If your family could use a little lift after dinner, we've got just the thing -- a soufflé-pudding hybrid with a refreshing lemon twist. For budding chefs, this dessert isn't as temperamental as a traditional soufflé, but the top layer keeps the tender, fluffy texture of one. The neat science-experiment part -- beaten egg whites inflate the cake as it bakes -- only sweetens the deal.
Generously butter a 1 1/2-quart soufflé dish or straight-sided casserole, or 6 individual 1-cup ramekins or soufflé dishes (a pastry brush works well), and set them aside. Heat the oven to 350º.
Separate the eggs, reserving 3 of the whites in a medium-size mixing bowl and all 4 of the yolks in a separate medium-size bowl. (For tips on separating eggs, see Soufflé Dos and Don'ts.) Take care that none of the yolk gets into the whites, or the whites won't stiffen properly when they're beaten.
Add 1 cup of the sugar, the butter, and the lemon zest to the bowl of reserved yolks. Using an electric mixer, beat the ingredients on medium-high speed until well blended, about 2 minutes. Then blend in the flour, followed by the lemon juice, vanilla extract, and salt. Set the mixer to low and slowly add the milk.
Clean and dry the mixer's beaters. Beat the egg whites on low speed, gradually increasing to medium-high, until they hold soft peaks. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar and continue to beat the whites until they are semistiff. (See How to Make Perfect Peaks, for tips on beating whites.) Gently but thoroughly fold half of the beaten whites into the batter until they are evenly mixed, then do the same with the remaining half. (To learn how to fold, see Soufflé Dos and Don'ts.)
Pour the batter into the prepared soufflé dish or ramekins. Place the dish or dishes, evenly spaced, in a shallow 13- by 9-inch pan. Carefully pour hot water into the pan to a depth of about I inch. Bake the pudding soufflé on the center oven rack until it's puffed and golden brown, about 35 to 40 minutes for the large one or 25 to 30 minutes for the small ones. Don't open the oven door or your dessert may collapse.
Remove the dish or dishes from the water bath and transfer them to a wire rack. Let them rest for 15 minutes. Some folks enjoy this dessert at room temperature, with the pudding still warm and saucy; others prefer it cold, with the pudding a bit thicker. It takes the large dish about 8 hours in the refrigerator (overnight is fine) to cool completely, and the small dishes, about 3 to 4 hours. The soufflé top will fall a bit, but the fluffy texture will remain. Dust the soufflé with powdered sugar before serving. Serves 6.
Per serving (6 per large soufflé dish): Calories 321 • Protein 7g • Carbohydrates 46g • Total Fat 13g • Saturated Fat 8g • Cholesterol 167mg • Sodium 110mg