Luscious Lemon Curd
June 11, 2013
Tangy custard is like a spoonful of sunshine . . .
Don’t take the name literally – lemon curd isn’t supposed to be curdled. The chances of it curdling, however, are good. Or rather, bad?
Curd is basically a lemon custard. Egg whites start setting at 144F (62C) and yolks at 149F (65C), but for the sake of food safety, eggs should be cooked to 160F (71C). So it’s very easy to end up with cooked, curdled eggy bits in lemon curd.
Let’s not think about that. Let’s focus on the perfect curd instead: satiny, nicely balanced between tart and sweet, and firm enough to spread or dollop. So luscious!
To get there, cooks take a variety of routes. Should one use whole eggs or only the yolks? Should the curd be stirred or whisked or power-beaten? Should it be strained? Should one stick to tradition or try new tricks?
In pursuit of perfection, I experimented with five different cooking methods. One was a tricky, no-strain technique that started with creaming butter and sugar with an electric mixer. Another was a backwards recipe that began with melted butter (usually butter chunks are stirred in at the end) and ended with cooking over direct heat rather than in a double boiler. Yet another was a no-waste version that utilized whole eggs.
In the end, I couldn’t improve on my good old “one is the magic number” formula: For every 1 egg yolk, you need 1 tbsp (15 mL) each of sugar, lemon juice and butter. Plus you use 1 tbsp (15 mL) of zest and 1 pinch of salt in the mixture.
In comparison to many recipes, my version is light on the sugar and butter, yet the consistency is just right. It’s even firm enough to double as pie filling without the use of thickeners such as cornstarch or gelatin. As for flavour, there is no hint of that lemon floor polish aftertaste that mars some unfortunate concoctions.
I do admit it is very tangy. But too tangy? It’s relative. Remember, lemon curd doesn’t stand alone. It is spread on scones. It is layered in parfaits and trifles. It fills cakes and tarts, and tops pavlovas. I found a great many recipes that called for twice as much sugar as I normally use. One such test recipe was sickeningly sweet. Not only that, the more sugar you add, the looser the curd, so the more butter you require. It’s a slippery slope.
Playing With Lemon Curd
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