Once in a blue moon, I come across a recipe that surprises me. This Magic Lemon Pudding is one of those. When my food writing mentor and friend, Tori Ritchie, posted a genius recipe for Lemon Meringue Pudding on her blog, I was intrigued. She found it in her mother’s recipe box and it was an oldie-but-goodie dessert that her family enjoyed for decades. Not only did the vintage recipe’s name pique my curiosity (after all, who doesn’t love the taste and textures of lemon meringue pie), but the easy, breezy one-bowl batter that magically transforms in the oven into a multi-layer dessert with silky lemon curd layer and spongy cake topping made my mouth water. I had to try it—only there was a slight problem. The recipe called for milk and flour in addition to Meyer lemons, sugar, and eggs. I’ve been avoiding gluten and dairy for health concerns and this recipe was theoretically a no-no. But I’ve always hated the word “no” and was determined to have my pudding and eat it too. So, into kitchen I went to try and adapt the recipe to be both gluten-free and dairy-free.
Developing recipes is like playing mad scientist. You add a little of this, less of that, a pinch of something else until—presto, you get it right. The alchemist in me loves to fiddle with recipes because I never know what will happen along the way. That’s exactly how this went. After posting a photo of my first test pudding on Instagram, I got a comment from a woman saying it was her favorite childhood dessert too—only her mother’s English recipe was called Lemon Delicious. Hmmmm, I thought, let me investigate this further. After some research, I found an (almost) identical baked lemon pudding recipe that was popular in Britain and Australia decades ago but also contained butter. The recipe plot just thickened! What at first glance seemed to be an easy adaptation suddenly turned into a whole other pudding—I had just gone down the recipe writing rabbit hole ; )
Like the Rolling Stone’s song “I can’t get no satisfaction”, gluten-free recipe adaptations seldom taste or behave like their wheat-containing predecessors. Especially in baking, where the gluten in wheat flour thickens and binds ingredients in a way non-wheat flours don’t. For that reason, a thickening agent like tapioca, potato flour, or cornstarch is added to gluten-free flour. Then there’s the substititution of the milk. I’ve tried many non-dairy plant-based milks like almond, coconut, and cashew but don’t get the same satisfaction (there’s that “s” word again) that cows’ milk gives me—with the happy exception of oat milk. Oat milk’s creamy consistency and neutral flavor makes it more similar to cows’ milk than nut milk, without adding extra flavor. I also chose oat flour to sub in for the wheat flour to keep the taste uniform and because I find it performs well in gluten-free baking.
The beauty of this Magic Lemon Pudding is that the batter is quick and easy to whip up in one bowl before pouring into a single baking dish or individual ramekins. That means less clean up (don’t we all love that?). First, I beat my egg whites in a squeaky-clean mixing bowl until light and fluffy then slide them into a smaller bowl while I use the same, unwashed mixing bowl to mix the other ingredients before gently folding the egg whites back in. This gives the batter its airiness, which—when baked in a bain-marie—causes it to rise like a cake and (I suspect) magically separate into layers. Beating the egg yolks with cornstarch and sugar until creamy before adding the zest, lemon juice, oat milk, and oat flour separately insures that each ingredient blends smoothly for a lump-free pudding. It’s worthwhile to use Meyer lemons—a hybrid of citron and mandarin orange—whose golden skin adds beautiful color and sweet juices a delicate lemon flavor without the tartness.
After all my testing, the proof was (literally) in the pudding. Just like Goldilocks, I tested—and tasted—each variation of the original recipe. One was too soft, one too stiff, another too lumpy, until finally—one was just right! The batter made with oat milk, oat flour, and cornstarch separated beautifully into a golden lid of spongy soufflé-like cake that, when pierced with a spoon, revealed a luscious lemony pudding beneath—just like the original recipe. I’m not sure how it happens but it’s so magical that I’m calling my gluten-free and dairy-free recipe: Magic Lemon Pudding. If you’re a lemon lover like me, this recipe will become a favorite of yours too!