My grandma had a serious sweet tooth – or “sweet toot,” she’d say with her endearing whisper of a French accent. My mother’s mother’s maiden name was Dion. Her father anglicized it to “DiYoung” in the days when being Acadian inferred inferiority. She was one of eighteen children born to a French-Catholic family, and she was a wonderful grandmother.
I’ll always remember the way grandma would use a small spoon to firmly pack my ice cream into the very bottom of the cone. It made no difference to me that the ice cream was freezer burnt, the flavour was Grape Nuts and the cone was stale. All my knotty-haired elementary-school self tasted was love.
In her later years, grandma was half-deaf and sometimes confused. My grandpa kept a pet cockatiel who was notorious for escaping the confines of its cage. One day, my grandma was in the kitchen satisfying her “sweet toot” when Chicklet escaped.
My mom, my sister and I were shrieking and diving all over the place trying to trap it under towels whenever it landed. Grandma was enjoying her afternoon tea in peace, oblivious to the commotion in the next room.
After ten minutes of unsuccessful towel-trapping, the bird had worked itself into a freedom frenzy. He tore all over the living room airspace, squawking hysterically, until the furniture was well-splotched with bird crap, and we – his weary, would-be captors – were exasperated and sweaty. A scream or crash must have beckoned grandma from her cake when she eventually emerged from the kitchen, fork still in hand.
The towels had been abandoned. As the cockatiel happily swooped and dived over our heads, thrilled at evading capture, we resorted to standing still with our hands in the air, breathlessly pleading with him in syrupy-sweet voices to come perch on our outstretched palms.
“What’s going on?” grandma implored, aware of the chaos but still seemingly oblivious to the squawking and feathers flying.
“CATCH THE BIRD!” my mom shouted as he soared over our heads toward the kitchen doorway where grandma stood, bewildered.
As he flapped over each of us, our hands sprang up in hope. At this point, grandma seemed to half-catch the drift of what was going on. So when poor Chicklet zipped over her, she mimicked our actions…
I can still see her wrinkled, thin arm shoot straight up with amazing timeliness…
FORK CLUTCHED TIGHTLY IN HER GRIP.
We all slapped our faces and shrieked, “NOOOOOOO!!!!!!”
Frozen in a unified scream, we watched in slow motion….
… as Grandma came thisclose to the mid-flight skewering of our beloved Chicklet.
The bird, acutely aware of his near-forking, made a hasty retreat to his cage, emitting indignant squawks over the violent loss of a tail-feather.
With relief we dissolved into giggles on the floor until tears streamed down our faces.
Today, I share with you my dear grandmother’s recipe, and I remember her with tears of laughter and love.
I honestly think this puckersome, saucy “lemon sponge” (as she called it) is my favourite dessert. I admit that might change – my food-loves are fickle (especially these days…) . But right now, I am unequivocally enamored with grandma’s Lemon Pudding Cake.
With only three tablespoons of flour and one tablespoon of butter, it is incredibly light – yet seductively luscious. Egg whites are beaten into soft peaks and folded into a yolk-y lemon base. The dessert is baked in a water bath, and when it emerges, a pillowy sponge-cake topping sits atop a creamy, tart pudding.
I made it for a friend’s dinner party last night for the first time in years. Five people devoured it with five spoons, no bowls. A wildly impressive self-control is all that is keeping me from making it again today, for just me.
The only change I made from grandma’s version is a slight decrease in sugar and boost in lemon – my “toot” isn’t quite as sweet as hers.
P.S. I don’t think Chicklet ever flew the coop again after the attempted spearing. Nor did he ever forgive poor grandma.
- 1 tbsp butter, room temperature
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 3 tbsp all purpose flour
- 1/4 tsp baking powder
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 2 eggs, separated
- 2 lemons, zested and juiced (you should get about 1 tbsp zest and 1/4-1/3 cup juice)
- 1 cup milk
- Icing sugar for dusting, optional
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Set a kettle full of water to boil.
- In a standing mixer, beat butter with sugar until fully incorporated, then add flour, baking powder and salt. Beat in egg yolks followed by lemon zest, lemon juice and milk.
- In a separate bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks form.
- Use a spatula to gently fold the beaten whites into the lemon mixture until just incorporated (it will still have a slightly curdled look). Scrape the batter into a 1 1/2 quart (1.5 L) baking dish (an 8×8 inch glass dish works).
- Create a water bath by setting this dish into a larger baking pan, pouring hot water into the larger pan until it comes about halfway up the sides of the pudding dish. Carefully transfer to the oven and bake about 55 minutes, or until top of cake is set. Cool dish on top of a wire rack. Serve warm or cold, dusted with icing sugar if desired.