I like citrus fruit, obviously. Just recently I sat down to breakfast with grapefruit juice, grapefruit cake and slices of fresh grapefruit. Then there was the lemon curd, the orange curd, the lemon and almond creme fraiche dip. Lemon drizzle cake. Orange and almond cakelets. I like the bitter twist, the masochistic pleasure that demands just one. more. bite.
The waiter politely announced, just as we slid into our seats, that the two-lemon soufflé would have to be ordered straightaway, should we want it. I did. He did. (Already, a restaurant that puts dessert first makes a good impression on me.)
Past the miniature parsley butter cannelés, past the regal lobster salad dotted with mango puree, past the rack of lamb carefully balanced over garlic cabbage, a crisp flake of chickpea socca just so, I thought I was full. Then they bullied us into a cheese plate. Then, finally, the perfectly circular soufflés appeared.
One large ramekin, the pastel soufflé floating a good two centimetres above the edge, alongside a little dish of fromage blanc sorbet adorned with a translucent wisp of candied lemon. So simple, so beautiful. It seemed a shame to demolish it, but we did. The “two lemons” turned out to be lemon and lime. The sorbet provided a neat foil to the soufflé, cold and clear. (I was informed that this followed the medieval tradition of balancing ‘humours’ for a healthy body: hot with cold, humid with dry.)
It reminded me of Granny’s lemon pudding (and the infamous occasion wherein I had seven helpings and Granny none) with its same light citrus perfume, delicate cloud-like sponge.
We asked a lot of questions, wondering if the chef used a kind of soufflé hat to make it rise so neatly – but the secret turned out to be a restaurant oven, precise timing and unning a fingernail around the edge of the dish before baking. We left, intrigued, more than elegantly full.
While it may take some time to recreate the most beautiful dessert I have ever had the pleasure to destroy, I did find a recipe for Granny’s lemon pudding. A little like a simple soufflé, but it has a fluffy top and a liquid lemon sauce hidden underneath. But it suffers from no pressure to be pretty – the grandchildren don’t mind. Seven helpings is proof enough, no?
Lemon Surprise Pudding
(adapted from Simon Hopkinson, serves 4 people or 1 grandchild)
50g butter, soft
1 lemon, zest and juice
90g caster sugar
2 eggs, separated
15g plain flour
Heat oven to 180c. Butter and flour a large pudding dish or 4 small ramekins.
Beat the egg whites until stiff. In a separate bowl, cream the butter, sugar and lemon zest to a fluffy consistency. Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time. Add half the flour, half the milk, then repeat. Finally add the lemon juice and carefully fold in egg whites. Tip into dish or ramekins, and bake for 45 minutes until golden and springy. You should get a fluffy sponge with a rich lemon sauce underneath.
To serve: make an approximation of fromage blanc sorbet by mixing the juice of half a grapefruit with 250ml fromage blanc (or yoghurt if you prefer) and icing sugar to taste. Freeze until almost solid (but not a block of ice), then blend to a smooth sorbet texture. Serve immediately in little shot glasses.