A cozy little cake selected from a 1913 Boston church cookbook recipe, this easy lemon pudding cake started as a lemon sponge pie before we nixed the crust for a delicate lemon cake over a bright lemon custard. Drizzle it with homemade chocolate sauce or dust it with a sprinkle of powdery sugar to ratchet up the retro factor. But any way you work it, you’ll have a very vintage lemon-fresh delicacy on your hands with this little baby.
Hashtag it this way: #getinmymouth:
Lemon Picking Time in the City:
Bust out the fresh lemons straight from the lemon tree. (Luckily, the lemon tree at my brother’s house is forever full.) Or basket up some lemons from the local farmer’s market as a next best. Only fresh lemons will do ya for this little gem. As great as some bottled lemon juice or lemon flavorings are, I’m sorry — they can never match up to the wonderful world of fresh lemons – especially when it comes to such a gentle cake with very few ingredients. So let those fresh lemons shine! You will only need a couple, but there’s no such thing as too many lemons, am I right?
Old-Fashioned Comfort Cake with Lemon Zing Power:
Lemon pudding and cake combos took off during the early 1920’s and never looked back. The bottom layer is sort of like a simple “biddle pudding” (eggs, sugar, a little flour) but there’s no stove-top cooking (and I LOVE that). The top layer is similar to a soufflé sponge cake. Oh, and it’s a close sister to the 1947 chocolate soufflé cake (coming soon to this blog). And the whole thing comes together (or separates, rather) like a magic baking trick.
The Power of Women Sharing Their Talents:
Searching for an earlier American version of the 1920’s Lemon Pudding Cake, I discovered one in this adorable little cookbook called the “Kimball Class Cook Book” published in Boston in 1913 by the “The Kimball Class of the Dudley Street Baptist Church“. You KNOW I had to research some history on this “Kimball Class” (established in 1901 according to the title page). I’m guessing that “Kimball” was named for Edward Kimball, the Sunday school teacher (famous as the bible class teacher who inspired the famous evangelist, Reverend Dwight L. Moody). If our readers know more about the history of Kimball Classes, please comment below.
Kimball Class Motto: “Attempt great things, Expect great things”:
This 1946 Lowell, Mass., newspaper article discusses over 40 years of self-taught Kimball Class programs leading to a close bond of members over the decades. Everything I learned about Kimball Classes so far seems to center around the Boston area from the early 1900’s to the 1940’s. For example, I learned that in 1938, at the First Congregational Church in Lowell, Massachusetts, the Kimball classes there included: women-only gatherings, bible study, annual meetings with a Board of Directors that opened with a prayer, a Kimball class theme song (sung in chorus), guest teachers, cooking classes, antiques sharing with history discussions, garden parties, musical performances, travel talks, missionary work, picnics, high tea and even comedy skits.
Sometimes a pie is cake — or a cake is pie:
Think Boston Cream Pie (which is not really a pie at all, but a delicate cake with custard filling and chocolate frosting on top). And so it is with this recipe. Even though it’s a pie recipe, the ingredients are the same as a puddin’cake, just without the crust. So you’ll have a Lemon Pudding Pie minus the pastry crust on the bottom. Course, you can fill a bottom pastry crust with this recipe and you WILL have a fun old-fashioned Lemon Sponge Pie! (Please let us know in the Comments if you bake this pie.) Here’s Kimball Class member, Nellie Letteney’s, Lemon Sponge Pie (just how she wrote it) when she shared it with her class members in 1913.
A little history on our gal, Nellie:
I looked up our Nellie A. Letteney in ancestral records (I can’t help myself) and found that she was born, Nellie Adeline Coates, on June 17, 1879, in Marblehead (Boston area), Massachusetts. Her father, William, was a “shoe trimmer” born and raised in Marlborough, Mass. (Marlborough remains famous for the John A. Frye Shoe Company that started up in 1863.) Her mum, Isabella “Belle”, was a homemaker born in Nova Scotia. Nellie was raised with her brother, William, and sister, Flora. The 1900 census says that her mother gave birth to 7 children, although only 3 were still living when Nellie was 20 years. Nellie had 2 years of high school and was married in 1904 at the age of 25 while she was working as a bookkeeper. She was about 33 and living in the Boston area at the time this recipe was published and had been married for 8 years to Frank (who was 29-year-old stairbuilder at the time of their marriage). Records show that Nellie did not have children during her life. In 1940, at the age of 60, she still lived in West Roxbury, Boston, with her hubbie and her mother. She passed away in 1953 in Boston at the golden age of 74. Here’s to you, Nellie! Your good cooking and your sharing with the Kimball Class keep on giving!
