A pudding cake is a magical dessert — not in a flashy, soufflé 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.
Like 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 confectioners’ sugar and call it a day. But I like the way scarlet raspberries macerated in a little sugar 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.
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. The cake part may not be quite as fluffy, but the zippy lemon flavor will still shine bright.