Luscious Lemon Curd

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Homemade Lemon Curd
Homemade Lemon Curd

I adore lemon curd – luscious lemon curd –  that wonderful balance of lemon’s acidity and tartness with the sweetness of sugar. I love it so much that it’s a staple in my refrigerator.

Lemon Curd with Vanilla Greek Yogurt
Lemon Curd with Vanilla Greek Yogurt

Not to be confused with lemon pie filling, which is a different recipe altogether, this versatile heavenly creation known as lemon curd has so many uses – sandwiching cakes together, spreading on scones and biscuits, filling cookies, eclairs, macarons, and tarts, stirring into (or topping on) Greek yogurt for quick parfaits, as a topping on gingerbread or pancakes and, well, you get the picture – uses of lemon curd are limited only by your imagination, creativity, and your love for this divine creation!

Lemon Curd on Scones
Lemon Curd on Scones

Oh, heck, if I’m being honest, I have been known to eat it by the spoonful straight from the jar!

Homemade Lemon Curd
Homemade Lemon Curd

Lemon curd is made with only four (4) ingredients – lemons, sugar, eggs, and butter. While the basic ingredients won’t vary, the amounts of each used and the methods for making curd may differ.  Some cooks favor using only egg yolks, others claim best results using whole eggs, and then there is me who uses both egg yolks and a whole egg. Some wait until after the curd is cooked before adding the butter and lemon zest while others include these at the beginning of the cooking process. Some leave the zest in; others strain it out after the cooking process is complete. Some will cook the curd in a pot directly over the heat while others use a double boiler.

Fresh Homemade Lemon Curd
Fresh Homemade Lemon Curd

I have been making lemon curd for years and have tried different methods of cooking it and different amounts of the core ingredients. The recipe I am including with this posting is the result of many testings which allows me to share my tips for successful lemon curd making.

Lemon Curd Tart
Lemon Curd Tart

Lemons
Always use freshly-squeezed lemon juice – never bottled – for making lemon curd. Choose lemons that have a little spring to them when gently pressed – these will yield more juice than a lemon that is rock solid hard.

Wash the lemons really well in hot, soapy water and scrub them with a vegetable brush to remove any wax that is often applied to lemons before they reach the supermarket shelf. Rinse the lemons really well and dry them.

How many lemons will be required for this curd is difficult to say with certainty because it depends on the size of the lemons and how juicy they are.  The aim is to get ½ cup minus 1 tablespoon of juice (i.e., 7 tablespoons) AFTER it has been strained and the pulp and seeds removed. I can usually extract this amount of juice from 2½ to 3 average size lemons.

Use a lemon zester to zest one of the lemons, ensuring the lemon is blemish-free (now you understand why it’s important that the lemons be thoroughly scrubbed clean – the zest is going into the curd). This should yield about 2½ teaspoons of zest. This zesting process will release the wonderful aromatic oils from the lemon and will enhance the flavor of the curd. When zesting the lemon, take care only to remove the thin outside yellow skin of the lemon and not the underlying white pith which is bitter.

Lemon Zest
Lemon Zest

Cut the lemons in half and squeeze them to extract the juice. Strain the juice through a very fine wire mesh sieve to remove the pulp and seeds. Measure out 7 tablespoons of juice after this process, not before.

Eggs
I have made curd using just egg yolks, just whole eggs, and by using two extra-large egg yolks and one large whole egg.  I find the latter is my preference. I like the lemon curd to be soft but not overly runny or too thick – it should more or less stay in place when a dollop of it is added to the top of yogurt or dropped on to a scone, for example. My experience with making the curd using only egg yolks is that some of the soft texture of the curd is lost and it’s more of a gelatin-type texture and consistency. Using all whole eggs resulted in a curd that was too soft and runny for my liking, most likely because there was too much egg white added.  However, when I use two egg yolks along with one whole egg, the consistency is a lovely satiny creamy texture that is neither too runny or too solid.  The one egg white adds just enough fluidity to produce the desired consistency.

The problem that often occurs with adding egg white(s) to a curd is that the whites, or parts of them, coagulate before being fully incorporated into the curd meaning they go from liquid form to a solid. The whites cook faster than the yolks so, no matter how much stirring, one can still be left with little bits of the coagulated egg white in the curd because, once they have turned into solid mass, they can’t be liquefied again. This is easily remedied, however, by straining the cooked curd through a fine wire mesh sieve to remove any little bits of egg white remaining. You would think the thickened curd would not drip through the sieve but it does! Don’t skip this step.

