One of the things I missed most after my Wild Uncle Johnny‘s death (besides Uncle Johnny, of course) was the giant box, bearing postage from Texas, that would arrive on our doorstep during the deepest, grimmest depths of winter. Sometimes it arrived around the holidays, sometimes it came in February or March…there really was no telling. It arrived according to Uncle Johnny’s whim, but I swear, I think that rascal had some kind of clairvoyance or spooky radar, because the box always seemed to come at the exact time I was so tired of winter I was about ready to gouge my eyeballs out with a fire poker.
Winter, of gunmetal skies and skeletal tree branches and angry, wind-stung cheeks. I was always completely finished with winter far before it was finished with me. I’d sulk about the house, pick up a novel and promptly put it back down again, scowl out the window at the growing piles of dirty snow on the street.
And then, the doorbell would ring and there it would be: a giant, duct-taped, bashed in box, bearing a Texas stamp. I don’t know what the Hell happened to the box every year while it was in transit, but by the time it made it to our doorstep, it looked like it had been used in the world’s most violent game of kickball.
Mama and I would haul the battered thing into the house and saw through tape with heavy scissors, and I’d worry that the contents of the box would be reduced to mush–ruined. By some miracle, once the packaging was reduced to rubble, we were greeted with the perfect antidote to winter. Big, heavy, fragrant orbs of the juiciest, freshest Texas Ruby Red grapefruit a girl could wish for. Dozens of them, just waiting for me to slice into and spoon into my mouth, juice oozing down my chin. This wasn’t the wizened, bitter grapefruit I’d suffered through all winter. No siree. This was sweet, scarlet heaven and I’d marvel how something could taste so clean and fresh and hopeful in the dead of winter.
Maybe I’m the only girl in the universe who ever declared that a grapefruit tasted like hope, but believe me, it did.
Nowadays, you don’t have to have a charitable uncle in order to get your hands on Texas Rudy Reds during the bleak months–many grocery stores and upscale markets now carry them. You’ll pay extra for them, sure, but isn’t it worth a few extra bucks to eat the good stuff? Aren’t you worth the investment? I think you are. Particularly when so many varieties of fruit are downright depressing right now (ever tried to eat a winter peach? Oh, that is sad, sad business) and you’re probably sick to death of apples and pears…admit it.
I know some people find grapefruit sour or bitter, and that’s the heavy price you pay for eating the wrong grapefruit. The wrong grapefruit is dry and yellow inside and smells like nothing. Who wants to eat that? The right grapefruit is from Texas and really does have a “ruby red” interior and that interior is slightly tart but mostly sweet and very citrus-y, in the best possible way. It perks up your senses and whispers, “Hang in there, honey. Spring’s a-comin’.”
If you’re like me, you’re pretty much content to nosh on the right grapefruit purely as is, but if you want to get fancy, you can segment it and add it to salads (this one here is lovely) or you can top it with a little brown sugar and pop it under the broiler for a breakfast treat. Or, if you’re feeling ambitious, you can make a lovely pudding cake with it.
I’d happily eat this lemon pudding cake the rest of my life, but when I stumbled on a recipe for grapefruit pudding cake, I couldn’t resist. Mainly because the recipe sounded kinda weird. It requires that you squeeze the juice from some of your beloved Texas Ruby Reds, which may sound wasteful, but stay with me. Then, you reduce that pretty pink juice on the stovetop, until it’s this syrupy, sweet-tart, sunset-red amazingness. Then you whip up some eggs, add some sugar and flour and a lovely warm spice like cardamom, mix that syrup in with some other good things, pop it in the oven and guess what you get?
Airy, feather-light clouds of cake with a soft, gooey, deliciously puckery pudding on the bottom. And you know what’s magic? There’s no butter or oil or shortening of any kind in this cake. The eggs work all the magic and make clouds in the oven while you wait.
A few notes about pudding cake:
~It is a homey, humble dessert. And it looks it. When you spoon it up to serve it, the clouds and the pudding sort of jumble together and look a little schlumpy, but that’s okay. It tastes like heaven and if you top it with some whipped cream and a sprinkle of toasted nuts, nobody will mind one bit. Especially once they take a bite.
~If you want to get fancy, go ahead and bake the pudding cake in small, individual ramekins. Then everyone gets their own and you won’t have to worry about how it looks on the plate. The recipe called for baking it as one cake, so that’s what I did, but if you want to gussy it up, use ramekins.
~The original recipe did not call for baking the cake in a water bath, which I found a little unusual. Usually pudding cakes are baked in a nice hot tub of water. I decided to follow the recipe as it was written and baked it naked, and my pudding cake had some interesting cracks down the middle as a result. Personally, I didn’t care, since I was going to be spooning individual servings out of the dish anyways. Plus, like I said, it’s a rustic, casual dessert. If a cracked top to the cake is going to bother you, I suggest baking it in a water bath. You might still get a few little cracks, but you won’t get craters.
~Use caution when boiling the grapefruit juice down to a syrup. Once the juice gets to a rolling boil, turn down the heat a bit so it’s still boiling/reducing but not big-time boiling. If you keep it at big-time boil, the juice foams up alarmingly and will bubble up over the pan and onto your stove. Kind of like a science experiment. Aren’t you glad I found this out so I could tell you?
~As with most pudding cakes, eat up, little dinosaur. It’s only good for a couple of days, but those are very delicious days, so make haste.
Even if you aren’t necessarily a grapefruit aficionado like me, I’d encourage you to get your paws on some Ruby Reds and make this cake. I was honestly surprised how delicious it was–something about that reduced syrup make it extra irresistible. Serve it to people who are worth it and winter-weary.
Grapefruit Cloud Pudding Cake
makes 1 cake
slightly adapted from Food52
3 cups freshly squeezed Texas Ruby Red grapefruit juice (about 3-5 grapefruits, depending on size and juicyness)
zest of 2 fresh grapefruits
1 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
dash of vanilla
1/3 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/2 cup creme fraiche
4 eggs, separated
freshly whipped cream, grapefruit zest and chopped pistachios for garnish
Place the grapefruit juice in a medium sauce pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat slightly until it’s still boiling steadily but not roiling. Boil the grapefruit juice until reduced and syrupy, about 30 minutes. Syrup should measure 1/2 cup. Remove from heat and cool.
Whisk sugar, cardamom, flour and salt together in a bowl. Set aside.
Whisk the egg yolks, vanilla, grapefruit zest, grapefruit syrup, Greek yogurt and creme fraiche together in a separate bowl. Whisk the flour mixture into the yolk mixture.
With very clean beaters in a very clean bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form.
Fold a few tablespoons of the egg whites into the yolk mixture to lighten it up, then fold the remaining egg whites in gently, trying to keep as much air incorporated as possible.
Pour batter into a buttered 9-inch cake pan (square or round, doesn’t matter).
Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 25 minutes or until the top is golden and cake is set but still a bit wobbly.