In the Kitchen: Lemon curd

Checked another item off my kitchen bucket list the other day: lemon curd.

It doesn’t sound like much, but after eating the stuff out of a jar, in tea houses overseas, and in restaurants (the latest being smeared over pancakes at ABC Kitchen), I was curious to see what mixture of alchemy would produce the stuff at home. So I poked around the cookbooks on my shelf and found a recipe or two.

They all looked good, but were either overly complicated or required more ingredients than was strictly necessary. America’s Test Kitchen’s recipe for lemon curd filling for a tart required 7 yolks and 2 eggs, plus 3 T of heavy cream. How to Bake’s recipe for tartlets wanted 6 yolks and a stick of butter. Next stop- the intarwebz. Three recipes made the cut for having short lists of ingredients, and requiring nothing more than a few lemons to make.

First was Epicurious. The recipe required 3 whole eggs, 3/4 cup each of sugar and fresh lemon juice, plus a stick of butter cut into pieces and whisked in before the mixture (including zest) was even heated. Of all three recipes this one had the shortest cooking time- 6 minutes. The recipe was good, but a bit grainy in texture and sharp in taste- the color was sort of dull and not what I had in my head when I started. After two iterations (one with lime- I tossed the lemon) I was ready to try the next.

Second was an Allrecipes version. This one had a full cup of sugar, 3 whole eggs, 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice, and 1/4 cup melted butter (or margarine). The cooking instructions were the easiest of all- simmered over a double boiler for 15 minutes. The result was a sort of beige color that threw me, and in terms of taste it was a bit too tart- probably a result of cooking the zest with the curd. I strained it and suddenly there were bits of egg white I hadn’t noticed. The texture was slightly more gelatinous than I like- my fault, since it didn’t seem to thicken enough before I took it off the heat, so I may have overcooked it while trying to achieve that thick, spreadable, smoothness.  Overall, not one for books.

(At this point I was so heartily sick of lemons that I couldn’t even stand the sight of the bottle of Santa Cruz Organic strawberry lemonade I’d just bought. But I poured another glass and soldiered on.)

The final recipe, in Fine Cooking, promised it was foolproof. Henh. Not likely, thought I, but read on. The foolproof tip was to beat the 6 T of room temperature butter with the cup of sugar for 2 minutes, then beat in the 2 eggs and 2 yolks (which I let warm up to room temp as well) for 1 minute. THEN add the 2/3 cup lemon juice- also at room temp. The result is a curdled looking mess, that when cooked the butter melts evenly. Whisking the mixture at the begining of the cooking process created a bright color and smooth texture. I added the zest after I removed the curd from the heat- zest that had dried a bit in the fridge, but was still tasty. Of all three it looked and tasted the most like the lemon curd I tasted at ABC Kitchen in NYC- bright yellow, creamy, mellow in taste but with a slight tang at the end. If I hadn’t had to head out the door to meet friends, I would have cooled it properly- at room temp before covering the surface with plastic wrap and refrigerating- and it might have been perfection. Next time.

If I had Photoshop on this computer I’d label each cup, but hopefully based on my descriptions you can figure it out. Happy cooking!

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2 responses to “In the Kitchen: Lemon curd

  1. The color differences are quite striking.

    • Aren’t they? I think that’s what kept me going- thinking that it just didn’t look good and that if I gave it one more try I could hit the trifecta of taste, texture, AND color.

      Like any self-respecting sadomasochist… er, “cook”, I’m going to try the foolproof recipe once more to make sure I covered all bases, but really I think that’s the one that goes in my personal recipe stash!

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