We have always had a weakness for old-fashioned desserts, which explains why our recipe box is filled with recipes for crisps, cobblers and upside-down cakes. Lemon Pudding Cake, which goes back to Colonial America, is one of our favorites, and whenever we make it, we are amazed by the transformation that takes place as it bakes.
What goes into the pan as a fluffy mass of beaten egg whites, a couple of tablespoons of flour, and the usual pudding ingredients (sugar, butter and milk) comes out of the oven as a lemony pudding-like layer covered with a spongy cake-like top. If you didn’t know any better, you’d swear an ingredient was left out or a step in the directions was missed. In fact, what happens is that as the pudding bakes, the beaten whites rise to form a delicate cakey layer while the rest of the batter settles underneath to make a lemon custard pudding.
Besides adding flavor, the lemon juice makes the custard more tender, and the small amount of butter allows the egg whites to rise to their full potential. According to culinary historians, the recipe for pudding cake is based on a simple custard pudding to which a small amount of flour was added. An early recipe, published more than 150 years ago, was made with either wine or rose water and served with a sweet sauce. A few years later, lemon juice replaced the wine or rose water, but the method for making it stayed the same. It’s the real thing.
—By Jean Kressy, a food writer in Ashburnham, Mass.