Citrus Pudding Cakes!

My mother found this recipe in Fine Cooking magazine some years ago and it’s been one of my favorite desserts ever since. If you love lemon meringue or key lime pie, or lemon bars or anything citrus-y, you will love it! It is one of my favorite desserts and is baked in handy individual custard cups or ramekins so you can’t inadvertently overindulge. (As if you ever would?! Shock! Horror!) You can only overindulge on purpose.

Lime zest on a plate
Lime zest is such a pretty green! You could use lemon or orange zest instead, or a combo thereof.

You can make them in lemon or lime or orange or a mixture thereof. These pudding cakes are magic for two reasons. The first reason is that the “cake” portion separates magically out of the batter as it bakes, so you have a spongy cake layer on top, and a creamy, citrus pudding below.

The second bit of magic takes place as you are mixing up the batter: you add lemon juice to milk, and it doesn’t curdle! How does it do that?  I guess the small amount of flour and other ingredients which you have mixed into the milk before you add the lemon juice keeps it stable. Or maybe it just is magic.

Citrus Pudding Cakes

Take note of the ingredients you need — everything is something you probably already have on hand:

pudding cake ingredients
All you need is milk, sugar, butter, eggs, flour and of course, lemons or limes.
  • 5T butter, melted
  • 1.25c milk
  • 1c sugar
  • 3 large eggs, separated
  • 1/4t salt
  • 1/4c of all purpose, unbleached flour
  • the grated zest of 2 lemons or limes, or 1 lemon & 1 orange
  • 1/3-1/2c lemon, lime or orange juice, squeezed from the zested fruit above
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F while you boil up a kettle of water.
  2. Melt the butter in a small saucepan (gently — don’t brown it!) and pour into one of 8 ramekins or pyrex custard cups to cool.
  3. Pour the milk into the now empty saucepan to warm up just a bit from residual heat (off the burner.)
  4. Meanwhile, butter the ramekins/custard cups with the melted butter by pouring it from one cup to the next and rubbing it around. Place the cups in a baking dish or roasting pan with 2 inch sides, because they’re going to sit in a bath of hot water halfway up as they bake.
  5. In a large bowl, whisk the melted butter with 2/3 cup of the sugar and the egg yolks until smooth and light, about 1 minute.
  6. Add the flour and salt and just enough milk to whisk the flour smoothly into the egg yolk mixture. Then whisk in the remaining milk and then the citrus juice until smooth. Marvel that it doesn’t curdle! The mixture will be very fluid. Set it aside.
  7. Now beat the egg whites in a stand mixer or with a handheld mixer until they are white with soft peaks. Slowly add 1/3c of sugar a dash at a time till it is incorporated and you’ve got a luscious meringue going.

    Bowl of meringue and bowl of batter
    The meringue and the egg yolk batter ready to fold together.
  8. Scrape one-third of the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture, sprinkle the citrus zest on top, and whisk until combined. Gently incorporate the remaining whites into the batter, using the whisk in a folding/stirring motion. The batter will still be thin. (You will think, Gee, this sure doesn’t look very wonderful…)
  9. cups with batter in water bath
    You need about an inch of water in the baking dish. Be careful as you transfer it to the oven.
    pudding cakes after baking
    Once again, be careful as you transfer the dish out of the oven. No, you can’t have them now! You have to wait till they’re cold.

    Portion the mixture evenly among the ramekins; the cakes don’t rise much (or rather they rise but then fall again), so you can fill the ramekins to within 1/4 inch of the top.  Pour hot water into the pan or dish to reach halfway up the sides of the cups. Bake until the tops of the cakes are light golden and slightly puffed. When touched with a finger, they should feel spongy and spring back a bit but hold a shallow indentation, 25 to 30 minutes.

  10. Using tongs, carefully transfer the ramekins to a rack. Let cool to room temperature and then refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours before serving. Enjoy!

For people who don’t eat gluten, you could try cornstarch or rice flour perhaps, instead of the 1/4c of white flour. I haven’t tried it myself, so let me know if it works.

Lime pudding cake