Lemons, with their bright, cheerful appearance and light, citrusy flavor, seem to sing summertime: think lemonade, lemon sorbet, lemon-blueberry anything. This fruit is so versatile, however, and so complementary to cool (cucumber, cilantro) as warm (ginger, cardamom) flavors, that neglecting to capitalize of their tart, sweet nature in winter-time baking would be a shame. Every Christmas I use lemons for such family favorites as lemon bars (which for some reason I tend to make only at Christmas time – maybe to keep their special status as a family Christmas tradition) and for lemon curd to accompany gingerbread or as a filling for chestnut cake. Lemon curd is available in grocery stores; however, like other commercially produced products, the store-bought lemon curd companies unfavorably to home-made lemon curd. Thankfully lemon curd is super easy to make, and it’s a delicious, naturally gluten-free foods. All you need is some eggs, lemons, sugar, and butter to make a lemon curd that can be used as a filling for cakes, tarts, crepes, cookies, or just for eating straight by itself!
When you shop for lemons, choose fruit that feels heavy for its size, is bright in color, and has few blemishes. Unless the your grocery store states otherwise, the lemons are probably waxed and you need to wash them thoroughly before you zest the skin. I can find only lemons that have blemishes and are pale in color, perhaps because of where I live; however, I choose the best of the bunch and they always work out ok.
The trick to making lemon curd with a silky smooth texture is to cook it slowly enough, and on a low enough temperature, to prevent the eggs from curdling while you cook the curd. One way to prevent curdling is to cook the curd over water that’s just, but not quite, simmering. Waiting for the curd to thicken while you stir it constantly takes a little while, but if you cook it in a double boiler you’ll prevent the eggs from curdling. If you don’t have a double boiler, just place the smaller pot with the lemon curd ingredients inside a pot with the barely simmering water. Lemon cured needs to be strained after it’s thickened, even if it doesn’t curdle. Straining it removes much of the zest and leaves a smoother, creamier curd.
Lemon curd, naturally gluten-free, adds a pleasing tangy sweetness to cakes, cookies, tarts, and other dishes in which its used as a filling. It's also delicious just eaten by itself!
- 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 3 lemons)
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 4 egg yolks
- 2 whole eggs
- Zest of one lemon
- 6 tablespoons butter cut into pieces
Using a microplane zester, zest the peel of one lemon. Juice three lemons to get 1/2 cup of lemon juice. In a double boiler over barely simmering water, place the lemon zest, lemon juice, sugar, egg yolks, and whole eggs. Whisk or stir the mixture constantly over barely simmering water until the mixture begins to thicken. When the mixture brightens in color and thickens enough to coat the whisk or spoon, remove it from the heat and add the butter. Stir curd until all the butter is melted and well-blended into the curd. Place a fine mesh strainer over a bowl. Using a spoon or rubber spatula, press the curd through the sieve into the bowl, to remove the zest and any egg that may have curdled while the curd cooked. Press a piece of plastic wrap onto the surface of the curd, to prevent a skin from forming while the curd cools. Let the curd cool to room temperature. Once it cools, use the curd immediately or refrigerate for later use.