American-Style Lemon Pudding Cake

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This is not a pudding in the UK sense of the word; it's just a cake (sponge) made with pudding (custard) mix to give it a moister texture and stronger flavour. But it is delicious. You know when you go to a chain coffeeshop and want a snack or breakfast, and you just know there's like an 80% chance that any slice of cake, any muffin, any scone you get is going to be dry, crumbly and terrible? And yet you do it anyway because you're already there and what else are you going to do, and then you take that first bite, thinking all the while about how you want your slice of cake to taste and then it doesn't. You know that feeling? This cake is what I always want a lemon loaf from a chain coffeeshop to be: moist, citrusy, sweet, with a crisp crust and plush texture perfect for pairing with a cup of tea. And as so often here in the Recipe Box kitchen, I'll defend this cake to the death as an option for breakfast, as an afternoon snack with a cup of tea or for dessert, maybe with a scoop of macerated berries on top.

If you make this in a mini tube pan, as I did, you'll have enough left for a very tiny loaf pan. Otherwise, this works great in a standard-sized tube pan or, even easier, a loaf pan. If you're looking for a more strongly citrus flavour, this works well with a lemon drizzle poured over it while still warm. It's also great with a heaping dose of poppy seeds thrown in at the end, but as I can't find them at my supermarket currently, you'll just have to trust me on that.

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Make this on the night before you start a new job, when you want something home-y to calm you down in the morning before your first day hitting the grind... Or, you know, for any other occasion, too.

The verdict:

4 spoons out of five. You know I love a citrus dessert, and one this easy that perfects the snack that coffee shops everywhere so often ruin is the best way to spend a rainy day.

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One year ago: Mocha Cake with Caramel Frosting
two years ago: Battle of the Carrot Cakes
three years ago: Peanut Butter Cookies

the recipe:

Lemon Pudding Cake

the directions:

Preheat oven to 175C/350F and grease a tube pan (or loaf pan).
Combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a mixing bowl.
Add lemon extract, zest and dry pudding mix.
Beat in eggs until smooth.
Add oil and orange juice and beat until smooth.
Pour into prepared pan and bake 40 minutes, until golden brown on top and a pick inserted in the middle comes out barely sticky.
If using a tube pan, allow to cool for 5-7 minutes, then turn out.

the ingredients:

2 ¾ c (352g) flour
1 ¾ c (350g) sugar
2 tsp baking powder
¾ tsp salt
1 tsp lemon extract
Zest from one lemon
1 pkg (3.4 oz) instant lemon pudding mix
4 eggs
½ c (120ml) vegetable oil
¾ c (180ml) orange juice

Brandied Kumquats

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This recipe is a bit of a cheat, because it's not actually IN the Recipe Box. All I have from the Box is the title of the recipe, at the bottom of a torn-off piece of newspaper that included the recipe for Cinnamon Pecans that let me down way back in 2015. But I was immediately taken with the idea of Brandied Kumquats- I adore brandied cranberries and I positively relish citrus fruits, so I figured this would be totally up my alley.* What I didn't account for was the fact that I no longer live in Florida, the land of kumquats, where they grow so plentifully that people throw them instead of candy in parades, and instead I live in Scotland, where the only thing that grows between the months of September and May is neeps.

For the last two years and two months, ever since I found the name of this recipe in the Box, I've had my eye out for kumquats, and this week I finally found them, at the rich people supermarket, of course. I came home and googled recipes for brandied kumquats but none of them sounded like exactly what I wanted- a citrusy version of cranberry sauce, the perfect mix of sour, sweet, bitter and boozy. So I invented my own recipe.

I'm not really sure what to do with these now that I have them- I love the flavour enough to just snack on them, but I've also made a citrusy riff on an old-fashioned with them, adding a sliced kumquat and two spoonfuls of the sugared brandy to a glass of bourbon and serving over ice. I served some with pork chops and they were great that way too; I think they'd be lovely chopped coarsely and stirred into scone dough, or sprinkled on top of a cardamom bun, but I'm happy enough eating them straight from the jar or mixed into cocktails.

These will last forever in the fridge, so make them when you find kumquats and then use them to your heart's content!

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*When I saw I love citrus, I mean it: one of my favourite snacks is citrus peel, and Judson finds it repulsive that my preferred method of eating an orange is whole, like an apple.

The verdict:

5 spoons out of five. These are slightly more on the sweet side than cranberries treated in the same way would be, but they still have that essential tartness and most importantly, the edge of bitterness from the peel and the alcohol. They work well in cocktails (I can't wait to try one as a garnish for a gin & tonic!) and even better as a side dish or topping to pork, pastry and more. Plus, they're a cinch to make- what more could you want?

One year ago:Toll House Marble Squares
two years ago: Happy New Year!

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The recipe:

Brandied Kumquats

the directions:

Prick kumquats all over with a wooden pick or the tip of a paring knife (you want AS MANY HOLES AS POSSIBLE, so don't skimp).
Heat kumquats, sugar and brandy over low heat, stirring constantly, until all sugar has dissolved.
Continue cooking for 3-5 more minutes until syrup has thickened and kumquats are softened.
If any of your kumquats are still stiff, poke them with a paring knife in the pot and keep stirring.
Leave to cool slightly in the pot, stirring occasionally.
As they cool, they'll become translucent.
After 30 minutes, add ¼ c more brandy and stir into mixture.
Pour mixture into a jar and refrigerate or use.

