This was a specialty of Marie Smith Leonard, my friend Sandy’s mother. She had adapted it from an early Joy of Cooking (Bobbs Merrill, 1943), though it disappeared from later editions. I liked Mrs. Leonard a lot–she had a great sense of humor and always chatted with Sandy’s schoolmates as though they were her own friends. This sweet and tangy pudding always makes me remember her and smile.
Makes about 6 servings
2 cups whole milk
2 cups fresh white bread crumbs
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
3 large egg yolks (save the whites for the meringue)
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
3 tablespoons strained lemon juice
3 large egg whites
Pinch of fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup sugar
One 6- to 8- cup gratin dish, buttered
Set a rack in the middle level of the oven and preheat to 325˚F.
Warm the milk to about 120˚F, no more, and pour over the bread crumbs in a small bowl. Don’t stir or the mixture might turn gluey. Let the moistened crumbs cool while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
In a medium mixing bowl, use a rubber spatula to beat the butter and sugar together. Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time, beating smooth after each addition.
Switch to a whisk and mix in the lemon zest and juice.
Make sure the crumb mixture is completely cooled or the milk will curdle when it meets the lemon juice. Use the rubber spatula to gently fold in the crumb mixture.
Scrape the pudding mixture into the prepared pan and bake until set, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool the baked pudding on a rack before making the meringue—if you put the meringue on a warm pudding a watery layer of condensation will develop and leak out when you cut into the pudding
When you’re ready to prepare the meringue, set a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 300˚F.
Half fill a medium saucepan with water and bring it to a boil. Whisk the egg whites with the salt, vanilla, and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer. Adjust the heat so that the water just simmers actively, place the bowl on the saucepan, and whisk gently until the egg whites are hot (130˚F to 140˚F) and the sugar is dissolved, about 3 minutes. Place the bowl on the mixer fitted with the whisk and whip the meringue until it is well risen in volume and firm, but still creamy textured and not dry.
Scrape the meringue onto the cooled pudding and use the back of a spoon to spread it, swirling it into short peaks. Make sure the meringue touches the edge of the baking dish all around or it might slide off after it’s baked.
Bake the pudding again until the meringue is set and light golden, about 15 minutes. Cool and serve at room temperature or chilled with or without some slightly sweetened whipped cream.