When we did the Afternoon Tea class last Sunday, we made Lemon Curd as one of the recipes. We made some pastry crips to spread it on, but it’s often served with Scones or put in crusts to make small tartlets. It’s hard to believe that four ingredients can make something so tasty. The recipe is not hard, it is not without risk…..you are trying to get a sweet-tart fruit spread and not lemony scrambled eggs. (If you want to see a Cream Scone recipe, click here.)
Lemon Curd first appeared in England in the early 1800’s. In those days, it was difficult to zest citrus as they didn’t have the versatile microplane grates we have today. Plus, the sugar came in hard pieces that you would use to rub the outside of the lemons to get the zest and essential oils. It was sometimes called Lemon Cheese and used in a variety of means. Another early method was to combine the lemon with cream and literally produce curds that were then separated from the whey. However it came it pass, it is a recipe that everyone should have in their arsenal.
Like I said, it only has four ingredients – sugar, lemons, eggs and butter. You can almost think of it like a custard since we are going to be thickening the curd by “cooking” the proteins in the egg yolks.
The challenge with lemon curd is making sure that the eggs do not scramble while you are cooking the curd. I read one article that talked about working the ingredients together before putting them on the double boiler and that would help keep the eggs from scrambling. So our first step is to take the butter and sugar and “cream” them together as best you can (If you want to pull out a hand mixer, feel free…).
Once you have the sugar and butter somewhat combined, add in the eggs and mix that until as smooth as possible. You will still have chunks of butter unless you use a mixer.
The next step is to add the lemon. Start by zesting 4 lemons and adding the zest. Then juice the 4 lemons and add the juice. Once you have the lemon in, mix until as smooth as possible.
Now is the time to cook the combination. You will need a double boiler. If you don’t have a true double boiler, all you need is a sauce pan and a heatproof bowl. I have a set of stainless steel bowls that make a great double boiler!
This is one recipe that when we say you must stir constantly, we aren’t kidding. The stainless bowl is transferring the heat from the boiling water to the lemon curd, so the surface of the bowl is the hottest part. If you don’t keep stirring, you will likely end up with lemony scrambled eggs. You need to keep the mixture moving to make sure it heats evenly.
Keep stirring the mixture until the custard thickens and “coats the back of the spoon.” What that means is that you take the spoon from the mixture and run your finger through the mixture. Once you do that, the curd should not move into the open space and a clear path should remain. If it starts to run into the path, it’s not ready – keep cooking. If you are measuring temperature, it should reach somewhere around 170 degrees. Hopefully, you can make a straighter line than I can in the picture. Notice how the custard has bunched up on the edge of the path.
Once it is ready, remove the bowl from the top of the double boiler and move the curd to a bowl. Allow to cool. Keep refrigerated when storing.
I like using the curd with shortbread cookies (like Lorna Doon or Walkers). It can also be used on any baked good in place of jam. If you are having an Afternoon Tea, put it on your cream scones. Covered tightly in the refrigerator, it should last about 2 months. I’ve found that we usually eat it all LONG before that.
4 each Lemons
5 each eggs
4 ounces (1 stick) butter
2 cups sugar
Zest and juice the lemons and set aside. In the top bowl of a double boiler (or a stainless steel bowl) add the sugar and butter. Mix the sugar and butter together. Next add the eggs and mix until as smooth as possible. Add the lemon zest and juice. Mix until as smooth as possible.
Boil water in a sauce pan and keep it just at a boil (or simmer) – you don’t want a full rolling boil as that will be too hot. Place the bowl over the boiling water and stir the custard. Stir constantly until it thickens and coats the back of a spoon (about 170 degrees).
Once it reaches that point, remove from the double boiler. Transfer to a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate to firm up the curd.
To serve, remove the curd from the refrigerator. Spread it on just about anything! You can also make small tartlet shells and fill with the lemon curd.