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2000s Archive

Cook Smart: Transformers

Originally Published April 2009
Three eggs. Two lemons. Five extraordinarily different desserts. It does not take a mathematical genius to figure out that a couple of very modest ingredients add up to a brilliant, shining moment at the end of a meal.
egg carton

We all yearn for desserts that are magical yet uncomplicated—two qualities that, more often than not, are mutually exclusive. Having eggs and lemons on hand, though, allows you to pull the rabbit out of the hat every time. The following recipes do not presume to be especially new or adventurous. They do, however, run the gamut from plain to fancy, and they are satisfyingly economical. Not only are the principal ingredients inexpensive, but in the spirit of “Waste not, want not,” you’ll never end up furtively pouring an egg white down the drain or allowing several yolks to languish in the fridge.

We start off with the puffed baked pancake known as a Dutch Baby. It’s a terrific breakfast treat, obviously, but dressed up with lemon sugar and served after a homey supper, it will make every person around the table ecstatic. The simple act of separating eggs is the key to desserts with dramatically different textures.

Folding stiffly beaten egg whites into the batter of the Hot Toddy Pudding Cake ensures that it will divide into two layers as it bakes in the gentle, even heat of a water bath. The whites rise to the top, helping to form a soft, almost impossibly tender cake; underneath it lies a custardy sauce.

Stiffly beaten whites are full of air, and baking them relatively quickly results in a meringue that is crisp on the outside and marshmallowy inside, just like the Pavlova with Lemon Curd and Berries. The cake—named for the most famous of all ballerinas and reminiscent of the elaborate tutus of her day—has actually been immortalized by Anna Pavlova biographer Keith Money. “A delicate and fragile thing, cool yet faintly exotic in appearance,” he writes. “The slivers of meringue are like ice floes on the Neva &.” A creamy lemon curd made with the yolks is just as nuanced as his prose.

Now, a wonderful thing happens if you blend beaten whites with a little gelatin to make Lemon Snow Pudding. When it debuted around 1860, it was considered a company dessert, primarily because of the time and energy it took to beat the eggs. Today, the most basic electric mixer puts it squarely into the “no big deal” camp, and its genuinely ethereal texture, swathed in a satiny, yolky sauce, is a revelation, and much more refreshing than any mousse.

Lastly, there is no way we could leave you without a classic Lemon Glazed Butter Cake. This one will become your new best friend.

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