David Tanis's Ambrosia
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Karen DeMasco's Steamed Lemon Puddings

Steamed lemon pudding

I'll tell you, up until the last minute it was going to be a pavlova. It was going to be crisp and marshmallowy and billowy and beautiful, spotted with ruby-red pomegranate seeds floating on top of a thick tide of yogurt cream. Spectacular, I tell you! And also way too much for a lunch party of five. I came to my senses just before dinnertime on Sunday evening, making a quick U-turn to steamed lemon puddings from none other than pastry queen Karen DeMasco (she of the cashew brittle and the carrot cupcakes which are among the best things to ever come out of my kitchen, well, until these lemon puddings).

A big thanks goes to reader Jenny who reminded me of them - they'd been on the docket here for years, languishing away while I dallied with chocolate cakes and spice cookies and citrus salads. Back when the New York Times was still doing columns with chefs, Tom Colicchio wrote about his brilliant pastry chef and her lemon puddings. They were, Tom said, "not too rich" and "foolproof", which was all I needed to know this time around. I could make them in advance and then either warm them up or unmold them and serve them cool.

Lemon sugar

Steamed puddings are funny things, hybrids between a soufflé and a pudding and the lightest of cakes. Their name sounds wholesome and old-fashioned, at least to me, sort of like something I imagine Victorian ladies eating with tiny silver spoons, but the flavor is sharp and modern and bright - it fairly screams LEMON LEMON LEMON.

To make them you first grate lemon peel into a bowl of sugar and add flour to that, but my tip to you, before you add the flour, is to massage the lemon peel into the sugar. The already fragrant oils are released even more as the sugar works as an abrasive and it's just one of those delightful little kitchen tasks that makes you happy to be working - a few extra seconds of work that feel good.

Then you beat buttermilk and egg yolks and 1/4 cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice (which in today's case were precisely two very juicy lemons) together and in a separate bowl, whip the remaining egg whites until soft peaks form, nothing further.

Soft peaks

The egg whites are carefully stirred (proper folding is difficult because the batter is so liquid) into the buttermilk mixture until it's light and cloudlike and then you ladle it into buttered and sugared ramekins which are placed in a water bath and baked until they're puffed and golden-brown and cracking slightly. I found the transfer of the water-and-ramekin-filled baking sheet into the oven to be the most stressful part of this whole thing. (Which is to say that a. I am clearly easily stressed and that b. this recipe is ridiculously easy.)

Steamed lemon puddings

The lemon puddings are spectacular when you take them out of the oven, quivering and burnished and puffed-up, but they lose height and slump down pretty quickly as they cool. Never you mind. When you take a spoon to the ramekins a little later, you'll find that what they've lost in beauty, they've gained in total deliciousness. You'll also find a tender, light little cake on top obscuring a silken lemon curd beneath and although you will try to eat your steamed lemon pudding just as those dainty Victorian ladies once did, politely and slowly, it will be very very hard, especially once you realize that the problem with individual servings is NO SECONDS.

Happy birthday, Mami!

Karen DeMasco's Steamed Lemon Puddings
Serves 6

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
5 tablespoons flour
Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
3 eggs, separated
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 pint blueberries, optional
2/3 cup heavy cream, whipped, optional

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly butter six four-ounce ramekins or foil muffin cups. Dust each with 1 teaspoon sugar, shaking out any excess.

2. In small bowl, mix remaining sugar with flour and lemon zest. In large bowl, lightly beat egg yolks, and stir in buttermilk and lemon juice.

3. Whip egg whites until softly peaked. Whisk sugar mixture into buttermilk mixture. Fold in beaten egg whites in thirds. Spoon batter into prepared containers. Place in baking pan, and add hot water to pan to come halfway up sides of ramekins or tins. Cover pan completely with foil.

4. Bake about 15 minutes, until batter begins to puff. Remove foil, and bake another 15 minutes or so, until tops begin to brown and are springy to touch. A little cracking is fine.

5. Remove from oven, and serve warm. If you make the pudding in advance, allow it to cool to room temperature, and unmold to serve, or reheat in warm water bath, and serve warm. Fresh blueberries and whipped cream can be served alongside, but I served them plain and they were divine.