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lemon curd

February 11, 2010

One might hazard a guess that a girl who loves cheese to distraction might be drawn to lemon curd, if only because it shares its name with the creamy stuff of cheese-making. But I, for one, haven’t been—in part out of suspicion. Let’s not kid ourselves, says the voice of my inner Dairy Championing League: lemon curd is an imposter. Tsk, tsk.

As it turns out, the languages of the dairy and fruit worlds overlap exactly in that zone where we tamper with—by concentrating—raw products to make them last (originally), or to turn them into something singularly delicious. Hence fruit butters, fruit curds, fruit “cheeses.” The word “curd,” then, simply indicates how thick and creamy this lemon concoction should feel under your knife as you spread a lovely dollop on morning toast—and I guess that’s fair enough.

Plus, while I may raise an eyebrow at what secretly still strikes me as false advertising, lemon curd does have one major thing going for it: it taps into my indefatigable fascination with the power of eggs, whose yolks in this case transform a mixture of lemon and sugar into something voluminous and silky-smooth.

So it was a pleasure to make its acquaintance properly for the first time, this infamous lemon curd—to feel the yolks at work between the whisk and the double boiler, and to admire its shiny peaks and tart-sweet taste once it had cooled.

Lemon curd resembles fresh farm cheese in that it possesses a milk-maid wholesomeness, really, with its unabashed buttercup yellowness, its brightness and clarity of flavor. (Made from winter fruit, its ability to evoke sunny spring mornings brings us back to that issue of duplicity, though; it’s a tricky little substance after all.)

Unfortunately, I didn’t match my first homemade lemon curd with a worthy conversation partner. Dense almond cake was nothing it could exchange charming turns of phrase or pert puns with. It would have been happier with a chiffon, angel, or light sponge cake—or a simple shortbread cookie.

It also makes beautiful parfaits, swirled with yogurt or ricotta and topped with pistachios, crushed ginger cookies—or raspberries; very striking with raspberries. And then there’s the eternal lemon-blueberry pairing: lemon curd on blueberry scones, blueberry pancakes, blueberry anything, really. This is the combination behind the last lemon curd act in the now-defunct Gourmet magazine: last April, behold, a pavlova with lemon curd and berries, looking like a queen’s diadem.

In the blogosphere, I’m not the only one with lemon curd on my mind this time of year. The latest post on Anita Chu’s Dessert First features a recipe for blood orange curd tartlets, elegant peachy pastel on delicate tuiles. The culinary blogger behind “Notes from my food diary” presents cream puffs filled with Meyer lemon curd, which look stunning—and decidedly Spring-like—against a robin’s egg blue tablecloth.

And exactly one year ago, Bon Appetit published a Valentine’s day recipe for tiny heart-shaped raspberry-lemon curd cakes that just might make an appearance in a few days. I know someone—a few someones, actually—who like lemon an awful lot.

Lemon curd

2/3 cup sugar

2 T grated lemon zest

3 eggs and 4 egg yolks

¾ cups lemon juice

2 T butter*

Combine the lemon zest and sugar with a food processor or mortar and pestle. Transfer to a double boiler (or bowl over pot of boiling water), add the eggs, and whisk until the sugar dissolves. Add the lemon juice and whisk until it has the consistency of a thick custard (several minutes). Remove from the heat and add the butter. If the curd is grainy at all from the egg, strain it. To stop the cooking, place it in an ice bath, and stir occasionally until it has cooled. Then refrigerate.

* Butter smoothes the texture but, to me, masks the lemony brightness a bit, so I like the idea of using less.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. holly apalae permalink
    February 14, 2010 3:22 pm

    The pictures are very striking. The backdrops are very well thoughtout and stage the luminous lemon very nicely. I have tried lemon curd on yogurt, but not really on much else outside of the ordinary, such as toast. I will try the pairing of ricotta and lemon curd.

  2. holly apalae permalink
    February 24, 2010 4:06 pm

    I (and a few others) tried this recipe, and it was so delicious, three days later, it has almost been depleted, and I let myself take no more than 1/2 a teaspoon at a time, as to make it last longer.

    • February 24, 2010 6:04 pm

      What will power! I wonder if you have any tips for delicious pairings you’ve experimented with. I’ve been contemplating how it might be used in a tart with a goat cheese base…

  3. March 3, 2010 5:34 am

    Great info!

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