Lemon Curd (or, why I should ALWAYS listen to my gut)

When life gives you lemons, make lemon curd. Then ask life if you can come over to pick more lemons. Tell life you’ll trade for jars of curd. Life would be stupid not to comply.

I had never made lemon curd before last week.

Crazy, I know. I can make custard, jams, jellies, and roux all the live-long day, but for some reason making lemon curd always seemed like something better left to the professionals.
Then some friends of ours (whose house I had never been to before) invited us over to play music, and I finally saw the lemon tree they’re always telling me to come raid…it was COVERED with beautiful Meyer lemons!
I went home with two big shopping bags full, and many lofty ideas.
Then, as it often does, life happened, and days passed without my having any time to make ANYTHING with them. Sure, I used one or two in tea, and I made a pretty great spiced ginger lemonade, but 5 days later, I had hardly made a dent in the stockpile. I knew I had to do something.
So I turned to my old faithful: the internet. Lo and behold, there was a recipe by Alton Brown for a fairly simple lemon curd. One of the things I love best about Good Eats (and Alton Brown’s recipes in general) is that I have always been able to follow them exactly and come up with something that I liked. Sure, I could sub out ingredients I didn’t have at the house, or make minor adjustments. But they were always optional, as his original recipe was unfailingly solid.
I decided to give it a shot, and gathered up my ingredients.
Unsalted butter, huh? I wonder why he didn’t use any salt in this recipe? I love salt in recipes with lemon and sugar – it brings out the sweetness and harmonizes perfectly with the bitterness from the zest. But if Alton says so, then I guess I’ll trust him.
Hmmm, that seems like an awful lot of sugar for that much lemon juice. Was there a typo? Only 1/3 c of lemon juice (and who has ever juiced 4 lemons and come up with less than 1/3 c juice, anyway? What sort of lemon is HE using, I wonder)? Well, I’ll add more lemon juice to be on the safe side. Maybe the sugar is necessary to stabilize the curd; who am I to judge? In it goes.
A whole cup of butter? REALLY, Alton? Are you taking hints from Paula Deen? Well, I’m no expert. I’ll give it a try.
…I am sad to say that the resulting curd was, though tasty, too sweet, too buttery, and missing that little kick that I wanted it to have. It was more like a lemon custard than a curd, and was too mild to use in the way I’d intended (served on almond/poppyseed scones).
Checking back with the recipe, I saw that there were a lot of comments, and decided to see what the folks out there in Food Network Land had to say. Turns out it was about an even split between glowing compliments and complaints, but a good number of people had altered the recipe to cut down on sugar and butter.
So I wasn’t crazy after all. It’s strange; I consider myself a fairly accomplished cook at this point, and I have quite a bit of faith in my intuition when it comes to writing recipes. But somehow this time I second guessed myself, and wound up with a substandard product at the end.
Well, lesson learned. Back to the kitchen!
The second batch of curd I made was heavenly: light and thick with a beautiful golden color and just the right amount of tang from the lemons. It was not cloyingly sweet or noticeably salty, and was the perfect consistency (after refrigeration) to spread on scones.
I brought a jar of the curd to the Dog Island Farm potluck at Tom and Rachel’s house that weekend, where it was met with many very nice compliments (and requests that I blog the recipe).
I’ve doubled the amount of curd Alton originally said to make, as I feel like it’s enough work (and results in enough dirty dishes) to warrant making enough to keep around for a while (or share with friends). Besides, at the rate we’re going through it, I should have made twice that AGAIN.
Good thing there’s always more lemons!

Meyer Lemon Curd
(adapted from Alton Brown’s Recipe on foodnetwork.com)
8 large (ripe) Meyer Lemons
1 1/2 c evaporated cane juice or organic sugar
10 egg yolks (our girls lay very large eggs. If you have smaller eggs, use a few more yolks, maybe a dozen, to make sure your curd thickens appropriately)
1/4 to 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into 1 tbsp pats and chilled
(you could use 1 stick of unsalted and 1/2 stick of salted butter and skip adding extra salt, if you like)
Wash the lemons thoroughly, and grate off all of the zest into a medium-to-large metal bowl (I wound up with about 1 cup of finely grated zest). Juice the lemons and strain the juice into the bowl as well. I’d say these lemons came to about 2 1/2 cups of juice – take THAT, Alton! .
In another bowl, separate the egg yolks from the whites, and set the whites aside for a different recipe (I’m gonna learn to make angel food cake). Beat the sugar into the yolks until they become lighter in color and are thoroughly combined. Stir in the salt, if you’re using it.
If you have an actual double-boiler pan, you can use it for this next step. Otherwise, start a medium-sized pot on the stove with about an inch of water simmering in it, and place your metal bowl of lemon juice/zest on top of it (the bowl should sit comfortably on the pan without falling in or tipping over). Add in the egg mixture, and stir to combine. Whisk or stir the curd constantly while it’s on the heat.
Alton’s 4-lemon recipe said it takes about 8 minutes for the curd to thicken. If at any time the curd starts to boil or bubble, turn down the heat under your simmering pot. The point here is to heat this mixture very slowly so that the eggs thicken without congealing. With this double batch and MUCH more lemon juice than what was originally called for, the process takes more like 20-30 minutes of constant stirring. I know, it’s a pain and it makes your arm hurt. I promise the curd is worth it.
The curd will start to thicken gradually, and will get to the point where it thickly coats the back of a spoon. At this point it is done cooking, and you can take it off the heat.
But no, you’re not done stirring yet. To get that beautiful sheen and rich flavor, the curd needs butter. Melt/stir the chilled pats of butter into the hot curd one at a time, letting each one completely incorporate before adding the next.
When all of the butter is mixed in, allow the curd to cool. You can do this in the bowl, or transfer the curd directly into sanitized jars for storage. I like to put it in jars when it’s hot so that it sets up and doesn’t get weird air bubbles in the jar.
This curd will keep in the refrigerator for at least a month, and can apparently be frozen and thawed successfully (I’ll let you know when I thaw the jar I’m testing). It is delicious served on scones, especially if you make them with poppyseeds or almonds. It is wonderful melted on hot sourdough pancakes, or toasted rounds of baguette.
Me, I am often caught in the act of eating it straight out of the jar with a spoon.

Comments

  1. Nom nom nom. Many years ago we were invited to Tucson vacation home of a friend. The oranges and lemons were ripe. It was amazing. Being a Washington girl, I *know* the difference between a just-picked apple and a shipped-in storage apple, but I have no across to tree-ripe citrus. Tasting a just picked piece of citrus was a game changer.

    That curd sounds excellent. If you still have lemons left and want to go savory, I love salt-preserved lemons, though I don't know if meyers would be too thin-skinned for that application.

  2. Samantha says:

    I cannot wait to make this..I love love love lemon curd.

  3. Jessica says:

    I have always loved Lemon Curd, and when I was a kid we had lemon trees at my Dad's house so I made it once. It was actually pretty good, though I have no recollection of how I did it. I wolud LOVE to taste yours!!

  4. mariah says:

    mmmm…I am off to raid my mom's lemon tree and give this a go! Thanks for the re
    cipe.

  5. I have to admit, I never use unsalted butter for baking or for sweets. Using plain ol' butter means I don't have to check for salt, maybe I'm lazy.

    I always cut the sugar in the curd recipes I follow, or I up the lemon juice.

    Last year I made the best blood orange curd. Holy cow. It was gone within two days, between me and the dood stirring it into plain yogurt, spreading it on toast, filling pastry puffs with it.

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