Sunday, October 10, 2010

Citrus Sponge Custard

Family dinner time again and I was searching for a gluten-free lemon dessert that didn't call for nearly a dozen eggs (sorry, lemon curd tart, I'm sure you're delicious). Though I am not a fan of the layout and certain other aspects of The Joy of Cooking, it is certainly a valuable resource when Fanny Farmer doesn't quite do the trick.

After much deliberation, I decided to try the Lemon Sponge Custard recipe, figuring that making it gluten-free would be a snap--anytime a recipe calls for mere tablespoons of flour, I know it's a good candidate. If you don't need a gluten-free recipe, just use regular wheat flour or whole wheat pastry flour.

The neat thing about this dessert is that it separates into two layers. The top is like a very soft sponge cake and the bottom is silky custard. Hard to go wrong with that! We were debating over dinner why the separation occurs and concluded that it has something to do with the water bath, but it's still kind of mysterious (in a good way).

The Joy says that you could either serve in its pan or unmold to have the custard layer on top. Ha! I flipped my cake pan and there was no movement, so I just served from the pan as-is. I didn't have enough ramekins to make individual desserts, but the family chimed in that they thought someone might be willing to gift some to me for Christmas if desserts like this one were to be the pay-off. Because it is a bit messy to remove from one large pan, I think that individual servings would be the best route.

The Joy also says that the recipe serves six. We were having a heavy main course, so I decided to risk spreading across nine enthusiastic dessert eaters and it was fine, particularly since we served it with pistachio gelato (made by Costco, as it happens--quite delicious and not fake green). If I did cook in ramekins, then, I would spread over nine of them. If that seemed skimpy, you could always do a 1.5 batch or a double.

This dessert would also be great with orange, so I'm providing the Joy's suggestion on how to do that. You could even mingle orange and lemon zests, I am sure.

If making gluten-free, use any GF flour combo you like. As always, my standard is 2 c brown rice flour, 2/3 c potato starch, 1/3 c. cornstarch. I pre-mix and keep in the freezer.

2/3 c. evaporated cane juice
2 TBSP softened unsalted butter
1/8 tsp salt
4 eggs
3 TBSP whole wheat pastry flour or gluten-free flour
2-3 TBSP grated lemon zest, or the zest of one orange
1/4 c. strained lemon juice or 2 TBSP lemon juice plus 1/4 c. strained fresh orange juice
1 c. whole or 2% milk

Super-hot tap water for the water bath

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 and make sure you have a pan that will hold all of your custard cups or a 9x2 inch round cake pan. To fit the latter, I needed to use my roasting pan. The Joy recommends putting a rack in the pan so that your custard cups/ramekins or cake pan do not touch the bottom of the pan
  2. Lightly butter your cake pan or six to nine 6-ounce custard cups/ramekins
  3. Separate the eggs. Eggs separate most easily when they're cold, but egg whites whip better when they're at room temperature, so do this part early and leave the egg whites out on the counter. You'll only need 3 of the yolks--save the remaining one for another purpose
  4. Combine the citrus juice and zest in a bowl and let sit for 5-10 minutes. This is a Cook's Illustrated tip to help soften the texture of the zest
  5. In a medium bowl, mash the butter, sugar and salt together with the back of a wooden spoon
  6. Then beat in the 3 egg yolks. I used a hand mixer
  7. Add the flour and beat until smooth
  8. Slowly beat in the citrus juice and zest
  9. Stir in the milk and set aside
  10. In a large bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry (firm peaks)
  11. Gently whisk the whites into the other mixture until no large lumps of white remain. Apparently, if you save 1/4 c. of sugar to beat in with the whites and then fold them in, you'll get more of a meringue effect. I'm not a meringue fan so didn't try this.
  12. Ladle (the Joy specifically cautions against pouring) the mixture into your one cake pan or several custard cups/ramekins
  13. Place the cake pan/cups/ramekins into the pan you've selected and put the pan in the oven
  14. Now pour the scalding tap water into the pan until it reaches about halfway up the cake pan/cups/ramekins. Ideally the sides of the sponge custard dishes will not touch the sides or bottom of the water bath pan
  15. Bake until the sponge custard(s) is/are puffed and golden, about 30-40 minutes regardless of the size of dish you use. They're done when the sponge on top springs back when pressed lightly with a finger. Remove from oven
  16. Let stand 10 minutes in the water bath once out of the oven
  17. This dessert can be served warm, at room temperature or chilled, it's particularly delicious garnished with fresh or frozen raspberries and you can throw in some gelato on the side if you like