Lemon Curd with Greek Yogurt
Lemon Curd with Greek Yogurt

Sugar
I have made the curd both with regular granulated sugar and with caster sugar which you may know by any of the following names: Fruit sugar, instant dissolving sugar, berry sugar, or super fine sugar. This sugar is super-duper fine. It dissolves much faster than granulated sugar and is commonly used in making simple syrups used in cocktails because it leaves no “gritty” texture at all. Regular granulated sugar works fine in lemon curd. The caster sugar does, however, provide a smoother textured curd so, if absolute perfection in this regard is your goal, I recommend using the caster sugar.

Lemon Curd on Biscuits
Lemon Curd on Biscuits

Method
Making a quality lemon curd takes time. This isn’t something I’d recommend starting 10 minutes before the curd is needed. I know some cooks do make the lemon curd in a pot directly over the heat source. However, I don’t go that route because it is very easy to scorch the curd with the amount of sugar in it and I think it cooks the curd too quickly causing potential curdling as it’s more difficult to regulate the heat.

My preference is to use a double boiler. If you don’t have one of these sets of pots, simply set a heatproof bowl over a pot of simmering water and “simmering” is the operative word.

It’s very important that the top pot/bowl in the double boiler not touch the water in the bottom pot. Before beginning to cook the curd, I recommend setting the pot/bowl over the water and lifting it to check to ensure the water is not in direct contact with the top of the double boiler/bowl. The curd cooks from the steam heating the top saucepan of the boiler, not by contact with water. About 2” of water in the bottom of the pot is all that is required. Heat this water to the simmering point (around 200°F) and do not let it boil as this will cook the eggs in the curd too fast. This is when curdling can occur and the mixture will become lumpy and lose its smooth texture. The water should be kept at this temperature throughout the cooking process.  I recommend periodically lifting the top of the boiler to ensure the water is not boiling. (Note that temperatures for the simmering water may need to be adjusted according to altitude.  The important thing is that the water not boil.)

I add the lemon zest at the beginning of the cooking process because that’s when I think the zest can do the most to enhance the flavor of the curd. Some cooks add the zest at the very end after the curd has cooked. However, in my opinion, that’s too late for the zest to release the lemon’s flavorful oils and to have much impact on infusing the curd’s flavor.  Some might argue that having the lemon zest in the curd during the entire cooking process could lead to a bitter taste in the curd. However, I do not find that to be the case as the curd is cooked gently and ever-so-slowly and away from the direct heat source. Simply stir the lemon zest into the sugar then whisk in the lemon juice.  Mix the egg yolks and the whole egg together in a small bowl, using a fork to lightly break them up. Whisk the eggs and softened butter into the sugar-juice mixture. Place this pot/heatproof bowl on top of the pot of simmering water.

The mixture needs to be stirred regularly as it cooks – lemon curd is not something that can be left unattended on the stove to do its own thing.  A whisk or a wooden spoon can be used to stir the curd. Be patient. Very patient. This cooking process can take 20-25 minutes for the curd to thicken. Resist the urge to increase the heat to speed the cooking process along. The curd, when cooked, will coat the back of a wooden spoon. But, the most accurate test is to use a candy thermometer – the curd is cooked when the temperature reaches 170°F.

The curd needs to be strained through a very fine wire mesh sieve to remove any bits of the coagulated egg white along with the lemon zest. The zest has done its duty by releasing flavor into the curd. There is no harm in leaving the zest in the curd; however, if the goal is to have a perfect satin finish to the curd, the bits of zest gotta go! In my view, it just really is not all that pleasant to be enjoying the creamy curd and suddenly bite into a chewy piece of lemon zest!

Luscious Lemon Curd
Luscious Lemon Curd

Color and Texture
The color of the cooked curd should be a natural brilliantly bright sunshiny yellow. The color comes from the egg yolks, lemon juice and, to some degree, from the lemon zest. The texture of the perfectly cooked curd should be silky smooth, very creamy, and the curd should bear a slightly glossy sheen.  Lemon curd will thicken slightly more as it cools.

Sunshiny yellow lemon curd
Sunshiny yellow lemon curd

A true curd does not have any thickening agent (e.g., flour or cornstarch) added to it. The egg yolks are what naturally thickens the curd. This is a key difference between lemon curd and lemon pie filling. Pie filling has a more gelatin-like consistency and is thickened with either flour or cornstarch. In contrast, lemon curd is softer, smoother, and of spreading consistency. Lemon curd also has a more intense lemon flavor than does the filling for a lemon pie.

