Wednesday, July 27, 2016

In the Limelight (Lime Delicious)

Lemon pudding cake is a recipe that has been haunting me across social media for weeks, now. Whether it's an algorithmic snafu or message from the divine, I finally surrendered and clicked through and now I have a new go-to dessert recipe. Especially using the Australian name of Lemon Delicious, it's an easy sell: soft, pillowy citrus white cake floats atop a layer of warm, semi-liquid custard. Making it in individual ramekins allows you to turn out portions onto plates for a prettier presentation and the enjoyment of drizzling the creamy sauce down over the cake. Or, you can chill them, in which case it becomes akin to a cakey rendition of lemon meringue pie. As both of the GourmetGents prefer limes to lemons, this version is for Lime Delicious, but any citrus variant is an option.

Delicious by any name
Lemon pudding cake is originally a Depression-era recipe, which you can sort of see in the lean list of ingredients. I got schmaltzy, adding the vanilla and doubling the butter, but even so it has pretty simple components. The kind of things you can have on hand when throwing together a dessert is a whim (my very favorite kind). Even with double the butter, this is still pretty light for a cake, breaking down to just a few tablespoons of sugar and flour, an egg, a half tablespoon of butter, and 3/4 cups of milk per person. While I now make it to sit on the couch and watch Netflix, the spontaneously generated sauce and a little artful dressing make it fit for company and the ability to serve it hot or cold makes it easy to make ahead and serve year round.

The cake is light, fluffy, and infinitely edible, fragrant with limes and flecked with zest, but the most fascinating part for me is the sauce. Much like molten chocolate cake, which swept the US in the late 80s, lime delicious is a self-saucing recipe. Make one batter and tip it into the pan, and out comes both cake and custard cream. Unlike molten chocolate cake, however, the sauce isn't the result of deliciously acceptable under-doneness, but a food science experiment in density. The only leavening in lime delicious comes from whipped egg whites. These rise, trapping other ingredients, to form the cake. The denser ingredients, like yolks and butter, accrete to form the custard/pudding layer across the bottom. Though it's fun for adults as well, I think this makes it a particular good recipe choice to try with kids and its multi-generational, "like grandma used to make" provenance increases the senses of family and the familiar.

Lime: delicious
While the ingredients are simple and you only have to make one batter, preparing this in my lilliputian apartment kitchen causes me to raise an eyebrow at those who billed it as "easy." It's so easy a child could do it, but there are a lot of utensils (and consequential cleanup) involved. Be forewarned that you need three mixing bowls (or two and a stand mixer), the ramekins, and either a roasting pan or enough baking dishes to hold them all. So, "easy," yet still a production. It can be part of the fun, if you let it. One last thing to keep in mind is the whipping of the egg whites: room-temperature eggs will give you the most volume and soft peaks means they've formed a fluffy, opaque white foam that is beginning to mound and drift, but still has rounded, flowing edges that imply a slight liquidity. As the lines become sharper and pointier, you approach stiff peaks. If the foam starts to look chunky and curdled, you've over-beaten, entirely. 

Light and fluffy
Lime Delicious (Lime Pudding Cake)
Adapted from The New York Times

The recipe as written yields 4 generous, celebratory portions. You could also stretch it by using 6 smaller ramekins or one 8-inch round cake pan. Note that smaller cakes will take less time to bake (15-20 minutes) and larger cakes more (30-45 minutes). Serves 4-8.

4 large eggs, separated
limes, zested
1/3 cup lime juice, freshly squeezed
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 tablespoon vanilla extract 
1 scant cup white sugar
1/2 cup cake flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt, finely ground
1 1/2 cups whole milk

Preheat an oven to 350 F and butter and 4 2-cup round glass baking dishes. Set a kettle of water to boil.

Whip the eggs yolks, lime zest, lime juice, and melted butter together in a large bowl. 

Zesting things up
In a separate bowl, sift together the sugar, flour, and salt. 

Whisk half the dry ingredients into the egg mixture, then half the the milk. Then repeat with the remaining ingredients.

Whip the egg whites to soft peaks and gently fold into the batter. Do not overmix: slight lumpiness in the batter may look unappealing raw, but should bake right out.

Fold 'er right in
Scrape into the prepared dishes. Each should fill about 3/4 of the way. Note that cakes will not rise beyond their fill line. Place the baking dishes into a roasting pan or large baking dish. Working quickly and carefully, transfer the roasting pan to the oven rack and gently fill halfway with boiling water. Bake until cakes are set on top, about 25-30 minutes.

Just set
Cakes should be served fresh from the oven or chilled overnight and served cold. 


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