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Recipe: Lemony pudding cakes are magic in a ramekin

  • NEW YORK TIMES
                                Raspberries are mixed with sugar, then allowed to macerate, or soften. The sweet berries will garnish a zesty lemon pudding cake, providing contrast both in color and flavor.

    NEW YORK TIMES

    Raspberries are mixed with sugar, then allowed to macerate, or soften. The sweet berries will garnish a zesty lemon pudding cake, providing contrast both in color and flavor.

A pudding cake is a magical dessert — not in a flashy, souffle kind of way, but quainter. More “Bewitched” than “WandaVision.”

What it lacks in billowing drama, a pudding cake makes up for in both coziness and ease, with one straightforward batter baking into two distinct layers. On top is an airy sponge cake that puffs ever so slightly in the oven’s heat. Right beneath it lies the pudding, a creamy custard that can be flavored with anything — whether it’s chocolate, rose water or citrus.

As in much culinary magic, fluffy, beaten egg whites are at the root of it all. As the air trapped in the egg white foam heats, it expands and rises, causing the batter at the tops of the ramekins to lift. The bottoms of the ramekins, however, are immersed in a water bath. The water keeps the temperature down, so the batter at the bottom cooks more slowly, which in turn makes it runny and custardy. The higher the water level on the sides of the ramekins, the more pudding you’ll end up with; keep the water level low and you’ll get more cake.

Being a lemon lover of the highest order — I’ll always choose lemon desserts over chocolate — I flavored these pudding cakes with lemon juice and grated zest, for extra zing. Then, to make it even more bracing, I added an acidic dash of buttermilk. The pudding here ends up tasting like lemon curd, a balance of tart and sweet.

You could sprinkle the tops with powdered sugar and call it a day. But I like the way scarlet raspberries look against the pale yellow cakes. Use whatever ripe, juicy fruit you like here: Strawberries, blueberries, cherries and blackberries would be just as striking. And though they won’t offer much color contrast, sliced peaches and apricots would be wonderfully succulent against the lemony acidity here when their season finally arrives.

Lemon Pudding Cakes With Sugared Raspberries

These cakes are at their most tender served within an hour of baking, but they’ll still be delicious when they’ve cooled to room temperature a few hours later. Or chill them overnight and serve them straight from the fridge as an Easter Sunday treat. The cake part may not be quite as fluffy, but the zippy lemon flavor will still shine bright.

  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus more for greasing ramekins
  • 3 large eggs, separated
  • 1 cup (200 grams) sugar, divided, plus more as needed for raspberries
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk (or use plain yogurt thinned with milk)
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest (from 1 to 2 lemons)
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice (from 3 to 4 lemons)
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt or table salt
  • 1/3 cup (43 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 6 ounces (170 grams) raspberries

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter 6 (8-ounce) ramekins. Place them in any large baking pan where they can sit without touching one another, such as a 9-by-13-inch cake pan.

In a large bowl, whisk together butter, egg yolks, 3/4 cup sugar, buttermilk, lemon zest and juice, and salt until smooth. Whisk in flour until well combined.

Beat egg whites on medium speed of a mixer until they are thick, white and very foamy, 2 to 4 minutes. Increase speed to high and gradually beat in remaining 1/4 cup sugar, continuing to beat until stiff and glossy peaks form, about 2 to 3 minutes longer.

Using a rubber spatula, gently fold about a third of the egg whites into the lemon mixture, taking care not to deflate the whites. When no white streaks re-main, fold in remaining whites, working carefully. Stop folding when most of the second batch of whites is mixed in, but a few white streaks remain.

Spoon batter into ramekins. Transfer the pan of ramekins to the oven. Care-fully, so you don’t splash the cakes, pour enough very hot tap water into the pan to come about halfway up the sides of the ramekins. The higher the water level, the more pudding and less cake you’ll have.

Bake until puddings are puffed and lightly browned on top, 35 to 40 minutes. Take care not to overbake, or there won’t be any pudding at the bottom of the ramekins. Carefully transfer the ramekins from the pan to a rack to cool for at least 15 minutes. (The combination of tongs or a spatula, plus oven mitts, works well for moving the cakes.)

While cakes are baking, mix raspberries and a few pinches of sugar in a bowl, mashing the raspberries slightly to release their juices. Let the raspberries macerate until the sugar melts, about 15 minutes. Then, taste and stir in more sugar if the berries are very tart.

Serve the cakes warm or at room temperature, with the sugared berries and some of their syrup. Serves 6.

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