This refreshing dessert comes from a long line of baked desserts that are meant to separate while baking. Resembling a custard with the addition of a small amount of flour, this delightful lemon pudding cake separates into an angelfood or chiffon style cake layer on top of a lemon custard below. Like a custard, it’s baked in a boiling water bath to facilitate even cooking top to bottom.
The key is all in the batter. Resembling pancake batter or spongecake batter, you’d think the dessert would never set up properly, much less become two distinct layers after baking. The loose batter is exactly what makes all this possible. During heating the flour particles adhering to the meringue slowly float to the surface of each cup baking and forming the cake. But here’s the rub. If you don’t beat the meringue properly, the batter doesn’t have the lifting power necessary for the dessert to separate. You end up with a rubbery soufflé that won’t be very popular.
If you’ve never made meringue before, consider making a test batch before you put the entire dessert together. Making a correct meringue involves aerating the egg whites sufficiently before you add the sugar, and adding the sugar slowly enough not to deflate the egg whites. While we recommend a hand mixer for putting this dessert together, you might use a standmixer for the meringue if slowly adding the sugar while holding the handmixer steady is too cumbersome. Depending on how heavy your handmixer is, it can become quite tiresome before the meringue is completely mixed.
As with all whipped products, the problem is overwhipping. Once you whip eggwhites too far, they become dry and crumbly. Luckily adding in sugar prolongs the point at which the whites are sufficiently whipped before they become overwhipped. And you can also stop the mixer and check the consistency without worrying about collapsing your aerorated whites should you need to continue whipping. The meringues should be shiny and stiff. When pulled from the mixture, the beaters should form peaks of meringue that stay upright at about an inch tall. If the peaks fall over, continue whipping for a few more minutes.
Meringue is sturdier than plain whipped egg whites, and as such, can be incorporated into the batter with a bit less caution. A wire whisk is still the tool to use here simply because the lemon batter will be so loose. Make sure the meringue is completely incorporated; don’t leave any lumps. We’re looking for spongecake, not macaroons.
If winter is getting you down, these quick and easy pudding cakes will certainly brighten your spirits and tastebuds.
Lemon Pudding Cake
- 2 large eggs, separated
- ¾ cup white sugar, divided
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest, chopped
- ⅓ cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- tablespoon butter, melted
- 1 cup whole milk
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Set a tea kettle or water heater to boil. Spray six 6-ounce ramekins with non-stick cooking spray and set inside a 9×13-inch cake pan. Set aside. Place the whites in a medium mixing bowl and the yolks in a larger mixing bowl. Set the yolks aside. Mix the egg whites and salt until mounds hold their shape. Add ½ cup of the sugar, sifting a small amount at a time over the whites. Beat on high until all the sugar has been added and dissolved and the meringues stand in stiff peaks. Set this aside.
In the large bowl with the yolks, add the remaining ingredients, minus the milk and beat using the same beaters from the meringue—do not clean or wash the beaters. Add the milk and mix until the batter is smooth. It will be very loose. Using a wire whisk, incorporate the meringue into the lemon mixture half at a time, mixing thoroughly. Divide the batter evenly between the six ramekins. With the cake pan in the oven, carefully pour boiling water halfway up the ramekins making sure to keep the water out of the batter. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until the tops begin to brown and split.
Remove from the water bath immediately. Serve within 15 minutes of depanning. Tops will fall slightly when the pudding cake cools.