Will keep in refrigerator for at least one month, probably longer.

the ingredients:

1 lb (500g) kumquats, washed and stems removed
2 c (250g) sugar
½ c (4oz) brandy, plus additional for topping up

Lemon Meringue Pie

I've been excited about making this recipe since I found it in the box when I searched through it for the first time-- this is the oldest dated recipe I've found in the box so far, and it's from April/May 1941-- 75 years ago exactly! I love that Eleanor chose to save this recipe-- it's from an ad for The Brooklyn Union Gas Company, promoting gas-powered refrigerators and stoves, and it's just adorably retro, with info on how to measure the heat on your new gas-powered stove, as well as how functional and useful your new gas refrigerator will be (as a sidenote, I've never even fathomed that a refrigerator COULD BE gas-powered, so maybe that's an innovation we've already moved past?).

What I love most about it, though, is the glimpse into pre-World War II 1940s America that it affords-- the ad seems to be pushing the notion that everything in the US is ok almost frantically, reminding the reader that 'approximately 2,000,000 loaves of bread, plus an even larger quantity of rolls, muffins, cakes, and cookies' are eaten by New Yorkers every day, and hyping the affordability and usefulness of the gas ranges, ovens, and refrigerators available to purchase for only '$5 down!' It feels a bit like protesting too much, which makes sense as it was released at a time when the rest of the world was already involved in a generation-altering war and the US was stubbornly trying to pretend like all was well, despite the persistent economic depression and the rest of the world collapsing around their ears.

Eleanor would only have been 20 when she came across the ad, probably having just moved out on her own for the first time, and I love that it somehow stuck in her recipe box for 51 years, through countless moves, a marriage, two kids, and literally thousands of meals. To me, it speaks of aspiration, hope to grow up and have a kitchen of her own where she could take advantage of her regular paychecks to buy herself a cutting-edge gas-powered refrigerator and make whatever desserts she wanted, and maybe even hope for a time after the war ended, when rations would be gone and she'd have access to all the eggs, fruit, flour and butter she wanted. It's still spotless, though some of the creases have started to tear, which leaves me wondering how often she actually made the fish pie or this lemon meringue pie on the recipe card, but the fish pie was incredible and the lemon meringue pie, though not the easiest recipe I've ever made, was the perfect cool, tart-but-still-slightly-sweet dessert for this time of year.

I always assumed that Eleanor would have made tons of lemon-based desserts once she moved to Florida, where citrus grows wild and she had a giant grapefruit tree in her own backyard, but then I remembered what happens to meringue in Florida, and it's not a pretty sight. Picture 80% humidity, no air conditioner, and a dessert that needs to stay perfectly dry in order to be crisp. It's no wonder I had never tried meringue until I was 28 years old and moved to Scotland. So maybe this wasn't Eleanor's go-to dessert after moving to Florida in the late 1950s, but she had already been carrying this recipe around for nearly 20 years by then, so who knows-- maybe this was her favourite dessert to make on hot New York summer nights when she was a single girl younger than I am now. I may never know the answers to that, but I do know that this pie is delicious and you should totally make it for your next barbecue shindig.

 

The verdict:

3 spoons out of five. The pie itself deserves more, but the crust was a bit tougher than I wanted it to be, and making a meringue really stresses me out, even though in this instance it came out just perfectly.

 

One year ago: Perfect, Crustless cheesecake

the recipe:

Lemon Meringue Pie

the directions:
crust:

Preheat oven to 225C/450F.
Sift together flour and salt.
Cut in 1/3 c shortening until mixture is the consistency of coarse cornmeal.
Cut in remaining shortening until particles are pea-sized.
Sprinkle water over dough, 1 tbsp at a time.
Work lightly and quickly with a fork until mixture forms a mass that leaves the sides of the bowl clean.
Chill in refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Divide in half, roll on lightly floured board, place gently in pie pan, line with parchment and weigh down with beans or pie weights, and bake 10-15 minutes until golden and cooked through.
(Freeze remaining dough for another occasion).

Filling:

Mix sugar, 1 ½ c water, and salt in a double boiler or over very low heat.
Cook until mixture boils.
Whisk cornstarch with remaining water until smooth, then add to syrup and cook for 20 minutes.
Beat egg yolks in a separate mixing bowl.
Pour sugar mixture slowly over egg yolks, whisking constantly to avoid eggs cooking.
Return mixture to double boiler and cook 3 minutes, stirring constantly.
Add butter and allow to cool for 15-20 minutes.
Add fruit juice and zest.
Pour into baked shell, place in refrigerator, and prepare the meringue.

Meringue:

Preheat oven to 160C/325F.
Place egg whites in bowl of electric mixer and add salt.
Beat until stiff, but not too dry.
Add sugar slowly, one tbsp at a time, beating at high speed constantly until mixture is glossy and forms stiff peaks.
Spread on pie and bake about 15 minutes, until meringue is crisp to the touch and slightly brown at the edges.

the ingredients:
the crust*:

2 c flour
½ tsp salt
2/3 c shortening, divided
2 tbsp water, very cold, approximately
 
 
 

 

the filling:

1 c sugar
1 ¾ c water, divided
1/8 tsp salt
5 tbsp cornstarch
2 egg yolks, beaten well
1 tbsp butter
5 tbsp lemon juice
Grated zest of 2 lemons
 

 

the meringue:

2 egg whites
Very small pinch of salt
4 tbsp sugar
*Crust makes enough for one double- or two single-crust pies.