it in many of my recipes…
Variations on lemon cream
The simplicity of this dessert allows for lots of fun variations.
- Try using grapefruit, orange, or lime instead of lemons.
- Use honey instead of granulated sugar. Honey is actually sweeter than sugar so you won’t need quite as much.
- Use Fiori Di Sicilia (a unique Italian flavoring with citrus and floral notes) to add subtle flavor to your lemon cream.
Fiori Di Sicilia (flowers of Sicily)combines floral and citrus notes. In comparison to vanilla extract, Fiori di Sicilia is more concentrated and has a more complex flavor profile, so start with just a few drops. Can you combine it with vanilla? Absolutely!
- Add a splash of Limoncello (Italian lemon liqueur) or Marsala (a fortified Italian wine) to the lemon cream. You could also add it to a whipped cream topping.
- Infuse fresh basil, rosemary, or mint into the cream & mascarpone as it heats up. Ditto for fresh ginger.
Serving suggestions for lemon cream
This is meant to be a minimalist type of dessert, so don’t feel like you have to garnish at all! But if you do want to decorate it for company, here are a few ideas:
- Add a very thin slice or wedge of lemon. This type of garnish is a visual cue so the diner gets a hint of what the dish will taste like. This can actually heighten the enjoyment of food.
- Fresh berries can be used. I use red currants that I found at Whole Foods (in the middle of winter!) Raspberries, blackberries, cherries, etc. can work, but don’t overpower the small glass or bowl, just use the fruit as an accent.
- A simple fruit sauce is a nice topping. Use macerated strawberries, or make a mixed berry sauce by heating the berries with a little sugar and a splash of water or liqueur just until the fruit breaks down.
- Finely chopped pistachios would be colorful topping.
- Crumbled amaretti cookies would add a nice crunch on top of your lemon cream.
- Whipped cream and a garnish of lemon zest is easy and pretty.
Sicilian Lemon Cream
- medium saucepan
- mesh strainer
- Put the lemon zest, lemon juice, and sugar into a medium saucepan.
- Heat the mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar has dissolved. You should not feel any remaining grittiness. Set the pan aside.
- In a new saucepan heat the cream and mascarpone over medium heat, stirring to melt the mascarpone. Bring it just barely to a simmer, do not boil!
- Remove the pan from the heat, and whisk in the lemon mixture. Strain through a fine mesh sieve and the pour into 4-6 small bowls or glasses.
- Chill the lemon cream until firm. This will take about 8 hours, and you can make them the day ahead and chill them overnight. The lemon cream will last 3 days, refrigerated.