Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Lemon Surpise Pudding

The saddest day of my parents' lives was the day that I dropped out of Westminster School's Oxbridge preparation classes. I didn't really understand what was going on and I wasn't sure if I wanted three more years of not understanding what was going on. But my parents were very depressed about it: out of four daughters, they had only managed to hammer one measly one, my eldest sister, into the city of dreaming spires. And even then she got in second time around and had the temerity to neither marry a Duke nor get a First. And she read physics the square, beaky wonk.

I like to tell myself that it's not that I was too stupid to go to Oxford, it's that I was too lazy. But the fact is that I was too stupid AND too lazy. I got into Westminster to do my A Levels somehow - clerical error? - and when I was there I had to work all the time to keep up. And I mean all the time. I know for a fact that my friend Izzy used to go to the pub after school every day for a minimum of three hours - including Saturdays - and she got straight As and "Excellent" in red pen on all her homework. I sometimes woke up early before school to work a bit harder and I only got 2As and a B. Teachers would quite often say "How are you?" to me. It's tragic really.

Mostly for my parents, because my Dad was an academic and a tutor at Balliol, which is where young Communist PPE students go to wake up at 5am, perform 80 star jumps in the quad while reciting the Greek alphabet backwards, before departing for the library for the rest of the day for some light recreational long division. They can do this because they have plenty of free time, having written all of the current term's essays in the previous vac.

(I ought to point out that my father isn't a Communist anymore, although he remains an expert on Karl Marx. His book, "Karl Marx: His Theory and Its Context" is the only book you'll ever need to read on the subject. Some might say the only book you'll ever need full stop.) Thus, my academic dimness was an unprecedented blow.

It was also tragic for my mother, because it meant that I definitely wasn't going to marry a Duke - although marrying someone who is occasionally on telly runs a close second I think. Imagine Mrs Bennett from Pride and Prejudice in a pair of pink Crocs and you've got my mother.

So my point is that despite this avalanche of parental disappointment, I really try not to be bitter and chippy about NOT ONLY having fallen at the first Oxford hurdle, but then going on to spazz up my degree at Bristol University.

(Of the two people who did worse than me in my graduating year, one got glandular fever half way through the second year and only turned in 60% of her essays and the other went completely fucking mad before finals and was sectioned by the Bristol Royal Infirmary.)

But I have to admit that whenever I am able to do something better than someone who went to Oxford, a little piece of me rejoices. My husband went to Oxford and got a First - despite speaking almost exclusively in swear words, refusing to shave and dressing like a slobby graphic designer - and whenever I outsmart him, I internally give myself a little high-five.

For example: does he know all the words to 'Holiday' by Dizzee Rascal? No. Do I? Yes. *high five*

Can he do the whole talky-bit from the A-Team's opening credits in a convincing American accent? No. Can I? Yes. *high five*

And so it is with this Lemon Surprise Pudding.

An old friend emailed me, challenging me to make it as it had not worked out for her. Normally I don't make lemon puddings because I was traumatised by one as a child. But, you see, my friend went to Oxford - and the opportunity to DBTSWWTO (Do Better Than Someone Who Went To Oxford) was irresistable. Especially as she said that she would "weep" if it worked out first time for me. Oxford people: very competitive, you see.

I also ought to point out that I am a massive shitbag because I promised that if it did work out first time for me I wouldn't tell anyone. But it turns out that I LIED!!!!!! Redbrickers: prone to lying and gloating.

So the idea with a Lemon Surprise Pudding is that you have a sort of fluffy spongy top that you cut through to reveal a pool of lemon sauce. That's the surprise. I was expecting to have to source Semtex from somewhere, but cooking just isn't that exciting.

The things that can go wrong with this are:

a) You end up with a vaguely wet scrambled-eggy mess, which means your oven is on too high. This is quite common with modern ovens - I know that mine sets fire to pretty much anything I try to cook, so I often crank the temperature knob down half a centimetre if I'm cooking something sensitive.

b) You get the light meringue-y sponge bit on top but a thick lemon curd at the bottom rather than a lemon sauce. This is still very delicious, but not quite echt. This happens because you haven't used the right pie dish. For this recipe, you need to use a DEEP 1.5litre basin, not a shallow basin. It really does make a difference.

So here we go:

50g butter
110g caster sugar
rind and juice of 2 lemons
2 eggs, separated
50g sifted SELF-RAISING flour (might burn me once - won't let you burn me twice)
150ml milk

1 Pre-heat the oven to 180C OR if you have a very hot mega turbo fan oven, to about 175-170C and butter your 1.5pint/850ml deep baking dish

2 Beat the butter, sugar and lemon rind together until it's all combined. It won't go light and fluffy because there's too much sugar in it

3 Beat in the egg yolks a little at a time - perhaps a teaspoon each go.

4 Fold in the flour and alternate with the milk and the lemon juice - about a tablespoon each every go. The mixture will curdle and go gross - don't worry.

