I always think that friends who come to dinner at mine must think that I'm really rather odd. Actually, I am pretty sure that they think I'm rather odd anyway - coming to dinner just confirms this. When it comes to planning a menu, I am always rather fixated on the pudding. Always. I start with the pudding, then I choose a starter and then I might spend a minute or two thinking about a main course. What should be the 'main event' gets rather short shrift in my house. Ask people the next day what I dished up and I'd put money that they'd remember the pudding in detail but that recalling the main course would be more of a struggle.
Last night I invited a merry group of eight and, as per usual, it was the pudding course that was the main attraction. At least I hope it was. I spent far more time on it than I did the starter or main course. Essentially, I like to end on a high note and there is something enormously satisfying about bringing in a glorious homemade pud, especially when so many people don't bother these days.
I've never understood people who 'don't like' pudding and have come to the conclusion that they are lying. Clearly they have been repeating the phrase like a mantra all their life in the hope that they may come to believe it and in doing so will resist the temptation that causes self-confessed pudding-a-holics such as myself to pile on the pounds. Phew - that was a long sentence. Anyway, my point is that they are denying themselves one of life truly great pleasures and once in a while 'a little of what you fancy does you good'. (Note to self: must remember the 'once in a while' and 'little' part of previous statement - feel this is where I am going wrong).
Anyway, talking of things that I fancy, let me introduce you to the show-stopper that is this lemon meringue cake...
This, let me tell you, is a beauty. Guaranteed to seal the meal with serious style yet remarkably easy to make. When I say easy, it is easy but not so easy that you feel that you've cheated and nor so easy that you can whip it up after work. There is a degree of work involved but it is easy, enjoyable work.
What we are discussing here is a multi-faceted, multi-layered beauty of pud. Working from the bottom up we have: a layer of cake, a layer of cream and fromage frais swirled with homemade lemon curd (though good shop-bought will do), a sprinkling of Scottish raspberries (for only the best will do) all topped with a fabulously marshmallow-ey layer of meringue. What's not to like?
It would be dishonest of me to say that my pudding-making went without a hitch yesterday. I did have some trouble with the layer of sponge and in fact had to make three versions before I was satisfied. It is a whisked sponge. The clue here is in the title. It is all about the whisking. My first two attempts came out flat as a pancake and dense. I think they would have bounced if thrown at the floor. I'd not made a whisked sponge before and didn't fully understand the science behind the method. Now I do and I can tell you that it is all about the whisking. Obviously. Whisk and whisk and whisk some more and then fold the flour in so so very carefully that you knock hardly a bit of air out and you should have a good result.
As for the lemon curd, I do suggest you make your own following this incredibly simple recipe. But if you don't fancy it, I'll let you off as long as you promise to use really good bought stuff!
Without further ado, here is the recipe, the original of which came from Stella magazine. Not sure which issue - I found it amongst my mother's recipe clippings.
Lemon meringue cake with raspberries
For the sponge - 4 large eggs
4oz caster sugar
4oz plain flour
1 1/2 tablespoons lukewarm water
For the meringue -
3 egg whites
pinch of salt
6oz caster sugar
1/2 tsp cornflour
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp lemon juice
For the filling -
250ml/9 fl oz double cream
100g/3 1/2 oz fromage frais
250g/ 9oz lemon curd
1 punnet raspberries
1. First make the cake part. Pre-heat oven to 180C. Butter a 9 inch cake tin and line the base only with greaseproof paper.
2. Whisk the eggs and sugar with an electric beater (if no electric beater, you really need to do this over a pan of simmering water). Whisk and whisk until very light and fluffy and the mixture has increased a fair bit in volume.
3. Stir in the warm water to the eggy mixture. Sift the flour with a pinch of salt and fold into the egg mixture VERY CAREFULLY. Use a metal spoon and take care not to knock all the air out. Pour into cake tin and bake for 30 minutes. Avoid temptation to open oven door until the 30 minutes are up. When ready the cake will be shrinking from the sides and feel springy to the touch. It will also 'creak' slightly when pushed gently. Sounds odd, but it will! When done, turn out onto a rack a leave to cool.
4. Now make the meringue. This bit is easy. Turn oven down to 140C. Just whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff. Gradually incorporate the sugar and whisk until firm, smooth and glossy. Add cornflour, vanilla and lemon juice.
5. Make a circle 9 inches wide on baking paper and spoon meringue mixture into the circle. Bake at 140C for 1 hour. The outside will be the colour of pale sand and firm to the touch. Leave to cool and then remove the greaseproof paper (try and remember this - I forgot and we all got a slice of it in our pudding - a bit chewy to say the least!).
6. When ready to serve, beat cream until thick and stir in the fromage frais and most of the lemon curd. Taste. Add more if you like a stronger flavour. Dollop all over the sponge base and swirl a little more lemon curd around the sides so you can see it peeping through. Scatter raspberries over the creamy mixture and top with the meringue. Top with chopped pistachios and carry to table triumphant!