I wish I could give the history of this recipe, but it's one that has been handed down for generations on a frayed notecard from my grandmother's kitchen. It has been tweaked over the years, and my own father suggested I post it under a more sophisticated name (he voted for Lemon Flan).
But it really is a hybrid of a custard and a sponge cake — you invert the cakes after baking them in a water bath, so the tops end up jiggly and creamy, while the bottom is firm — so I say the name stays. They are easy to make ahead and provide a great way to use wonderful winter lemons.
I'd been thinking about easy dinner party desserts ever since Faith wrote about her love for panna cotta last week, and suddenly remembered this super-easy, super-tasty recipe for Lemon Spongettes tucked away in our archives.
I won't lie to you — it will take a lot of willpower to resist eating these straight from the oven! In fact, they'd probably be just as good served hot as they are once given time to set. These spongettes are basically soufflés that are intentionally allowed to collapse, creating the two distinct cake- and pudding-like layers in the chill of the fridge. You can see this clearly in the last photo just below the recipe. (Note to self for the next time I make a souffé that collapses!)
These spongettes are just slightly lemony as the recipe is written. If you are a fan of tart desserts, I'd recommend doubling the amount of both lemon and zest or pudding a spoonful of lemon curd in the bottom of each cup before filling it with the spongette batter.
I just think these spongettes are so fun and something that feels a little different at a dinner party. As Elizabeth mentions, you can make these ahead and hold them in the fridge until ready to serve. I made mine the day before serving and they tasted fantastic. Enjoy! -Emma
4 large eggs, separated
1 1/2 cups whole milk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
Juice of one large lemon (about 2 1/2 tablespoons)
Zest of one large lemon (about 2 1/2 teaspoons)
Berries, chocolate shavings, or whipped cream, to serve (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly spray eight 1-cup ramekins with cooking spray.
Beat the eggs whites with an electric mixer until stiff, about 5 minutes. Set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and milk.
Cream together the butter and sugar with an electric mixer. The mixture will be a bit crumbly, not silky, as there is such a small amount of butter. Add the flour, lemon juice, zest, and salt. Add the combined milk and egg yolks. You may need to manually whisk the mixture to get it smooth.
Gently fold the egg whites into the lemon mixture. Make sure you scoop all of the liquid from the bottom of the bowl as you fold and stop as soon as it is all integrated. The mixture will still look a bit lumpy or pebbly — DO NOT mix until smooth or the egg whites will be deflated.
Pour the mixture evenly into the ramekins, filling each about 3/4 full. Set the ramekins in a large baking dish or roasting pan lined with a clean dishcloth, and carefully pour in enough hot water to rise about one-third to halfway up the sides of the ramekins.
Bake for 40 to 45 minutes. The tops should be light golden-brown. Remove from water bath, and allow the spongettes to cool slightly while still in the ramekins, then transfer them to the refrigerator for at least an hour or up to 24 hours. Chilling them helps the custard to set.
To serve, run a knife around the edge of the ramekin to loosen the spongette, and invert it onto a plate. Top with whipped cream, berries, or chocolate shavings.
• More Lemon! This recipe makes a very lightly-flavored lemon spongette. To increase the tartness, double the amount of lemon juice and zest, or add a spoonful of lemon curd to the bottom of each ramekin.
• Baking in Other Sized Ramekins: These bake well in smaller 1/2-cup ramekins and canning jars. Fill the containers 3/4 full. Spongettes baked in smaller containers may finish cooking more quickly.
This recipe has been updated. Originally posted on 3/6/2008.
(Images: Emma Christensen)