“Love is a many splendored thing. Love lifts us up where we belong. All you need is love…” And here we have a whole holiday to celebrate it! Sort of. Valentine’s days have paraded by me through the years wearing many different colors, but I must admit that very rarely have they had that much to do with actual Love. I’m afraid Valentine’s day has more often been about the performance of the play that I had written in my head and entitled “Love.” Or love with a candy coating – usually one well suited to my age.
Remember the days of grade school, when Valentine’s Day was all about accumulating sweets and Valentine’s in your decorated cardboard shoebox? About worrying over which card to give to the boy you had a crush on, and about saving the best candies for your friends. It was all about lollipop love, innocent, simple, saccharine. As I grew, Valentine’s day became about boyfriends and dates. About melodramatically driving to the ridge to look at stars and receiving ridiculous bouquets of roses and baby’s breath. This was love en flambe, blazing but superficial, burning out quickly and leaving everyone unscathed (except, perhaps, a little caramelizing around the edges…).
Then with age came Valentine’s days with heartache. Regrets, mistakes made, opportunities missed, new love found. I coated love with bittersweet chocolate, mistaking the fear of losing love for Love itself.
Now, though a gulf still separates me from wisdom, and I’m sure in time many more tracks and cracks will wend their ways over my heart – that’s life after all – I’ve started to realize that performance, regret, fear, grasping are all the opposites of love. Indeed, part of love is the letting go of all of those things to see a situation, another person, a relationship, yourself, for what they really are and to embrace being intimately connected to them. So this year, I’m giving up the candy hearts and chocolates to think of love as cooking with lemons.
Cooking with lemons requires seeing a dish, respecting what is in it, knowing yourself as a cook, and proceeding from there without fear or judgment. A vinaigrette cannot be a tart, nor should it be, but they both can use lemon. Does it require the zest, the juice, the whole lemon? Salt, sugar, oil? If you don’t take care to recognize, for example, that you have fresh milk or cream there, you may accidentally wind up with something that curdles. But with a delicate and determined hand lemon will bring a brightness and freshness, a zest, to dishes both sweet and savory. So here you are for Valentine’s day, a perfectly sweet-tangy, light and airy, luscious and creamy lemon pudding cake to share with those you love.
Lemon Pudding Cake (makes 4-6) (originally from food52)
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 cup sugar
- 4 tablespoons flour
- 1 pinch salt
- the zest and juice from 1 lemon
- 1 1/2 cup milk
- 3 eggs, separated
- Preheat your oven to 350F. In a bowl, briefly cream together the butter and sugar using an electric mixer. Then mix in the flour, salt, lemon zest and lemon juice until well blended.
- In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks briefly, until they’re a little bit lightened in color. Then, beat in the milk until it is well blended. Bit by bit, mix this egg-milk mixture into the lemon-sugar mixture.
- In a third bowl (sorry for making so many bowls messy!) beat the egg whites until they are stiff. Then, using a spatula, gently fold these egg whites into the other mixture until they are fully incorporated. Pour the batter into ramekins or into 1 large souffle dish. Put these into a deep baking pan and pour warm water into the baking pan to come about 2/3s of the way up the sides of the ramekins.
- Put the whole thing in the oven and bake for 45 minutes. When they are done they will have beautiful golden-brown tops. Each dish will have a layer of airy lemon cake on top and a creamy lemon custard at the bottom. Serve by themselves or accompanied by sweetened whipped cream.