I didn’t even really know what lemon curd was until I actually made it today. Sure, I’ve seen it in the grocery store and always wondered what it was doing there, tucked amongst the various jellies and jams. When it came time to decide what to bring to work as a holiday gift, I scoured the internet trying to find something gluten-free and also appropriate for the holidays.
What is lemon curd? It’s a fruit spread made with egg yolk, sugar, and butter. They became popular during the late 19th century in England, where they were served during afternoon tea. The downside to fruit curds is that they don’t last as long as a jam or jelly would. You can use them simply on toast or on a scone, but they can also be eaten with yogurt or dessert (such as cake). Since they are made with only egg yolks, be prepared to have some leftover egg whites. I’m hoping to make some chocolate-coconut macaroons with mine.
I don’t have ready access to Meyer lemons, so a jar of cured lemons was out of the question and I didn’t want to be messing around with a candy thermometer either. The last time I used one was when I nearly destroyed a baking tray making caramels.
In hindsight, the lemon curd was not necessarily any easier. The recipe read fairly simple – egg yolks, sugar, butter, and a water bath. In practice, it was a little bit trickier. Here are my thoughts during the first ten minutes making it:
“This doesn’t seem right.”
“Is the bowl touching the water?”
“Is the water boiling?”
“Should I be whisking it or just stirring? What about this foam?”
“I feel something.. different?” (The texture hadn’t visibly changed yet.)
“Is the bowl touching the water?”
Repeat many times. Around the ten minute mark I realized that the heat was not too high, the texture had changed but was not ribbony, and my arm was tired from whisking. After a minute of debating what to do, I took it off the heat and whisked in the butter piece by piece. I carefully pushed it all through a sieve and then relocated it to jelly jars. And then I had to get ready to do a second batch.
It took me twenty minutes to clean up my supplies before getting the point of starting again. This time though, I didn’t worry about the water boiling or the amount of heat the lemon curd was getting during the second batch. Instead I adopted a more reckless attitude and just gave in to it. I casually stirred the lemon curd, drank cider, and didn’t question whether it was ribbony enough. Maybe it was the cider – but the second bath was much smoother.
It’s not that lemon curd is easy to make – but as with baking, you’re forced to really pay close attention to something. I couldn’t just walk away while the mixer mixed – I was the mixer! All of the recipes I read cautioned against letting the egg yolk curdle, so I was scared to let too much heat on the bowl. I kept lifting it at the edge to make sure the water wasn’t boiling – a small move that probably extended the cooking time for me.
One downside to the recipes I found was that no one actually wrote what sort of stages the lemon curd was going to go through. On the second batch I decided to not wait for the ribbony texture again, opting to half mix the butter in over the water bath or on the stove without the heat. The end result was a great texture in both cases.
I’m sad to say that I wasn’t able to take any photos as I was too consumed with the actual cooking process. Needless to say, lemon curd took over my very small kitchen and it now looks like a disaster zone. Two batches of the recipe below left with me with approximately 5 small jelly jars full of lemon curd. After I finished washing all of the dishes for a second time, I was inspired to make shortbread (thank you, Claudia).
Here is the recipe, as provided by Chow
- 4 large egg yolks
- 1/2c granulated sugar
- 1/4 finely grated, loosely packed lemon zest (approx. 5 medium lemons)
- 1/3c freshly squeezed lemon juice (approx. 3 lemons)
- 1/8tsp fine salt
- 6Tb unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces at room temperature
Fill a medium saucepan with approx 1-2 inches of water, bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer. Test that your mixing bowl will not touch the water when you place it over the pot.
Combine all ingredients, excluding butter, in the mixing bowl. Whisk constantly, until the mixture forms ribbons when you lift the whisk from the bowl. As you are stirring, check that the water does not come to a boil, and if so, lower the heat again until it is barely simmering. This should take approximately 7-10 minutes.
Remove the bowl from the heat and stir in the butter one piece at a time. Push the lemon curd through a fine mesh strainer. Move to a jar or storage container, then cover directly with a piece of saran wrap so that a skin does not form. Let chill for at least 3 hours in the fridge.