You’ve heard me gush about “Ma’s Lemon Sponge Pie” for years. The tart and creamy lemon filling merges with an ethereal fluff that rises to the top as the pie bakes. So you’ve got the lemon curd on the bottom blending into an airy sponge cake that browns Maillard-style to add a hint of caramel.
Lemon sponge pie is far better than lemon meringue pie in my book, since meringue can be wet, weepy, and have the foamy texture of something expelled by an undersea creature.
A couple months ago, our friends Pam and Adam had us over for a splendid dinner of grilled delights on their rooftop patio. I brought Ma’s pie. They enjoyed it, saying that the best desserts are either lemon or chocolate (see Adam’s killer “Double Chocolate Sorbet”). Pam recently made the pie without the crust, saying she wanted to cut out that extra fat and calories, and reported delicious results. This makes sense because the lemon comes with the cakey topping, so it holds its own well without pastry.
Here’s a crustless variation which makes a lovely dessert of individual lemon sponge pudding cakes. It mixes up quickly and easily, so we get from zero to lemon sponge much faster than with a pie.
Use ramekins or clever nonstick baking cups from King Arthur, which are thin, stackable and easy to store. We serve the pudding cakes in the ramekins, or turn them out onto plates so that the lemon becomes the topping.
Since you can’t pick up and eat a slice out of your hand—the traditional way of eating Ma’s pie—lemon sponge pie lovers will have to revert to using a spoon. But it’s worth it to get that intense lemony hit—and enforced portion control.
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/3 cup flour
- 3 eggs, separated
- 2 tablespoons melted butter, cooled to room temperature
- 1 cup milk (skim or any fat content)
- 6 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon grated rind of lemon
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- Confectioners sugar (optional) for dusting
- Preheat oven to 350°. Coat six 6-ounce ramekins (or nonstick baking cups, see above) with vegetable oil spray. In a medium bowl, whisk together sugar and flour. In another bowl, slightly beat egg yolks, then add melted butter and blend. Whisk in milk, lemon juice and grated lemon rind. Pour the lemon mixture into the dry ingredients and whisk until smooth.
- In a small bowl, beat egg whites and salt until stiff but not dry. Fold into the lemon mixture.
- Set ramekins or baking cups into a 9” x13” (or larger) baking or roasting pan. Spoon batter into cups, making sure to distribute the liquid and fluffy portions evenly. Place the pan in the oven and pour in enough hot water to reach about halfway up the sides of the cups.
- Bake about 35 minutes or until sponge is puffy, golden and slightly browned. Using tongs, transfer the ramekins to a rack and cool 10 minutes. Serve in the ramekins or run a knife around the edges and unmold onto plates. Serve warm or at room temperature, dusted with confectioners sugar if desired. Refrigerate cakes for serving within a few days.