- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 2, 2006

When it comes to desserts, anything with lemon ranks right up there with chocolate for me.

I love the cool, refreshing flavor that lemon imparts to sweet confections, and without any apologies at all, I make lemon bars, lemon tarts and lemon mousses as finales for my menus. Now I’ve discovered a new lemon sensation: lemon pudding “cakes.” I’m addicted.

Although called “cakes,” they are actually a cross between a pudding and a light, soufflelike cake. It’s not a particularly new idea, but in the past few months, it seems to be everywhere, including food magazines, online and even in a cookbook I picked up in France.

To prepare them, butter and sugar are creamed in a mixer, then egg yolks, lemon juice and zest are added, along with milk and a small amount of flour. Finally, beaten egg whites are folded in. The mixture is baked in ramekins in a water bath until set. When done, the pudding cakes seem to divide into two distinct layers with an airy cake layer on top and a dense rich pudding on the bottom.

They are heaven to eat warm, at room temperature or chilled. When served at room temperature or cold, there’s no last-minute fuss for the cook.

I shared the following recipe with a good friend. She made the pudding cakes for her family, and her spouse liked them so much that she’s serving them again in place of a traditional cake for his birthday dinner.

Lemon pudding “cakes”

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing ramekins

2 to 3 large lemons

3/4 cup sugar

3 large eggs, separated

3 tablespoons flour

2/3 cup whole milk

Water, for baking

6 strawberries, halved for garnish

Mint sprigs for garnish

Confectioners’ sugar for garnish

Generously butter 6 3/4-cup ramekins. Set them in a larger baking pan, such as a 9-by-13-inch Pyrex pan. Zest and juice lemons to yield ½ cup lemon juice and 2 tablespoons zest.

With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat together butter and sugar until well blended, 3 to 4 minutes, stopping machine to scrape down sides of bowl occasionally.

Then beat in zest. Beat in yolks, one at a time, then gradually beat in flour. On reduced speed, beat in lemon juice and finally the milk. Mixture will be somewhat thin and may look curdled; that’s OK.

With an electric mixer on high speed and with clean beaters, beat whites in another bowl until soft peaks form. Then in 3 equal additions, gently fold whites into egg yolk mixture.

Divide mixture evenly among buttered ramekins. Then fill large pan with enough hot water to come halfway up sides of ramekins. Bake on center rack of preheated 350-degree oven until tester inserted into centers of puddings comes out clean, 18 to 20 minutes.

Pudding cakes will puff up like little souffles and then deflate after being removed from oven. Carefully remove ramekins from pan. You can serve pudding cakes warm, at room temperature or chilled.

If serving chilled, cool, cover and refrigerate them. They can be prepared 1 day ahead.

Garnish each serving with a couple of strawberry halves, a mint sprig and a sprinkle of confectioners’ sugar. Makes 6 servings.

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