Saturday, June 21, 2008

Awesome Cake Chemistry

I was a solid B student in high school and college. If I worked my bottom off I could have been an A student, but why bother? Cramming was my lifestyle. With the exception of English, I never read more than I needed to do the homework. And I got Bs, and I was happy.

Until I met chemistry. Chemistry killed me. I had to work my ass off every single night. I had to read the textbook and take notes on the reading every night. I did all the study questions at the end of each chapter--just so I understood what the hell was going on. We weren't turning in these study questions--but if I didn't do them, I was totally lost in the class. Working my ass off got me a solid B. I enjoyed the challenge, and I was proud of myself for working hard and getting a nice passing grade in response. This kind of made me like chemistry.

Well, it made me like food chemistry. I LOVE food chemistry.

Back when I was addicted to The Food Network and couldn't leave the house for fear of missing a good recipe, Paula Deen made some sort of crazy pudding cake thing. It was mixed in one bowl, and somehow during the bake the batter sorted itself out and made a cake layer on top and a nice looking pudding on the bottom.

Magic! How did they do it?!

June 19, 2008
Name of Cake: Lemon Pudding Cake
Occasion: Student Doula Meeting
Constituents: Magic! (with macerated strawberries on the side)

I don't know if it is due to the busy nature of modern day lifestyles, or a Portland thing, or just a thing that everyone in my social and business circles do, but I go to a lot of freaking potlucks. Which is perfect for me and this blog (and hence, you) as I have lots of opportunities to inflict baked goods on a lot of people.

So Thursday night, we had our twice-monthly meeting for the student doulas in our group. The book they were reading was Birthing From Within, and since I'm a mentor I was asked to help facilitate the meeting and lead them through an exercise. (An exercise which made everyone cry. Good thing I brought cake.)

I was flipping through my baking books the day before and found in the Fannie Farmer Baking Book a recipe for Lemon Pudding Cake, which was a dead ringer for Paula Deen's magic cake (but probably with less butter). I got pretty excited about it and decided that was what I was going to bake.

lemon (and lime)  pudding cake

This cake is practically foolproof and really quick to put together. It is mixed up in one bowl--with the exception of the egg whites, which you beat up separately and fold into the rest--and makes a very wet batter. It is mostly liquid, actually. There isn't much flour and no leavening besides the egg whites.

lemon pudding cake

I am assuming that during the bake, the egg whites and flour must bind with just enough of the sugar and liquid to make a nice little sponge cake on top, and that all the extra liquid falls to the bottom with the egg yolks and makes a nice lemony pudding. How's that for chemistry? Pretty scientific, huh?

lemon pudding cake

To help with the magic, you bake the cake for 45 minutes in a bain marie; presumably to help the pudding set. There were no directions for cooling the cake, simply that you could serve it warm or chilled with a little heavy cream, so I left it out to cool for about an hour, then set it in the refrigerator to chill.

lemon pudding cake

The little sponge cake on top was very light, moist, and springy, however it didn't have much flavor on its own. I would have loved to have gotten some of the lemon zest or even a little bit of vanilla into the cake, but I'm not sure how you would get it to stay in the cake such as this.

lemon pudding cake

The pudding part was a little watery at first, when it was chilled, but as the pudding warmed up it thickened. It was refreshingly, tartly, lemony (and limey; I ran out of lemons). I would have liked the pudding to be a little thicker yet, but perhaps that could be due to the 2% milk I used; I suspect whole milk would yield better results.

You serve the pudding cake right out of the pan you bake it in, with a large spoon to scoop out cake and pudding. I like that; it keeps things pretty low-key. I had a bunch of macerated sliced strawberries on the side, in case the cake was bland and needed flavor, but the pudding did the trick. However, strawberries and lemon? Yum. It was a good idea anyway.

lemon pudding cake

The doulas liked my little magical cake experiment, and there was just enough for me to take home for a midnight snack. Excellent!
Here's Paula Deen's recipe: she calls it Lemon Curd Pudding. Hers is a little more rich, with half-and-half and 4 eggs, but no butter! I guess with all the butterfat in the half-and-half you don't need it.


  1. This is an old stand by in our house.
    Mine is from Better Homes and Garden cookbook (the recipe is on my blog too) In fact, I made this 2 days ago!
    We surely are twins! Spooky. do you make your students cry? I can see how lemon pudding cake makes them happy. Ying and yang.

  2. Oooh, Spooky indeed! I must have been psychically linked to you when I made the decision.
    This will become an old standard in my home, too. It is so delicious and easy.
    Oh, I make everybody cry. Just kidding. I led them through an exercise which was very emotional. It was actually really great--the girls seemed to get a lot out of it.
    By the way, Melinda, how goes the foot recovery??

  3. That looks super yummy!! Can't wait to try that out on my family!!

  4. Hi Laurie! I didn't know you had a blog--but when I opened up your page there was that amazing strawberry cake you wrote to me about in April or March. Looks like you're going to be slicing a lot of strawberries in the month to come--have fun! Hope to see you on the blog again.

  5. ECL,
    I've also made this, using a recipe in some standard cookbook--maybe Joy of Cooking. I thought it was good, but not great--not enough lemon flavor and a pretty watery pudding. I just read the reviews of Paula Deen's recipes, and the reviewers swear that if you use boiling--not just hot--water in the water bath and make sure the egg whites are stiffly beaten, the pudding will be more like lemon curd. I love lemon curd, so I may try her recipe some day.

  6. Cook's Illustrated has a fantastic chocolate pudding cake--same concept as the lemon one that you made. It is fabulous with vanilla ice cream!

  7. BBC, yes please try it again; I can't speak for Paula Deen's recipe but at least the Fannie Farmer recipe was really good! I did use boiling water (boiled in a teakettle then poured into a teapot for easier pouring into the outside pan). My egg whites were stiff-ish...but it seemed to work out okay. The pudding was really runny when it came out of the refrigerator, and thickened as it warmed up to room temp. Also, I served it many hours later--maybe that helped the pudding to thicken? Also, pudding may be misleading, as it is thinner than what we would expect a pudding to be.
    Fannie called for only 3 eggs, 1/2 cup of melted butter, 1 1/2 cups of milk, the zest of one lemon and 1/4 cup of fresh squeezed juice, and it had a very bright lemon flavor and good texture. The cake was the boring part!

    aldaigle, welcome to the blog! I was wondering if there was a recipe for a chocolate pudding cake out there somewhere...thanks for the tip!