Nellie’s Vintage Lemon Pudding Cake Recipe:
This is a quaintly small little comfort cake that serves about 4 to 5 servings (though you might be tempted to eat it all yourself in one seating). We increased the butter a tad (from “the size of a walnut” to 1/3 cup). We also separated the eggs to whip the whites for a fluffier outcome. And we added a little salt to unsalted butter to control the salt tang. Okay, we also added a hot water baking bath to ensure a super delicate result.
Tools needed for Nellie’s Lemon Pudding Cake:
Small round casserole dish (I used a 1-1/4 quart casserole dish, 8″ diameter x 1.8″ high)
Baking dish in a size larger than the casserole dish (to hold boiling water bath)
Tea kettle (or pot) to hold water for the water bath
2 medium bowls (for egg whites and batter)
Zesting tool (my fave: microplane zester)
Lemon squeezing tool (or just use your hands)
Lemon seed straining tool (to remove seeds from lemon juice)
Measuring cups and spoons
Ingredients for Nellie’s Lemon Pudding Cake:
1 or 2 fresh lemons (for 1 Tablespoon lemon zest and 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice)
1/2 cup + 1/2 cup granulated sugar (used separately)
1/3 cup unsalted butter
2 eggs, separated for yolks and egg whites
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup milk (we used 2%)
1/4 teaspoon salt
Optional toppings: chocolate sauce or powdered sugar
Directions for Nellie’s Lemon Pudding Cake:
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees, set the oven rack to center position and have a small (8″ round x 2″ high) casserole dish (5 cups or 1-1/4 quarts) at the ready (substitute a small pie pan).
Tip: No need to prep or butter the baking dish.
Put a kettle of water on to boil (or use a pot) for the water bath.
Zest and squeeze 1 or 2 fresh lemons to produce (and set aside):
1 Tablespoon of fresh lemon zest
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
Using an electric mixer, beat on high-speed (about 1 minute) until light and fluffy:
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
Beat in on high-speed for about 1 minute:
2 egg yolks (reserving the egg whites for separate beating)
the prepared lemon zest
the prepared lemon juice
Beat in on low-speed until just fully blended (about 30-seconds):
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup milk (we used 2%)
In a separate clean medium bowl, beat on high-speed to the foamy stage (about 1 to 2 minutes):
2 egg whites
Beat into the foamy egg whites on high-speed until lovely peaks form (about 3 to 5 minutes):
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
Using a spatula, gently fold the prepared egg whites into the batter until fully blended.
Place the prepared batter into the unbuttered glass casserole dish and place the casserole dish inside a larger pan.
Using the tea kettle of boiling water, carefully fill the larger outer pan with boiling water halfway up the side of the cake dish. Use oven mitts to place the batter and water bath into the oven.
Tip: Take care not to splash the batter with any of the hot water.
Here is a photo (below left) of a single cake batch in a small casserole dish inside a water bath (and also a photo of a double recipe in a larger dish set inside a water bath).
Bake at 350 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes until golden brown and gently firm in the top center when pressed. Here is a photo of the cake hot from the oven (and still sitting inside the water bath).
You’ll want to use a large serving spoon to scoop the cake out in order to catch up the lemon pudding at the bottom of the cake. I think this cake is best served warm directly from the oven (or cooled for 10 minutes).
Or you could do what I did and double the recipe, drizzle it with chocolate sauce and a sprinkle of cocoa powder. This double-double pudding cake was for the Food Bloggers Los Angeles Chocolate and Champagne event. (See all the recipes from the FBLA chocolate and champagne event below.)
