I came across this tantalizing English pudding recipe ages ago whilst perusing The Kitchn, and immediately put it on my to-do list… where it promptly langished for nearly a year.

Embarassing, since I actually own a copy of Jane Grigson‘s “Good Things”, in which the recipe first appeared, as well as a shame, really, since anything with such an august pedigree is bound to be good.

Moreover it involves lemon and gelatin, two of Mr. T’s absolute favorite things. I’d like to think that my tendency to be slightly sneer-y when it comes to Jell-O type things did not contribute to the lag time, but it probably did.

Although, having made it, I can say with complete confidence that no one could think for a second that this deliciously lemony whimsy came from a packet.

It does, however, bear more than a passing resemblance to the Jell-O 1-2-3 desserts of my childhood. Well, not MY childhood, but you get the idea. A thin layer of tart lemony jelly is topped by a foamy, chiffon-y, lemon mousse that crackles pleasantly in the mouth–a perfect textural compliment to its sprightly tartness.

And, since this is do-ahead and pretties up well in individual glasses, it’s a perfect ending to any big holiday meal–bright in flavor, light in texture, but still indulgently festive.

I used two Meyer lemons and one regular lemon (zest and juice). And I’d think you’d be able to swap in other citrus as well as long as you kept at least one regular lemon’s worth of juice. Given the gelatin and egg whites, I don’t know if the acid level would have much impact on the pudding’s ability to set, but best not to mess about TOO much. In any event, lemon-Meyer lemon, lemon-grapefruit, or lemon-satsuma honeycomb would all be divine.

Lemon Honeycomb
Yield: 6-8 servings
Adapted from Faith Durand, Laurie Colwin, & Jane Grigson

3 large eggs
Zest of 3 lemons (2 Meyer, 1 regular)
Pinch salt
1/2 + 2 tbs cup sugar, divided
1/3 cup whipping cream
3 teaspoons plain unflavored gelatin
1 1/2 cup milk (whole, if you please)
Scant 3/4 c lemon juice

Separate the eggs: whites into the bowl of a stand mixer (or other large bowl), and yolks into a heavy 2-qt saucepan. Set aside the whites. To the yolks add the lemon zest, salt, 1/2 c sugar, and the cream. Whisk to combine completely. Sprinkle over the gelatin and whisk it in.  Place the saucepan over medium-low heat and heat the egg mixture, whisking, for a minute or so. Meanwhile, scald (bring to quite hot, but not boiling-ness) the milk, either in a separate small saucepanon the stove or in a heatproof measure in the microwave. In either case, heat till just barely starting to steam and tiny bubbles begin to form on the edge of the pat or measure. Whisk the hot milk into the egg mixture.

Cook the custard for 5 to 10 minutes, still over medium-low heat. Whisk energetically, being sure to get into the corners of the pan. Heat the custard to 170°F. (This is fairly hot, but *definitely* not boiling. If you see steam start to rise from the pot, pull it off the heat and whisk madly for a bit to ensure there’s no coating. When ready, the custard should just coat the back of a spoon. And, really, if you don’t have a kitchen thermometer, now is the time to get one.) Remove the pan from the heat immediately to stop the cooking. Pour into a bowl and let sit to cool 5-10 min. Stir in the lemon juice. Set aside.

Add the remaining 2 tbs of sugar to the egg whites and beat til they hold stiff peaks. Fold in the warm custard mixture, using a wire whisk. You’ll loose a little volume, but it’ll be worth it to have an evenly combined mixture.

Divide the mixture among 6-8 dessert glasses or other ~1c vessels. Cover each in plastic wrap–it’s ok if the wrap touches the surface of the mousse, it’ll come off cleanly–and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. A crown of whipped cream applied just before serving is, I think, de rigueur.

Notes & Variations
As the egg whites in this recipe are only fleetingly cooked, it would be best to use the most faultlessly fresh eggs possible. Even then, it might be wise to avoid serving this to anyone who might be especially vulnerable to food-borne illnesses.