Magic Lemon Cake

Magic Lemon Cake
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magic lemon cakes
Oh, Oh, It’s magic. Sorry, you’ll have that song stuck in your head until you make these cakes!

Sounds interesting, right? And the photos of it looked really cool, with the three layers of a “cake” that form naturally while it bakes: the magic is in the cake. And, the best part is that the recipe happens to be sized to make just two small cakes. Perfect. Now, we found this recipe in Dessert for Two, a great little book written by Christina Lane, and you can read her original recipe on her Citrus Buttermilk Pudding Cakes post. In fact, that’s the recipe we used.

We’re pretty sure that the recipes in the book included weight measurements, which is pretty important when you’re making such a small amount, but her post for this cake (which she called Citrus Buttermilk Magic Cake, by the way) did not. We are herewith restoring the amounts that we used for those scratchers out there with a scale and an inordinate desire for precision.

Magic Lemon Cake

Yield: Two (6 ounce) cakes

Magic Lemon Cake


  • Butter for greasing
  • 1/3 cup (66 g) granulated sugar, plus about a tablespoon for ramekins
  • 1 egg, separated
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/3 cup (80 g) buttermilk
  • juice and zest from half a lemon
  • 2 Tbs (18 g) all-purpose flour

Abbreviated Instructions

Preheat oven to 325°F.

Butter two 6-ounce ramekins. Put about 1 tablespoon of sugar in one, press the open ends of the ramekins together and shake to coat. Discard excess sugar.

In a medium bowl, whisk egg white and salt until you have stiff but glossy peaks.

In another bowl, whisk together egg yolk, buttermilk, lemon zest, lemon juice, and sugar until smooth and uniform. Whisk in flour until just mixed.

Fold in egg whites and pour into ramekins.

Place ramekins in an 8x8 inch baking pan, place in oven, and add boiling water to a depth of 1/2 inch.

Bake for about 40 minutes, or until tops are golden and spring back to the touch.

Remove from water bath, run a sharp knife around the edges, and invert onto plates.

Ingredient discussion:

Apparently, you can make these cakes with any citrus (or probably with other flavorings, too), but we thought that lemon would be the best choice for us in the middle of summer. We will say that, if possible, buy an organic lemon, since you’ll be using the zest (we didn’t — they can be difficult to find in the store); failing that, wash your lemon with hot soapy water to remove the wax coating. The eggs, as always come from free-range hens. Yes, more expensive, but better eggs.

Procedure in detail:

mise en place
Even though this is a pretty easy recipe, we still get a few things ready before starting.

Preheat oven to 325°F. Place a rack in the center of the oven, while you’re at it. And, find an 8×8-inch baking pan to use as a water bath. Now, a lot of people are worried about baking in a water bath. It seems really difficult (it did to us a long time ago), but it’s very straightforward, as you’ll see.

sugaring ramekins
This is the easiest way to sugar (or flour) a couple of ramekins. Just hold the together and shake.
sugared ramekin
See, a perfect coating of sugar, in just a few shakes.

Butter and sugar. Butter the insides of two 6-ounce ramekins up to the very top. Place about a tablespoon of sugar in one ramekin, set the other one on top with the open ends facing one another and give both a shake. The sugar will stick all over the sides, coating the ramekins evenly. Discard any excess sugar (or add more and repeat if needed).

whipped egg white
Whipping egg whites by hand is tiring, but with only one white, it’s probably the best way.

Whip egg white. With only one egg white, we find it best to whip it by hand. Not easiest, but best, since our mixer will have a hard time reaching a singe egg white. Place the egg white in a medium bowl — use at least a medium bowl, so you can whisk efficiently — add the pinch of salt, and start whisking. Yes, your arm will feel the burn, but you can stop and rest partway through. Keep whisking and resting until the egg whites will hold peaks but are still glossy.

cake batter
The batter will be fairly thin, which makes it easy to fold in the whites later.

Make batter. In another bowl, whisk together the egg yolk, sugar, lemon zest, buttermilk, and lemon juice. You can use the same whisk that you used for the egg whites. In fact, we whipped the whites first, just so we didn’t have to wash the whisk before switching from one mixture to the other. You can whisk this batter until smooth.

adding flour
It’s not much flour, so measure accurately.

Add flour. Add the flour and whisk just enough to mix it in and make a uniform batter. It’ll be a thinner batter than you expect — it was for us, at least.

Boil water. Now’s the time that you probably should put on a kettle of water, so you’ll have boiling water for the water bath. You’ll need 2 to 3 cups.

folding in egg whites
We folded in all the whites in one fell swoop. With this batter, it’s easy.

Fold in whites. Using a spatula, fold in the egg whites. Normally, we suggest that you do this in three or four additions, but with this amount of egg whites and a thin batter, we just folded it in all at one whack.

Fill ramekins. Pour and scrape the batter into the ramekins. It should come almost all the way to the top.

making a water bath
Place the baking dish in the oven before adding boiling water. You’re less likely to spill.

Set in water bath. Place the ramekins in your baking pan, and, when your water’s boiling, place the baking pan on the middle rack of the oven. Carefully pour in water to a depth of 1/2 inch, then carefully slide the rack into the oven (you might regret spilling water onto the glass window in the oven door, as it may shatter), and close the door.

lemon magic cakes
These cakes do puff up a bit, but they also get a nice crispy edge to them.

Bake. Let the cakes bake about 40 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown and the cake springs back to the touch.

Unmold. These cakes are eaten warm, so run a sharp knife around the edge of the cakes, and upend them onto a serving plate. If everything went right, you should have a layer of lemon pudding right on top.

These cakes do live up to their name. We think the “magically delicious leprechaun” would give up that nasty cereal in an instant if he tasted these. Light on the bottom (the cake part), with a slight crispy outside because of the sugaring, a really nice lemon flavor, and a self-saucing pudding right on top. These were plate-licking good. Really. We really did lick the plates clean, they were that good. Plus, they’re remarkably easy, so five stars.

Worth the trouble?

2 Replies to “Magic Lemon Cake”

    1. Thank you for putting together such a great book. We’ve done several recipes from it that sounded good to us, and they all worked perfectly. We can tell you really made an effort to get them right.

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