When Cat and I were in Lubbock visiting my family, she got into a groove baking lemon desserts. My grandfather has always had a huge sweet tooth, and he’s always had a thing for lemon. I remember taking a road trip with him back in the ’80s, when Jelly Belly jelly beans were first a thing, and he bought a huge bag of lemon jelly beans. He always had a lemon drop handy to suck on. His enthusiasm for eating lemon sweets has only been matched by his love of Burger King Whoppers and Dr Pepper (I inherited his love of sweets and citrus, but the Whopper and Dr Pepper fixations passed me by). So we — by which I mean she — basically spoiled him for a week. Lemon meringue pie, lemon pudding, and an amazing triple-lemon cake with lemon cream cheese frosting and a lemon pudding center. Yum.
Amazingly, upon our return home, she promptly turned around and baked yet another lemon dessert just for us. Normally I’d complain, but, well, I am my grandfather’s grandson, after all.
This time, she made a lemon pudding cake. I have no idea what the science behind this thing is, but it’s kind of crazy. When it bakes, it turns toasty brown on top and mostly becomes a spongy lemon cake. The bottom of the dish turns into a sort of pudding — a bit soupy while warm, but thicker and creamier once cooled. The trickiest part is getting it out of the oven, since you’re supposed to bake it with the pan immersed in two inches of water, which is quite hot when just removed from the oven… but you can’t pour the water out over the sink like you would with a normal pastry dish, because the cake itself is floating on a cushion of custard and will happily spill out along with the water. You can see the complications of our water-extraction efforts on the facing lip of the pan. It all turned out well, though. And by “well” I mean “delicious.” The cake is fairly sweet, while the custard has a sharp tartness that burns your throat a bit, which is always a sign of a true lemon confection. The texture of the cake is airy and wonderful. And you don’t have to worry about it drying out in the fridge, because it stays super moist thanks to the pudding.
If I’m not mistaken, Cat got this recipe from a ’70s edition of the Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook. And it’s good. However, we now have a copy of the 1951 edition on order; that’s the one my grandmother used — the one we baked from back in Lubbock — and it had much better recipes. The copy we’ll be receiving won’t have stacks of hand-written recipes inserted into it like hers does, and it won’t be falling apart from 60 years of constant use… but I bet we’ll get there eventually.