Buttery and smooth, this lemon curd starts out sweet and then blasts your tastebuds with unmistakable, sharp lemon. This is an easy recipe (no tempering) and is perfect to use as a spread, in cookies, cakes and pies.
Lemon curd: it’s creamy like a custard, but has that zing that only comes from a deliciously tart lemon. It’s a mixture of eggs, butter and lemon juice & zest. You’ll usually find it near the jams in the store, sealed in a jar but it’s never, ever as good as homemade. You can spread it on toast, pancakes, french toast, scones, english muffins, etc. – it goes well with most breakfast (and dessert!) dishes.
Lots of fruits can be made into a curd, especially those with a sharp flavor (lemons, limes, grapefruit, pomegranate) but you can also make a blueberry, raspberry or orange curd and these usually have some lemon added to them to give it an edge.
The roots come from when I made the filling from this french lemon tart. I thought it a wonderful filling but I wanted to create a curd that used whole eggs instead to avoid any eggy taste and save myself some separating. I then spent a few months (and maybe 100 lemons?!) figuring out the right balance of juice/sugar/butter/eggs.
This is unique because of its use of whole eggs but also because I use a considerable amount of lemon juice to make it very sharp (equal in volume to the sugar!). I add cold butter after the curd cooks, so that it incorporates slowly (a trick I learned years ago after reading an interview with a pastry chef – I can’t find the link now!) and it makes the curd silky smooth.
Eggs: Whole large eggs, no need to separate.
Lemon: Since we’re using a lot of zest, either buy organic lemons or give them a good wash before you zest to remove any residual chemicals that might be on the peel. How many lemons you’ll need for the juice depends on their size and how juicy they are.
Butter: Unsalted butter, this is important! We’re already adding salt to the eggs (where we need it) so we want to avoid there being too much in the curd over all. American or European butter is fine (but European, with its slightly higher butterfat content, would be lovely here).
Sugar: Granulated sugar, fine or organic. You might wonder if you can reduce the sugar here but I wouldn’t as sugar contributes to the consistency and texture just as much as taste.
Salt: Just a pinch, salt has a magical quality of allowing other flavors to blossom. It’s also important here to break up the egg whites. I use fine sea salt; don’t use table salt which is very ‘salty’ in taste and will set the flavor balance off.
Crack all the eggs into a bowl – it’s ok if they are cold. Doing this a bit earlier helps them warm up before they hit the heat.
Set a bowl over a sieve, the butter will go in the bowl but not quite yet.
Into the pot you’ll be cooking in, add the sugar. And then zest the lemons right into the sugar.
Rub the sugar and zest between your fingers, this helps release the zest’s oils and brings out that lemon flavor even more. Don’t skip this step, since we’re sieving out the zest later on we want to get as much flavor from it as possible. Rub until the mixture is like wet sand.
Juice the lemons, you can do this over a scale right into the pot or measure out a full cup. Then pour it into the sugar and mix.
Now whisk or beat the eggs with the salt, I think a fork works well here to break up all those little white bits. Beat it like you would eggs for an omelette or scrambled eggs, really well – all those little white bits you see unmixed will cook just like that (separate from the curd) and we want as few as possible. Pour the eggs into the pot with the sugar and lemon, and whisk well.
Set the pot over low heat, have a rubber spatula and stir it as it cooks. If you want to be precise (and since you’ve used six eggs and a whole bag of lemons it would be prudent to be so!) use a thermometer for this step.
After about 5 minutes over the heat and while you’re stirring constantly, the curd will begin to thicken on the bottom. Once it reaches 165-170 F and you note that it covers the spatula without running completely off, it’s done, take it off the heat.
Slice the butter into the bowl and set the sieve back over it.
Now pour this mixture over the sieve (use a bigger one than mine, this was too much work!) and work it through into the butter. The goal is to remove the zest and any little bits of white egg that didn’t get broken up. We do this so that we’re left with a very, very smooth, almost translucent curd.
Be sure to scrape the bottom of the sieve for any remaining curd and then stir the curd and butter until the butter is fully melted and incorporated into the curd. Once it’s smooth and no butter bits remain, it’s done.
Pour it into a jar for storing in the fridge. When warm the curd is runny but as it cools it will thicken.
Besides the aforementioned breakfast spreads that use lemon curd, there are so many ways to incorporate it into baking and desserts (and I am an enthusiast of doing so as you’re about to see!). Of course, there’s lemon meringue pie but also…
Lemon Curd is also very popular to use on pavlovas (in this recipe you could swap out the pomegranate curd), with cake (one variation I have for this Lemon Poppy Seed Bundt Cake is to make a tunnel of curd) and even as a roll filling (think cinnamon rolls but spread lemon curd on the dough).
Once it’s done cooking, you can go ahead and pour it into a mason jar and seal it. I’ve read that it can last up to two weeks in the fridge but use your judgment (taste and smell) to see if it’s good. It’ll at least last a week.
Alternatively, freeze the curd in an airtight container. It’ll keep for months.
Yup – half of all the ingredients. It might cook a little quicker so watch it carefully.
Once its done cooking you can pour it into a par-baked pie shell (that is, a crust that is almost fully baked) and bake it for another 10-12 minutes, until it doesn’t really jiggle when you wiggle the pan. Then chill it, it will firm up nicely after a few hours in the fridge.
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