If you are a lemonophile, you will want to add lemon curd to your repertoire of lemony treats. The word “curd” is not very glamorous, and might sound to some like an unappetizing substance that children in Mother Goose nursery rhymes are obliged to consume before bed. Other names for lemon curd, such as lemon cheese, are equally pedestrian, if not actually offputting.
But don’t be distracted by uninspiring names. Made with lemon juice, lemon zest, eggs, butter, and sugar, lemon curd is a delicious, quintessentially English concoction to brighten up your scone, English muffin, toast, pancake, piece of banana bread, or slice of cake. Use it as a fruit dip. Mix a few spoonfuls into a bowl of yogurt. Lemon pairs well with blueberries, and an impressive summer tart can be thrown together easily by spreading a thick layer of lemon curd on a tart shell and covering it with ripe blueberries, sprinkled with sugar. You are free to serve it with whipped cream, of course!
An elderly Englishwoman of my acquaintance who as a young woman had married an American GI from Lakeville — he was stationed in England after World War II — used to pine for the lemon curd of her homeland. For birthdays and Christmas, I would order for her a jar of Tiptree’s, Chivers, or Wilkin & Sons, Ltd. — iconic English brands, occasionally labeled “Sicilian Lemon Curd,” Sicily being the most lemony area of Europe.
Occasionally I bought some of the pricey stuff for myself. It was exotic enough that I didn’t imagine it could successfully be made at home. Indeed, standard American cookbooks such as “Joy of Cooking” — even dessert cookbooks — do not include a lemon curd recipe. Then one day I was leafing through a foodie magazine, and stumbled across a recipe. Uh-oh, double boiler — that always signals to me, “This is easily ruined.” But I tried the recipe, and the curd came out perfectly. Actually, it was easy. Just be patient. Read a magazine for 10 minutes while whisking nonstop. Homemade lemon curd is so much better than even the best glass-jar variety. Using fresh Island eggs makes the taste even richer.
I have tried a number of recipes, including some I found online, and the one I give here is my favorite. I use a fine-tooth grater to zest the lemon. To help the teeth dig into the zest, score the lemons around the middle (where you will eventually cut them for juicing).
Lemon curd keeps for a couple of weeks in the fridge, although it is hard to imagine it sticking around that long. But since it is one of those “handy to have around” dessert boosters, a good argument can be made for saving some for later use. The best storage option is to freeze the curd: Let it cool to room temperature, then fill freezer containers and freeze immediately.
(Works with limes as well)
3 bright lemons, for zest and juice
10 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
Pinch of salt
4 egg yolks
1 whole egg
1¼ cups sugar
Run 2 inches of water into the bottom pan of a double boiler, and bring to a simmer. Leave the pan covered.
Grate 3 lemons to get 1½ tablespoons of zest. Place in the top pan of the double boiler (not on heat). Juice 2 to 3 of the lemons to get ½ cup of strained juice. Place in the top pan of the double boiler. Add the cut-up butter and pinch of salt to the top pan of the double boiler. Set aside.
Beat the egg yolks and whole egg at high speed in the large bowl of an electric mixer (or use a hand mixer) until they are foamy. Gradually add the sugar and continue to beat the mixture until it is pale, fluffy, and very thick — about 5 minutes.
Scrape this mixture into the double boiler top pan (containing the zest, juice, and butter). Set the top pan on the bottom pan with the simmering water, and begin whisking the mixture immediately. At first it will become more liquid, as the butter melts. Then it will start to thicken. Continue cooking and whisking until the mixture is thick and smooth and steaming—about 10 minutes. Be careful not to overcook the curd. It is done when it coats a metal or wooden spoon heavily (it will set up further in the refrigerator).
Pour into a washed, sterilized, and dried container, and refrigerate immediately.
Makes about 3 cups.