5 Whisk the egg whites to the soft peak stage and then fold in.

6 Bake in the MIDDLE of the oven for 40 mins.

If only school had been this easy.


  1. This post is a thing of beauty and a joy forever. And I say that as a VERY competitive Oxford person. (Although of course I harbour the fantasy that I am the most easy-going person in the world and not perfectionist at all, oh no.)

  2. Tania! Thank you very much. I'm blushing. Come again soon. x

  3. I've just discovered your blog this week (after your husband mentioned in a review that you had one) and I'm loving it--going back through the archives to try to catch up. I plan to try some of your recipes this weekend--the only thing with which I struggle is all of your measurements are in metric (which, of course, we don't use here in good ol' Missouri, USA). Going to buy some of those scales that measure in grams and give it a go, though.

  4. Hi Tina

    Great to have you here. Yes I'm sorry about the measurements thing - if it's any consolation, I have the same trouble cooking anything out of Thomas Keller's ad hoc cookbook. What is all this "stick" and "cup" thing about?

    Come again soon xx

  5. My mum used to make this for me when I was little! She used to do it in the oven with the main dish inside another with water in it - I think it keeps the bottom bit liquid? I have no idea. Anyway, I describe it here. Sorry about the crap photo.

  6. I LOVE your blog. I secretly read it in little snatches in the staff room in between my negotiations/lessons/discussions about my tattoo with the rudeboys and girls of W10 and 12 while slurping very hot, weak Earl Grey tea. It is so excellent that every day I feel thrilled that I know you + you have almost inspired me to cook.

  7. Lolly B! How great to have you here. Casual readers of this blog will not understand the significance of "LauraB" but she is an old friend from Westminster. Thanks for the Facebook bigup. I am so impressed that you are a teacher, I would cry 10 times a day if I had to teach teenagers.

  8. As a huge fan of your husband, I've been dying to see what the Mrs.Coren is like. I have to say you are MUCH funnier than he you can add that to your DBTSWWTO list. I'm also a wonky American who cringes at the measurements, but I will be trying many recipes and will continue to read your very entertaining blog.

  9. Oh no! Poor Giles. Funny in a different way maybe.

    Aha so you are an American. If you could explain what cups and sticks are that would be very helpful. They seem to mean different quantities for different things - like a cup of flour is different from a cup of sugar?!

    And a stick of butter?!

    Or is that not right. I despair. It stops me from cooking things from American websites, which is a real shame.

  10. After doing much research on "cups" I've come to the conclusion that it's a very retarded system. It's one based on volume and not weight, so a cup of sugar weighs much more than a cup of flour - this sounds like that riddle of which weighs more a pound of bricks or a pound of eggs...I digress!

    I DO know that a stick of butter is 8 US tablespoons, but I don't know how that differs from a UK tablespoon. Logic would follow that since we're a fatty country that our tablespoons are larger? This is ever so complicated.

    To forgo math (eurgh) I think I shall follow with the lovely lady up top who said she is going to buy a scale that measures in grams. Voila! Problem solved. For me at any rate, for you I found this handy chart you might find useful when trying American recipes!

    Also, if you want to spend time doing math apparently the easiest way is to find out how many ounces your ingredient is and multiply by 28.34. Mmm math and cake!

  11. As a square, beaky wonk, I applaud the American system of cups. A cup is 8 fluid ounces. Half a cup is 4 fl oz. So find your measuring jug and fill it up with sugar/ flour/ breadcrumbs/ strawberry jam/ whatever, and throw your scales away forever. Love your blog in spite of the insults. Harriet x

  12. Oh god! What are you doing here? I blithely assume that my family does not read this. *Hyperventilate*. Although Flossie did once and took such umbrage she didn't speak to me for about a fortnight. Oversensitive.

    That DOES seem to make sense about the American measurements thing.

    We are having ginger cake tomorrow for tea, see you quarter to four-ish. x

  13. Well fancy my surprise when I was sitting quietly in the Balliol library reading cookery blogs in a desperate attempt to avoid the work that I *didn't* do over the vac and came upon this post. As a procrastinatory finalist I can only assume the section about how I should be doing star jumps while reciting Homer or whatever is the universe's way of telling me to do some bloody work. But I'm not going to, I'm going to keep trying to eat lychees surreptitiously out of a paper bag instead. Clearly things have slipped since your father's day.
    (This blog is the best procrastination of all, by the way - you might be single-handedly responsible for my third class degree, in which case I assume I can take some legal action)

    1. You can TRY taking legal action but my dad has, since his retirement, taken a great interest in the law. something that should make everyone very afraid.

      Best of luck with your finals. Be aware that this is the time in your life about which you will have more recurring nightmares, well into your 50s, than any other.

      E xx