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Perfectly Imperfect

or Lemon Self-Saucing Pudding

So often it is imperfection that we fall in love with. A nose that’s a bit too big, teeth that are too crooked, the little wayward tufts of hair sprouting at the top of an ear. As with lovers, so with dishes, and one of the things that made my mother’s sweet things so good when I was a child was that they were very far from perfect and she often slightly under/overcooked them.

My mum had a canon of staple sweets that she went back to again and again. Her flapjacks were infamous. The recipe was relatively straightforward; the traditional sugar, butter, Lyle’s golden syrup and oats, but she added extra golden syrup, and always either forgot about them so that they were caramelised and crisp, or was overly diligent and took them out too early so they were chewy and soft. There never seemed to be a happy medium and that was what made them so good. Two of her most memorable puddings were a chocolate and tinned pear sponge she invented and the classic Eve’s pudding; which consisted of whatever sour fruit she had grown that season stewed and topped with a simple golden sponge. Undercooking both sponges slightly meant their centres were deliciously gooey and provided a sort-of sauce; hot and sweet and a perfect contrast to the fluffy crumb of the properly cooked parts. Once the pudding had been doused in cream (as it invariably was) this sticky and thick ‘sauce’ muddied and marbled with the cold cream to create something that was truly ambrosial.

Which brings me to self-saucing puddings. I first heard about self-saucing pudding when I stumbled across a recipe for one in a Skye Gyngell book. I made it immediately and loved the way that it reminded me of my mum’s under-baked sponges. Almost a soufflé, almost a sponge, this lemon self-saucing pudding is truly a wonderful thing, runny and set at the same time, both fluffy and creamy. It is also a perfect edible embodiment of that brilliant French word ‘baveuse’, which derives from the verb ‘baver’ meaning to salivate, and when used in cooking terms means runny, slightly undercooked, wobbling in the centre, like so many of the best things ( a perfect omelette, the quiches of your dreams, custard tarts). The trees in my communal garden are groaning with lemons, so I was also glad to have another way of using them up.

One more good thing about this pudding is, like those ones my mum made, it is cooked in the same dish as it is served in, a bonus for the washer-upper, and nicely unfussy. I often prefer a gratin dish on a table with scoops taken out of it, rather than fiddly individual portions.

Adapted from Skye Gyngell’s How I Cook

Serves 4-6

60g unsalted butter

180g caster sugar

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

3 eggs, separated

50g plain flour

300ml whole milk

Pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 180. Lightly butter a deep, oven-proof dish.

Cream the butter, sugar and lemon zest together until well combined. Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time, until incorporated.

Fold in the flour and the milk until you have a smooth batter, then gradually mix in the lemon juice.

In a separate bowl whisk the egg whites with the salt until they form soft peaks and then carefully fold them into the cake batter.

Decant the mixture into the buttered dish and stand it in a roasting tin filled with water to come about halfway up the side of the dish.

Bake for 45-50 minutes until golden.

1 Comment

Oh my goodness! This sounds so delicious and wonderfully simple that I'm going to make it right now!

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