When Brendan and I bought our first house a little over a year ago, there were a few major selling points. One, if you recall, was a stove with gas burners for fire-roasting peppers. Another was the big back yard, complete with a fully-mature lemon tree.
I was already famous (among friends) for my lemon bars, but living with such easy access to fresh lemons, I’ve had a chance to experiment with other delectable citrus desserts. One of my very favorites has to be these individually-sized lemon custard cakes. They’re super simple to make, but come off as incredibly impressive due to their delicate texture — top half smooth and custardy, bottom half almost soufflé-like in consistency. I first served them on New Year’s Eve 2010 (the first we spent in this house) to none other than Gabrielle and Shay, in an epic celebration that lasted until almost 5 am. And yes, I’ve had them since. And yes, they’re every bit as good without a stomach full of Champagne.
My aunt Janet, who lives in Canada, recently picked up some Meyer lemons upon my mother’s recommendation. When asked for my favorite way to consume said citrus, I immediately thought of this recipe. I can’t think of a better way to highlight a lemon.
Makes 4 individually-portioned custard cakes.
- 7 Tbsp granulated sugar (+ some for coating ramekins)
- 2 Tbsp white flour
- pinch of salt
- 2/3 cup milk
- 1 egg, separated
- 1/6 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (ie, 8 tsp)
- 1 Tbsp freshly grated lemon zest
Preheat oven to 350°F.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, salt, and 1/4 cup + 1 Tbsp sugar. In a separate container, combine milk, egg yolk, juice, and zest. Mix into dry ingredients.
Beat the egg white to soft peaks. Add remaining sugar and beat until stiff (but not dry). Fold 1/4 of this mixture into your batter, then the rest in 2 parts, gently folding after each addition. The batter will be very soupy. Don’t worry.
Grease or spray 4 ramekins, then add a spoonful of sugar to the bottom of the first and manipulate until it coats the ramekin. Pour excess (plus any additional needed) into the next ramekin, and so on, until all 4 are thoroughly coated with sugar. Distribute the cake batter evenly between them. Bake in a water bath (a larger baking dish with hot water coming half-way up the sides of the ramekins) for 27 minutes, let cool, then chill at least 4 hours.
When it comes time to serve, invert each ramekin on a dessert plate. They should have pulled away from the sides of the dishes, and pop right out. Top with creme fraiche or lightly-sweetened whipped cream.
Like the pumpkin cheesecake recipe I posted earlier this week, this dessert needs to be made ahead of time so that it can chill for at least 4 hours before serving. But hey, when you’re throwing a dinner party, often that’s exactly what you want.