After 20 years of marriage, you think I’d know this companion, best friend, loving father of my children. A man who professes to dislike desserts because they are “too sweet,” who can turn down chocolate with a dismissive wave, cheesecake with a grimace. But now, aha! I have found a chink in his armor, an irresistible temptation – lemon pudding. Lemon pudding, satiny and creamy, lush and plush, tongue-tickling tart and eye-brightening sweet, every mouthful a citrus melody in a composition of custard.
I’ve never made the pudding specifically for my husband; it’s my firstborn daughter’s favorite. She had a rough day today, and when she got in the car after school, recounted all her grievances, then got that faraway look in her eyes and adopted a petulant tone, “Why don’t you ever make lemon pudding? You know it‘s my favorite.” And later, at home, I check the refrigerator and see that I have a bag of lemons and the organic eggs that my neighbor brought by; it’s kismet.
The recipe’s a keeper, rich with half and half (you can sub whole milk), sugar and a quartet of egg yolks. And lemon, at least four juicy lemons and their zest are required for this batch. If all goes according to plan, the pudding will not need refrigeration because it will be scarfed down while barely warm, which we all know is the proper temperature for all homemade puddings. Mr. Cosby can keep his Jell-puddings in the fridge; all their generic flavors and paintbox colors. Real pudding, the kind that mommas make for their babies (of any age), is best eaten warm from the pot it’s made in, with a big spoon.
I make lemon pudding in a double boiler, and strain in a sieve, which is the culinary equivalent of Grandpa wearing a belt and suspenders. The gentle heat of the double boiler ensures the eggs don’t scramble and the sieve makes sure that any wayward lumps, plus the fine zest, do not interfere with the supremely creamy texture of the pudding.
Back to the husband – I placed the bowl of strained pudding on the table, the curds in the strainer in the sink and went about the making of supper. Dear Husband asked what was in the sink. I said, honey it’s lemon pudding, that’s just the offal, wait for the real stuff, we‘ll have it for dessert. I snuck a look and saw him hunched over the strained lemon bits like a lion on a zebra carcass and I swear, for the love of Peter Brady and all that is holy, for a split second, my husband’s eyes rolled back in his head.
You can believe what you want to believe, but this momma’s going to be making more lemon pudding.
2-1/4 cups half and half or whole milk
¾ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
4 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest (from 2 lemons)
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (about four small lemons)
3 Tbs. unsalted butter, at room temperature (optional if using the half and half)
1. Set up a double boiler and place over medium heat. In top pan, whisk together the milk, sugars and cornstarch until smooth and not lumpy.
2. Whisk in the egg yolks, lemon zest and pinch of salt. Continue cooking, whisking frequently at first and constantly toward the end, until thickened to desired consistency, 10 to 15 minutes.
3. Remove the pan from the heat, add the lemon juice and butter (if using), and stir until incorporated. Pour through a coarse sieve into a large serving bowl and let cool to room temperature.
4. If you must refrigerate right away, cover it with plastic wrap let chill for two hours. In my home, I pour out small servings in bowls, set out spoons, and announce that pudding is ready.
Text and images copyright 2010, Lucy Mercer.