So now you’re ready to bring some history to your home. I hope you’re able to try out some of this vintage baking goodness.
Thank you for joining me on this little vintage cake baking adventure. I do hope you’ll join us on Instagram (@Lesliemak) or on Pinterest.
Happy vintage caking baking to you!
FBLA Chocolate Party 2014 Recipe and Resource Links:
- Chocolate Petit Fours – Christina Conte of Christina’s Cucina
- Chocolate Brownie Quick Bread – Dorothy Reinhold of Shockingly Delicious
- Fair-Trade Chocolate Earthquake Cookies — Alison Ashton at Nourish Network
- Mocha Truffle Bars – Valentina of Cooking On The Weekends
- Pain au Chocolat and Cro-Nut Hearts – Jude at Two Broads Abroad
- Vegan Nutella Fudge – Alanna Waldron of Eat Real Food
- Chocolate Red Wine Tart — Nancy Buchanan of A Communal Table
- Brownie Buttons — Judy Weintraub of Bumbleberry Breeze
- Blood Orange-Champagne Creme Brûlée – also from Valentina of Cooking on the Weekends
- Vintage Lemon Pudding Cake — Leslie Macchiarella of Bake This Cake
- Game Day Chili – Erika Kerekes of In Erika’s Kitchen
- Tamales with Chocolate Mole Sauce – Patricia Rose of Fresh Food in a Flash
- Amaretto Sauce/Dressing on Spinach-Berry Salad – Ellen Rosentreter of Within My Means
- Deviled Eggs — Patti Londre from Worth the Whisk
- Chinese New Year Slaw — Nancy Eisman of Adventures with Nancy Rose
Champagne/Sparkling Wine Recommendations:
- Jaume Serra Cristalino Brut Cava ($7 “but tastes like $20+”) — Andrew Wilder of Eating Rules
- NV Presto Prosecco Brut ($10-$12), a “price performer” — Alison Ashton of Nourish Network
- Brut Roederer Estate Mixed Vintage ($20) – Jennifer Daskevich of A Little Gourmet Everyday
- Colbert Eco Brut (sugar-free organic sparkling wine; $25) — Caren Magill of The Fit Habit
- Barefoot Bubbly Brut Cuvée ($10.99). “When serving mimosas there is no need to buy expensive bubbly, but naturally you don’t want to serve your guests headache-inducing sparkling wines or champagne either. The Brut Cuvée is Barefoot’s most traditional bubbly and tastes of green apple and jasmine with hints of kiwi and peach flavors which bubble up for a crisp finish and, in my opinion, make a delightful Mimosa,” said Priscilla Willis of She’s Cookin’.
thanks for sharing this recipe. Mom used to bake this when we were kids, then it went away. I Loved this cake. I’ll let you know if mine turns out as good as hers.
Amazing recipe and tastes heavenly. This is perfect for lemon-lovers like me! Haha! I love your blog.
Interesting post,Leslie.Can’t wait to try this recipe,
My first attempt ( years ago) at a pudding cake did not go well, but my interest is renewed after recently having a wonderful grapefruit pudding cake served at a very fancy restaurant . We’ll see how it goes. fingers crossed.
Hi, Gisele. Your pudding cake sounds like it made quite an impression. I hope you will give pudding cake another try because this cake is quite fun in that cozy comfort way and especially nice for cold weather times. Best, Leslie
did you make any adjustments when you doubled the recipe? what sized pan did you use? any help is greatly appreciated!
Hi Suzie, For the double size, I just doubled the recipe. Because I was traveling for potluck I used a heat-proof disposable pan that held about 2 -1/2 quarts (though I could have used a smaller dish of perhaps 2 quarts). Because of the pudding bottom layer, it doesn’t seem to rise in height too much. When I make my next double up, I’ll update the post.
This was a wonderful dessert. I might use my prized Meyer lemons when I make it!
This is just what I have been looking for. My palate has changed to loving tart flavors. I shall drizzle a lemon sauce over the top. Thank you Leslie once again for sharing. Keep the posts coming please!!