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Lemon pudding cakes are light as clouds

Recipe: Bake them in ramekins for easy serving now or later

Baked in ramekins, lemon pudding cakes are easy to serve for a fancy dessert or a special brunch dish.

Baked in ramekins, lemon pudding cakes are easy to serve for a fancy dessert or a special brunch dish. Kathy Morrison

The lemons have been piling up, and I needed to bake something. But not something heavy, or which created too many leftovers.

eggs-and-lemons.jpg
One Meyer lemon and 1 tart lemon went into
the pudding cakes.

I happened on a recipe for lemon pudding cake among the thousands of NY Times recipes. Rule with those is: Always read the comments. And in this case, the commenters' consensus was 1) Increase the amount of lemon and 2) Bake the cake in individual ramekins for easier serving plus easier storing of any leftovers.

The second part was easy to follow: I prepped six ramekins and two custard cups, because that would fit in the roasting pan where they would bake. As it happened, I had extra batter, so pulled out a slightly larger ramekin (see photo) and poured the rest of the batter in that to bake outside the roasting pan.

Why a roasting pan? This cake works its magic -- creating a pudding layer under a light cake layer -- while baking in a "bain-marie," a water bath that gently heats the contents.

Since this recipe uses several eggs, and not much flour, it results in something like a souffle, but not quite so delicate. It will puff up, then deflate a bit, but with the custardy layer underneath.

The original recipe uses an 8-inch baking dish, which is fine, but the contents have to be scooped out, and there's the risk of the contents weeping when leftovers (if any) are refrigerated.

The only fussy part of this recipe, really, is the separating of the eggs so the whites can be whipped. I don't usually like whipping eggs, but this time it went very fast.

ramekins-in-oven.jpg
The ramekins are in the roasting pan and the hot
water is poured in -- now ready to bake.

And here's the secret: Separate the eggs when they're still-refrigerator cold, but let the whites warm up a bit -- 20 minutes -- before whipping them.

And use as much lemon zest as you like. I combined tart and Meyer lemon zest, but using either will work fine.

Lemon pudding cakes

Serves 8 to 10, in ramekins or in one baking dish

Ingredients:

4 large eggs

Butter for baking dish or ramekins, plus 1 tablespoon butter, melted

2 medium to large lemons, either tart or Meyer variety, or both

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1-1/2 cups whole milk or half-and-half

Sweetened whipped cream and raspberries for garnish, optional

Instructions:

4-white-ramekins.jpg
These just came out of the oven. The puffiness 
deflated a little as they cooled.

Remove the eggs from the refrigerator and as soon as possible crack and separate them, putting the whites in a large bowl (glass or metal preferred) and the yolks in another large bowl. Set aside.

Butter the ramekins or baking dish. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and set in the oven, on a middle rack, whatever roasting pan(s) you plan to use as the bain-marie. Set  about 1 quart of water to boil on the stove, in an electric tea kettle, or in the microwave. (A large glass measuring cup works well in the latter, since you'll have to pour the water.)

Zest enough lemon to get 1 teaspoon zest, minimum, or more to taste. (I used not quite 1 tablespoon). Juice the lemons to get 1/3 cup juice.

Combine the lemon zest, juice and 1 tablespoon melted butter with the egg yolks. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar and salt.

Stir half the flour mixture into the egg yolk mixture, then half the milk. Repeat with the flour, and then the rest of the milk.

Now the egg whites: Whip until soft peaks form, then gently fold them into the batter. It's OK and in fact preferable if the whites are not completely incorporated into the batter.

Divide the batter between the prepared ramekins, or pour into the prepared baking dish.

Open the oven and partly pull out the rack holding the roasting pan. Set the filled ramekins or baking dish in the pan and CAREFULLY pour the hot water around the ramekins or dish.  The water should come about halfway up the side.

Carefully push the rack back into the oven. Bake the pudding cakes for 25-30 minutes, or the single dish for about 45 minutes.

The roasting pan is hot and quite heavy when filled so you want to avoid moving it much. When the cakes are set, puffy and lightly brown,  remove them from the hot water to a cooling rack using kitchen tongs or two hot pads. Turn off the oven. Leave the pan of water in the cooling oven until you can move it safely.

Serve the cakes immediately, with whipped cream and berries for garnish, or cool them, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for later.

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Dig In: Garden Checklist for week of April 7

The warm wave coming this week will shift weeds into overdrive. Get to work!

* Weed, weed, weed! Whack them before they flower.

* Mulch around plants to conserve moisture and control weeds.

* Smell orange blossoms? Feed citrus trees with a low dose of balanced fertilizer (such as 10-10-10) during bloom to help set fruit. Keep an eye out for ants.

* Apply slow-release fertilizer to the lawn.

* Thoroughly clean debris from the bottom of outdoor ponds or fountains.

* Spring brings a flush of rapid growth, and that means your garden is really hungry. Feed shrubs and trees with a slow-release fertilizer. Or mulch with a 1-inch layer of compost.

* Azaleas and camellias looking a little yellow? If leaves are turning yellow between the veins, give them a boost with chelated iron.

* Trim dead flowers but not leaves from spring-flowering bulbs such as daffodils and tulips. Those leaves gather energy to create next year's flowers. Also, give the bulbs a fertilizer boost after bloom.

* Pinch chrysanthemums back to 12 inches for fall flowers. Cut old stems to the ground.

* From seed, plant beans, beets, cantaloupes, carrots, corn, cucumbers, melons, radishes and squash. Plant onion sets.

* In the flower garden, plant seeds for asters, cosmos, celosia, marigolds, salvia, sunflowers and zinnias. Transplant petunias, zinnias, geraniums and other summer bloomers.

* Plant perennials and dahlia tubers for summer bloom. April is about the last chance to plant summer bulbs, such as gladiolus and tuberous begonias.

* Transplant lettuce and cabbage seedlings.

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