Cake is synonymous with joy, laughter, and togetherness. While warm cookies may accompany an afternoon snack or ice cream may be a treat for a weekend celebration, cake is for the moments we want to remember, the milestones we want to imprint on our minds and hearts. A frosted cake rests on a kitchen table, dotted with glowing candles and melted wax, as everyone gathers to sing a spirited, off-key version of Happy Birthday to the guest of honor. Towering cakes are sliced by a bride and groom as they feed each other their first mouthfuls as husband and wife. Cake celebrates life, marking the passing of another year. Cake is a representation of love, of hopefulness and togetherness.
Cake is served on the best days of your life.
There are two cakes that have etched themselves so thoroughly on my heart, that are entwined so deeply in my memories, I am certain I could not forget their taste if I lived for a thousand years.
The first of the cakes is chocolate glazed banana cake. It is a simple cake, no frills or fuss, but somewhere between the ripe bananas and rich glaze there is the feeling of home. My mother would unexpectedly make this cake for my sister and me during the heat of summer. After playing outside in the sun, our faces pink and our lungs breathing quick, we would bound inside and smell this cake in the oven, which spiraled out scents that made our mouths water. There was no rhyme or reason to when my mother would make this cake, which made the moment of discovery that much more prized. My father kept the cake in the refrigerator, cutting out cold pieces for his daughters to enjoy after a long summer's day.
The second cake is one my mother has made over a dozen times. Since I was very young, I would insist on having strawberry shortcake drizzled in chocolate syrup for each and every birthday. The night before my big day, I would stay up late to watch my mother prepare the cake from scratch, mesmerized by the mixer as it beat egg whites into a flurry. As soon as she placed the cake in the oven, she would send me off to bed to have sweet, strawberry-filled dreams. I adored this cake then and I adore it now. I cannot imagine a birthday passing without digging into a big slice.
While there are very few cakes that insert their way into my heart like these two cakes have, this Lemon Pudding Cake may soon become one of them. I already have plans to make this cake for my citrus-loving mother as soon as Mother's Day rolls around.
Lemon Pudding Cake has a bold, tart lemon flavor with an unexpected texture. The cake is primarily a mixture of milk and freshly squeezed lemon juice (with a tad of butter and a touch of flour), folded together with whipped egg whites. While it bakes, the cake separates into two distinct layers. The top of the cake bakes up like a souffle and the bottom develops into a glorious lemon pudding. The varied textures and bright citrus taste turn this simple, unremarkable looking cake into one that will forever remain etched in your heart.
Lemon Pudding Cake
Adapted loosely from Foodess
Yields 9-inch cake
3 tablespoons (43 grams) butter, room temperature
3/4 cup (170 grams) granulated sugar, divided
2-3 fresh lemons, zested and juiced (about 1 tablespoon zest and 1/2 cup juice)
3 large eggs, separated
1/4 cup (30 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup (235 ml) milk
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 quarts (about 2 liters) boiling water
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (160 degrees C). Grease a 9-inch round baking dish.
In a large bowl, beat together the butter, 1/2 cup sugar, and lemon zest until light and fluffy. Add in the egg yolks one at a time, beating between each addition. Mix in the flour, vanilla, and salt. Stir in the lemon juice and milk. The batter will be very runny. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Add in the cream of tartar and remaining 1/4 cup sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form. Mix 1/3 of the egg whites into the cake batter until completely mixed. Fold in the remaining egg whites.
Transfer batter into the prepared baking dish (the cake will not rise so it is okay to fill the dish to the top, if necessary). Place the baking dish into a larger baking or roasting dish and add boiling water in the large dish until it reaches halfway up the outside of the batter-filled pan. Carefully transfer to the oven and bake for 50-60 minutes, or until the top becomes golden and the middle of the cake barely jiggles when shaken.
Cool the cake for 45 minutes to 1 hour before cutting or serving to allow the cake to set. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, if desired.