A few weeks ago, I panicked when I saw that meyer lemons were on sale at my local fancypants grocery store. Produce on sale usually means that the season is coming to a close. Shame on me since I still hadn’t posted any recipes that took advantage of meyer lemon season!
The meyer lemons in front of me, however, looked like the last of the crop — too soft and squishy, and maybe even on the verge of molding. No wonder they were on sale! But oh well. I’d been wanting to try preserving meyer lemons for some time now. Might as well get the lemons while the going was still… well, going. I sighed, rolled up my sleeves, and helped myself to a generous bunch with the intention of preserving them later.
Unfortunately, after waiting a day to start my project, I opened up the brown bag containing the lemons and found that almost all of them had gone moldy. So much for that project. I couldn’t hide my disappointment — not only had I failed as a food blogger and failed to bake anything using meyer lemons, I felt like I had missed my last chance for some fresh, seasonal produce. Because we were entering March. Shudder.
March is my least favorite month of the year. Although it’s been a bit of a mild year, March has historically been the time of year in Oregon where the rain is at its worst: unrelentless and seemingly never-ending. It’s also an odd time in terms of what’s in season — with winter stores drying up and spring yet to begin, it seems like there’s nothing exciting or fresh to be found in local stores. Indeed, if you check out this list of what’s in season during March in Oregon, you’ll find… well, nothing.
So imagine my surprise when I walked into that same local fancypants grocery store and found a fresh batch of meyer lemons. So much for missing the season! These meyer lemons were the opposite of the sad batch that I’d bought earlier: bright, firm-skinned, and not a blemish in sight. Even though I knew these were probably the last of the good batch and not as awesome as they would have been at the peak of the season, I couldn’t resist. Besides, I’d had my eye on this recipe for lemon pudding cake for some time now and let me tell you — it did not disappoint:
What’s a pudding cake, I hear you ask? Well, this is a bit of an odd analogy, but think of a foamy, warm bubble bath. Imagine it now, awaiting for you after a hard day of work — the layers of light and fluffy foam up top sitting on top of fragrant, warm water.
Now imagine that as a cake. Specifically, a lemon pudding cake. Because that’s what pudding cake is. A layer of ever-so-light and sweet sponge cake sitting — no, floating — on top of a layer of tart lemon pudding:
During the baking process, the batter separates to create the two layers to a glorious effect. To wit, after my boyfriend had a bite of the cake, he exclaimed: “Whoa! How’d you do this? Did you make a custard and then bake a cake to put on top of it?”
Ha! As if I would bake something that would require that much effort. See, the trick here is about the recipe’s ratios. The recipe consists of primarily liquids (think: lemon juice, milk, whipped egg whites) and just a touch of flour, which then separate during the baking process to create the two distinct layers. The lighter ingredients (flour, bolstered by whipped egg whites) rise up in the heat to bake like a souffle, while the heavier ingredients (primarily lemon juice and milk) develop into a lemon pudding. Pretty snazzy food science, right?
Because the lemon pudding cake’s batter is primarily liquid, it’s important to bake this in a bain-marie (or, a water bath). A bain-marie allows the cake to cook at a more even temperature throughout the baking process. You can read up about it some more in Miette’s recipe for cheesecake. Don’t worry about the cracks on the cake — they’re unavoidable and lend the cake a beautiful, rustic look to complement its delicious taste.
Meyer Lemon Pudding Cake
- a 9-inch pie dish, preferably glass or ceramic
- a baking pan big enough to hold the 9-inch pie dish comfortably inside (I used a 16-inch roasting pan)
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar , divided into 1/2 cup and 1/4 cup
- 1 tablespoon meyer lemon zest
- 3 large eggs at room temperature , yolks separated from whites
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup meyer lemon juice , freshly squeezed
- 1 cup milk at room temperature
- 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease a 9-inch pie dish.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together 3 tablespoons butter, 1/2 cup sugar, and 1 tablespoon lemon zest until light and fluffy. Add in 3 egg yolks one at a time, beating between each addition.
- Once the egg yolks have been incorporated, turn off the mixer and use a rubber spatula to hand mix in 1/4 cup flour, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Stir in 1/2 cup lemon juice and 1 cup milk. The batter will be very runny — don’t worry! Set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, use a handheld whisk to beat together 3 egg whites until soft peaks form. Add in 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar as well as the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form.
- Once stiff peaks have formed, use a rubber spatula to hand mix 1/3 of the egg whites into the cake batter until completely mixed. Carefully fold in the remaining egg whites — the batter should be light and fluffy at this point.
- Transfer batter into the prepared baking dish (the cake will not rise so it is okay to fill the dish to the top, if necessary). Place the baking dish into a larger baking or roasting dish. This is the part where you make your bain-marie — use a kettle to boil enough water to fit into the roasting pan (I used about 2 liters). Once the water is boiling, carefully pour it into the large dish containing the batter-filled pie pan until it reaches halfway up the outside of the pie pan.
- Carefully transfer your bain-marie containing the pie pan to the oven and bake for 50-60 minutes, or until the top becomes golden and the middle of the cake barely jiggles when shaken.
- Cool the cake on a cooling rack for 45 minutes to 1 hour before cutting or serving to allow the cake to set. Sprinkle with powdered sugar for garnish. The cake is best when served warm and fresh out the oven.