January 20, 2012

let's get slightly virtuous

Our garden has been mostly a bust this year. Thank goodness for the citrus trees we planted. When I look outside -- past all the runty lacinato kale  and rows of seeds that failed to sprout-- and see my dozen bright yellow lemons, I feel pretty happy. Not to say that skill had much to do with it. I get the idea it's next to impossible to kill a citrus tree in this climate.

Since we moved to California, we've done a lot of cooking/baking with lemons and Meyer lemons and have decided that we almost always prefer using regular lemons in desserts. Meyers are nice in savory dishes -- their aroma and sweetness plays well with salty/bitter flavors -- but they lack the tartness to stand out in a sweet dessert.

Take these split-level lemon pudding cakes. (I call them split-level because, in the oven, the batter separates and you get one layer of creamy pudding and one layer of airy sponge cake. It's neat.)

meyer lemon pudding cake

We don't make these pudding cakes more than once or twice a year, but they do occupy an important place in our repertoire: filling the "Mark wants a dessert with lemon, but nothing rich" void. (Anything calling for skim milk is basically health food, in Mark's world.) Anyway, when you make them with regular lemons, you get this feisty, tart, puckery, refreshing lemon flavor. When you make them with Meyers, the fragrance is wonderful but the taste falls flat due to the relative lack of acidity. Some might like it, but I don't want subtlety in my lemon desserts! If I'm eating lemon, I want it to shock my taste buds a little bit.

Let's Downton Abbey-ify this thing (since I can finally refer to season 2 plot points now that it's airing here!). Lavinia Swire is a lovely lady who knows how to rock green with her auburn hair. I get why Matthew is drawn to her soft-spoken ways and the way she quietly rearranged her life to be a part of his, especially after Lady Mary toyed with his heart in season 1. But she's also a bit of a wallflower, no? (Marconi scandal notwithstanding.) Lavinia is a Meyer lemon, very nice in her own right, but a bit meek. Lady Mary, with her bluntness and her desire to be the center of attention and her messy life choices that upend Matthew's emotional well-being, well, she's a lemon. An uncommonly upper-class lemon who inherits furniture instead of buying it.

Unlike me, however, Cousin Matthew just can't choose his favorite.


Lemon pudding cakes
via Food & Wine magazine

All right, these are a bit homely. They are good, but not fancy. A downstairs dessert, not an upstairs dessert, is what I'm saying. But since we don't dress for dinner, it works anytime for us. They take a bit of doing -- I say any recipe where you have to whip egg whites takes a bit of doing -- but I like the split-level result. As I mention above, use regular lemons if you like bright, tangy flavor and Meyers if you prefer sweet, muted, wallflower-y flavors (I won't judge). You could also use Meyer lemon zest for fragrance and regular lemon juice for tartness.

3/4 cup granulated sugar (you can try 1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar if you are using Meyer lemon juice)
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3 large eggs, separated
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus a bit extra for the ramekins
1 cup skim milk
5 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (if your lemons yield exactly 6 TB like mine did, no problem) 
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (I've used up to 3 tsp here)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Lightly butter six 6-ounce ramekins. In a medium bowl, whisk the sugar with the flour. In another bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the butter until well blended. Whisk in the milk, lemon juice and lemon zest. Pour the lemon mixture into the sugar mixture and whisk until smooth.
  2. In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites with the salt until firm peaks form. Gently fold the egg whites into the lemon mixture. Pour the batter into the prepared ramekins and transfer them to a small roasting pan. Place the pan in the oven and pour in enough hot water to reach halfway up the sides of the ramekins.
  3. Bake the pudding cakes for 35 minutes or until puffed and golden. Using tongs, transfer the ramekins to a rack to cool for 20 minutes. You can serve them from the ramekin or unmolded on the plate. And while you can serve them warm, I prefer them chilled.   


Rachel said...

I was feeling a bit down this morning ... now I know why, I needed to bake. Preferably something with lemons (any kind would be fine with me at this point!), preferably eaten while watching Downton Abbey :D

Anna J. said...

That picture of Matthew is so weirdly awesome. And these pudding cakes look really good! I bought 2 pounds of lemons the other day without a plan, so your post is perfect timing.

Liz said...

Ohhhh goodness, I'm not a big lemon fan but this does not sound bad at all. I think it's the appearance of Matthew Crawley in this post. I love him! I als enjoyed your analogy (though I think the Dowager Countess would bristle at her fave grand-daughter being likened to a common lemon).

Lan said...

Wish that I have a lemon tree in my backyard, especially a Meyer lemon tree.These Meyer lemons are hard to find here.

Lauren said...

Oh my gosh, you are awesome. Loving the Downton bit.

Kim said...

Ahhh I love that you guys also love DA!