Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The curd: an inquiry into its nature and uses.

What is lemon curd? It seems like an almost existential question. I have made it several times, given it away here and there, and yet I am not quite sure I know what it's for, even though it is delicious.

I made some lovely Meyer lemon curd and gave a bottle to a friend for a New Year present. She told me the other evening that she had just finished it, and in the ensuing discussion, she said that you could put it on chicken. What? This use had never even occurred to me--although I almost never eat chicken, so there's that. I think I'm less a sweet/sour person, unless it's in the context of a dessert.

This leaves me with my questions about the curd, and my one-two-three uses.

One: put it on a muffin, or a scone, or a crumpet, or an English muffin. This means to spread it on a toasted baked good. This makes sense to me. It puts curd in the category of jam or honey. This also makes sense to me, since I generally decant it after cooking into a half-pint jar, just like jam and just like honey (except for the kind that comes in a plastic bear, but that is another category altogether). I know it's probably not good logic, to generalize contents from containers, especially when I was the one who put the thing in the container in the first place. Regardless: use one, on baked goods.

Two: make it into lemon squares. I did this tonight. Yes, I arose from my bed of affliction a couple of times, when I wasn't feeling as crappy, i.e., at the apex of the Day-Quil effectiveness  parabola. First, to make the curd (see below), and second, to make the squares. Although technically, since among my zillions of baking pans I happen not to have a square one, neither of metal nor of glass, I baked my squares in a round pan, so really they're lemon wedges. And actually, they're lime wedges, since I happened to have a bounty of key limes, so my curd was lime. Use two.

Here's how I made my wedges:  I took 1 stick of unsalted butter, cut into little pieces; 1/4 cup granulated sugar; 1 c. flour (I used King Arthur's White Wheat flour); and a pinch of sea salt. These are Ina Garten's proportions, but not her directions. I put all that in a glass bowl and microwaved it for about a minute, until the butter was softened; then I used my fingers to rub the butter into the flour and sugar, and when that seemed to be "happening," I collected the crumbs into a dough, and patted it into the round cake pan, a 9-incher.

You bake this crust for 15 minutes in a preheated 350 degree oven.

But before any of that, you make lemon (or in this case lime) curd. I did this earlier in the afternoon. Here's what you do:  whisk 3 large eggs, 3/4 c. sugar, and 1/3 cup lime (or lemon, depending on your citrus fancy) juice in a heavy saucepan. Whisk it good. Put this over medium heat. Now, when I made the Meyer lemon curd, I did as my recipe suggested and rigged up a double boiler. But this took for freaking ever, and I realized that, with as much attention as I was paying to that double boiler and the curd therein, I could simply pay an equivalent amount of attention to a pan directly on the heat, and probably do just fine, and I did. So whisky frequently, perhaps constantly, or almost. You're aiming for the eggs/sugar/juice mixture to thicken, like hollandaise sauce or sour cream.

When it thickens--and it will, and if you've been paying attention, it will have thickened without (a) burning or scorching on the bottom or (b) curdling (I know--ironic)--remove from the heat and add 4 T. butter, cut into small-ish pieces. Whisk that in as it melts. When that's done, add 1 T. zest to it all. Pour it into whatever container you're keeping it in. It will continue to thicken as it cools.

To make the lemon/lime squares, wedges: after the crust has baked for 15 minutes, take it out of the oven and pour your half-pint of curd over it. Spread it to the edges. It will not be thick, but it will be adequate. Put this back into the oven and bake for about another 10-12 minutes. Cool and then behold how dang good it is.

Back to the curd making: while you're pouring the curd into your chosen container, you'll find, I'm sure, that you have a pan to scrape out with a spatula and maybe a cooking spoon. You should by all means eat the scrapings/spoonings, because it would be a crime to leave any of the curd whatsoever. It is delicious. This leads me to my third and final use: eat it out of the jar with a spoon. You could probably put away an entire batch of curd in this fashion over the course of a week or two. Is it good for you? Of course it is. It's delicious and it's made of eggs (protein!) and citrus (wards off scurvy!).


  1. Nice post. I will have to try this, making the curd.

  2. I was told to get a good yellowy lemon curd is very fresh egg yolks.

  3. See, when you said "curd" in the title, I assumed cheese. So, curd. Like a cheese? Not really. More, the lemon sense, like a custard.
    I would like to make lemon wedges ala your recipe. I think I will try even though I never make desert.

  4. just so you know, don't ever try to make curd with pomegranate juice. it will turn the most awful color of brown, we shouldn't even really talk about it. maybe you could add grenadine and it would help to recover the color, but I don't know. it's sad.

  5. and I just want to add, lemon curd on chicken--eeewww!



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