Lemon surprise pudding (1950)

A cloud-like sponge hides the tangy lemon custard below...

Any pudding, cake or biscuit with the word ‘surprise’ in its title tends to leave you wanting more. I found this zesty little number moonlighting as Lemon Sponge Soufflé in Personal Recipes of the East Kent Federation of Women’s Institute; a handbag-sized booklet packed with medicinal remedies, meaty broths, entrees, chutneys and sweets – the best-kept culinary secrets from WI members in south-east England during the 1950’s.

Alongside ‘Aunt Martha’s pudding’, a ‘Spiced Fruit Whip,’ and a ‘Prunefaux Muran’ (a tipsy combination of prunes, sherry and sugar), recipes were tried and tested by WI members before being collated and bound, along with tasteful pencil illustrations, to invoke ‘memories of friends in the county.’ A particularly delightful back section on fabric hails the arrival of nylon and its ability to ‘withstand the usual effects of moths, mildew and salt water.’

As materials have evolved, so too has the development of traditional recipes. The Lemon Sponge Soufflé became more commonly known as Lemon Surprise Pudding, retaining an old-school magic thanks to the separation of tangy lemon custard which lies beneath a light sponge topping.

The original recipe from 1950 uses teacups and tablespoons in the measuring, with little guidance on tips and baking temperatures. To ensure you get it right first time I’ve taken this recipe from WI Book of Puddings by Janet Weir (1984) – an updated version on a classic pud – and a great way to round off autumn supper.

Serves: 4


  • 50g/2oz butter
  • 100g/4oz caster sugar
  • Grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 25g/1oz plain flour
  • 275ml/½ pint milk


  • Heat oven to gas mark 4/180ºC/170ºC/350ºF.
  • Butter a 1 litre (2 pint) pie dish.
  • Cream butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.
  • Beat rind into butter and sugar. Beat in egg yolks.
  • Sieve the flour and add it by degrees with the milk, followed by the lemon juice (it will curdle – but don’t worry!)
  • Beat the egg whites stiffly and fold evenly into the mixture.
  • Turn into the pie dish and bake for 40 minutes until golden brown.
  • Surprise! You’ll find that the curdle mixture has separated into a lemon custard with sponge top.
Published in: on October 11, 2010 at 3:55 pm  Comments (6)  

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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. yummm I remember my Mum making this pudding and had thought I should get the recipe some time, now its here thats great, thank you!

  2. Sounds delicious …:0)

  3. Scrummy. One of my favourites, this – my nana used to make it for pudding when I was little, and it was crazy popular for a bit in the 90s in the more fashion-forward restaurants. Here in the Antipodes it’s known as lemon delicious.

  4. The earliest reference for this pud I have come across was about 1900.

    My mother used to make this and it was a great favourite, the recipe she used came from a nutrition pamphlet and went by the name ‘Lemon Dainty’ (1950s)

  5. I can’t wait to try this!!!

  6. My mother have both cooked this for years, but had lost the recipe. Thank you soooo much. Its a cold snowy day here in North Wales, and as I’m a paraplegic and stuck in the house, this will help pass the time and be a lovely warming pud to make for my mother.

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