Friday, March 22, 2013

the cooking challenge (week 8): lemon pudding

I’ve never liked that “When life hands you lemons…” expression, because frankly, life is lemons. 

It’s also chocolate cake and chicken vindaloo and a hunk of cave-aged cheddar cheese. It’s Tater Tots and steak tartare. It’s peanut butter toast, a slice of watermelon, a bowl of rice and beans.

And life doesn’t just hand us lemons, we often stand under the tree, reach up, and pick the fruit ourselves.

That said, my own life has lately felt very lemony. Maybe it’s my marriage ending when I didn’t want it to, or being unable to write and unsure of what I’m doing with my life, or falling in love and breaking up and getting back together with someone new, or trying to find a job, or selling my home, or moving to a new city, leaving behind most of the people who held me up, both literally and metaphorically, as I stumbled my way through the past year and a half. Or maybe it’s just the where-the-hell-is-spring blues.

Whatever it is, there are lemons everywhere. Trees of sunshine-yellow fruit that I can’t resist picking. Lemons falling from the sky. Lemons littering the ground underfoot, making for very unstable terrain. And while I know that being alive is a fundamentally wobbly endeavor, I wouldn’t mind the illusion right now of some real solid ground beneath my feet. I’m shaky and scared and tired. I’m in a sour-lemon funk. And you know what they say: When life hands you lemons, make lemon pudding.

The original recipe was called Meyer Lemon Budino (budino is the Italian word for pudding), but life hasn’t been handing me Meyer lemons, so I used the regular kind, and an orange. 

This pudding is quick and easy to whip up, made with ingredients that you most likely have on hand (if life isn’t handing you lemons, check your refrigerator—there are probably a few rolling around in the crisper). Life is lemons. It’s flour and eggs and sugar and milk and salt and butter. Just typing those words was a comfort. So is knowing that such reliable staples—all you need to make this pudding— are sitting in the darkness of the refrigerator and cupboard in my kitchen.

So was making pudding on a Sunday afternoon. Squeezing the lemons and grating the rind, 

separating the eggs, whisking the yolks with the sugar 

and flour and lemon and milk, beating the whites with the salt. Pouring the batter into six little Mason jars 

and baking them in a water bath. The smell that filled my sunlit apartment.

The batter magically separates while baking: a layer of lemon-curd-like custard on the bottom, an airy poof of cake on top. I ate one straight from the oven with a wallop of whipped cream.

Now five little Mason jars of pudding. The cakey top sinks and shrinks a bit as the pudding cools, which was fine for my purposes. I capped the jars and walked around my new neighborhood delivering pudding to the few but dear friends I have here. 

I’m so, so grateful for those friends. For lemons and lemon pudding. For flour and eggs and sugar and milk and salt and butter. For the way a stocked pantry is a version of a solid life. I brought pudding and was invited to stay for dinner—life is gorgonzola-and-eggplant ravioli, and when we're lucky, a deep breath on solid ground.

Life-Is-Lemons Pudding
Adapted from Bon Appetit 

Note: The recipe calls for Meyer lemons, and I made it once this way and once with 1/4 regular lemon juice and 2 tablespoons of fresh orange juice, and didn’t notice a difference. According to the reviews of the recipe on Epicurious, plenty of people have successfully made it entirely with regular lemons.

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
3 large eggs, separated
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup fresh Meyer lemon juice
2 tablespoons fresh regular lemon juice
2 tablespoons finely grated Meyer lemon peel
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons whole milk
 1/4 teaspoon salt
Whipped cream (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter six 3/4-cup custard cups or ramekins or Mason jars.

2. Combine 1/2 cup sugar, egg yolks, flour, lemon juice, and lemon peel in large bowl; whisk until well blended. Whisk in milk.

3. Using electric mixer, beat egg whites and salt in medium bowl until frothy. Gradually add remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and beat until soft peaks form. Fold beaten egg whites into lemon mixture in 2 additions.

4. Divide mixture among prepared custard cups. Place custard cups in roasting pan. Pour enough hot water into roasting pan to come halfway up sides of custard cups. Bake puddings until tops are golden and spring back when lightly touched, about 30 minutes. Remove cups from water. Serve warm or cold with whipped cream, if desired.


  1. A-fucking-men. I am in a lemon grove picking bushels of lemons. At least now I know what to do with them all. Jayzus

  2. If you love your lemons, you are leaps & bounds ahead of many in this world. Carry on, Sweet Bl*g Mistress.

  3. Life IS lemons. Thank goodness some of us have enough sense to make pudding. Or lemonade (fine, let's be honest, vodka-spiked lemonade).