Swedish Lemon Angels

Do not try this at home.

“This” is a recipe for a dessert called Swedish Lemon Angels. You can find a version on many of the recipe sites out there. It calls for an egg, a half-cup of buttermilk, five teaspoons of baking soda, a half teaspoon of vanilla, a cup of lemon juice, a cup and a quarter of sugar, 7/8ths of a cup of all-purpose flour, and eight tablespoons of melted butter or margarine (take your pick). The directions are pretty straightforward, too. Here are the first five, again via Food.com:

  1. In a small bowl or 2-cup measuring cup, beat the egg until foamy.
  2. Add buttermilk and vanilla and blend well.
  3. Add the baking soda, one teaspoonful at a time, sprinkling it in and beating until the mixture is smooth and the consistency of light cream.
  4. Add the lemon juice all at once and blend into the mixture.
  5. Stir, do not beat (you want it creamy but without a lot of air).

You can read the rest if you want, but there’s really no reason. You won’t get to step six. You may not even get a chance to complete step five. That’s because the recipe will self-destruct. By design, in fact.

The original recipe for Swedish Lemon Angels comes from a book titled “Penn and Teller’s How to Play with Your Food.” (If you’re not familiar with them, Penn and Teller are comedian-magicians. Teller has a really neat trick called Shadows which you can watch here. It’s great.) And as the book notes, while the recipe looks legitimate, it isn’t — it’s “a malicious prank.” Specifically, “anyone who tries to make Swedish Lemon Angels will end up with a kitchen counter full of lemon-egg foam ten seconds after completing step #4.”

Why? Science!

Lemon juice is an acid. Baking soda is a carbonate — sodium bicarbonate, specifically. Mix the two and they react, and the resultant reaction leads to a lot of carbon dioxide bubbling out from a lemon-scented watery mix. If your mixture also has eggs and buttermilk and vanilla, it’s still going to bubble over — and it’s going to be a sticky, smelly mess.

But if you click on that Food.com recipe, you’ll notice that while the ingredients and directions (and even the nutritional information!) for Swedish Lemon Angels are on the page, there’s nothing there — at least not as of this writing — which warns unsuspecting bakers of the disaster about to befall their kitchens. That’s not all that rare. Since “How to Play with Your Food” came out in 1992, the recipe has made its way into other publications, and with the advent of the Internet, has proliferated online. For example, you can find it on both Epicurious and RecipeLand, although in both cases, a helpful commentator has stopped by to warn would-be victims of the prank.

So yeah, don’t try this recipe at home. Have a friend do it at their house, instead.

Bonus Fact: More kitchen science, non-messy category: Lemons float in water. Limes sink.

From the ArchivesOn the Juice: Lemon juice doesn’t make you invisible.

Related: “Penn and Teller’s How to Play with Your Food.” 4.7 stars on 17 reviews.