Lemon Curd with Biscuits
Lemon Curd with Biscuits

Storage
Transfer the strained curd to a hot sterilized jar.  Immediately place a piece of plastic wrap on the exposed surface of the curd in the jar, pressing it gently to ensure it is in direct contact with the entire surface of the curd. This will prevent a skin from forming on the curd as it cools.  Let the curd cool to room temperature then remove the plastic wrap, cover tightly with jar lid, and store in the refrigerate for up to a week….if it lasts that long! Now, where’s the spoon…………

A spoonful of lemon curd
A spoonful of lemon curd

[Printable Recipe Follows at end of Posting]

Luscious Lemon Curd

Ingredients:
¾ cup caster* sugar or granulated sugar
2½ tsp lemon zest
7 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice, strained (apx. 2½  – 3 lemons, depending on size)
2 extra-large egg yolks
1 large egg
3 tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature

Method:
In bottom of double boiler, bring about 2” of water to the simmer point (around 200°F). Maintain the water at this simmer point over medium-low heat.  Place sugar in top of double boiler or heat-proof bowl.  Mix in the lemon zest.  Whisk the lemon juice into sugar.

In small bowl, lightly beat the 2 egg yolks and the whole egg together with a fork, just enough to break up the yolks and blend with the whole egg.  Whisk the eggs into the sugar-lemon juice mixture. Add the soft butter.  Place this pot or bowl over the simmering water. Stir the mixture continuously as it cooks until it is thickened and the temperature of the mixture registers 170°F on a candy thermometer.  Be patient as this may take 20-25 minutes. Make sure the water in the bottom of the boiler does not boil and stays only at the simmer point.

Remove curd from heat and strain through a mesh strainer to remove any of the egg white that may have coagulated as well as the lemon rind.  Pour strained curd into a sterilized bottle.  Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the curd to prevent it from forming a skin on top. Cool at room temperature. Remove plastic wrap. Cover jar tightly and refrigerate for up to 1 week.

Yield: Apx. 1 cup

*caster sugar may also be known as fruit sugar, berry sugar, super fine sugar, or instant dissolving sugar.

Note:  Altitude may affect the temperature at which the water reaches the simmering point. The important thing is that the water in the bottom of the double boiler does not boil or touch the top of the double boiler/heatproof bowl during the cooking of the curd.

Luscious Lemon Curd

Yield: Apx. 1 cup

Sweet and tart, this luscious lemon curd is a wonderful addition to scones, parfaits, and pastries

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup caster* sugar or granulated sugar
  • 2½ tsp lemon zest
  • 7 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice, strained (apx. 2½ - 3 lemons, depending on size)
  • 2 extra-large egg yolks
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature

Instructions

  1. In bottom of double boiler, bring about 2” of water to the simmer point (around 200°F). Maintain the water at this simmer point over medium-low heat. Place sugar in top of double boiler or heat-proof bowl. Mix in the lemon zest. Whisk the lemon juice into sugar.
  2. In small bowl, lightly beat the 2 egg yolks and the whole egg together with a fork, just enough to break up the yolks and blend with the whole egg. Whisk the eggs into the sugar-lemon juice mixture. Add the soft butter. Place this pot or bowl over the simmering water. Stir the mixture continuously as it cooks until it is thickened and the temperature of the mixture registers 170°F on a candy thermometer. Be patient as this may take 20-25 minutes. Make sure the water in the bottom of the boiler does not boil and stays only at the simmer point.
  3. Remove curd from heat and strain through a mesh strainer to remove any of the egg white that may have coagulated as well as the lemon rind. Pour strained curd into a sterilized bottle. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the curd to prevent it from forming a skin on top. Cool at room temperature. Remove plastic wrap. Cover jar tightly and refrigerate for up to 1 week.

Notes

Please be sure to read entire blog posting that accompanies this recipe as it contains important information and tips on successfully making lemon curd.

*Caster sugar may also be known as fruit sugar, berry sugar, super fine sugar, or instant dissolving sugar.

Note: Altitude may affect the temperature at which the water reaches the simmering point. The important thing is that the water in the bottom of the double boiler does not boil or touch the top of the double boiler/heatproof bowl during the cooking of the curd.

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Luscious Lemon Curd

Luscious Lemon Curd

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