I feel so fortunate that although I over-pruned my two lemon trees two years ago, they managed to remain alive and even produced some lemons.
That’s great, because lemon curd is one of my favorite things to make, eat and give away. It’s delicious on scones, muffins and toast, but one of my favorite things to do with lemon curd is to put it in a pastry shell and bake it for a lemon tart. If you want to really push the lemon tart to another dimension, top it with fresh raspberries. Stand back and bask in the compliments.
If the only lemon curd you’ve ever tried was the store-bought jarred stuff, then you’ve missed out. About the only thing the store-bought and home-made lemon curds have in common is their lemony color. The homemade lemon curd is just the right amount of tart and sweet. It’s the essence of true lemon.
Making lemon curd is not that difficult. Notice I didn’t say it was easy, but that’s only because you need to know a few things before you start. I did my best in the recipe below to walk you through every step of the lemon curd-making process. You can do it!
I credit friend Jan Gandy for introducing me to the wonderful world of lemon curd. I’ve used her recipe for years with great success. But as I do with most mastered recipes, I eventually wonder what else I could do with them, and start experimenting.
In the same way that my twin believes that the most interesting colors need more than one word to fully describe them (plum-gray, ice-yellow, etc.) I feel the same way about the most interesting foods. I am usually bored by one-note foods, whether it’s strawberry jam, grape jelly, or, yes, lemon curd. Even when it comes to ingredients, one is the loneliest number. I favor hyphenated foods. Chocolate-peanut butter cookies. Orange-vanilla bean marmalade. Rosemary red-wine reduction. Fig-lemon-ginger jam. On and on they go.
So I play matchmaker and see what ingredients play well with others. It’s funny, but although oranges and lemons are both in the citrus family, some of the ingredients that go great with orange – such as chocolate – isn’t a sure thing with lemons. But other ingredients, like ginger, work beautifully with all citrus.
So it was that I came up with lemon-ginger curd, which was basically lemon curd, with pureed candied ginger. I intentionally did not use fresh ginger, for two reasons. First, the somewhat stringy-mushy-watery consistency of freshly grated ginger would mess with the slippery smooth perfection of the lemon curd. But more than that, I feared that fresh ginger would shorten the lemon curd’s lifespan, even refrigerated. Besides, candied ginger is already prepared and has that lovely gingery translucent jewel tone, and that works with the lemon curd.
By the way, you’ll notice I store the finished lemon curd in canning jars, but they’re not “canned” foods, like jams. The jars of lemon curd must be refrigerated, and they’ll last that way for between four to six weeks.
We can talk about canning another day. Today, we’re taking lemons and making lemon curd.
Lemon-Ginger Curd5 1/2 cups granulated sugar 1/2 cup rough chopped crystallized ginger 1/2 teaspoon salt 3 cubes cold butter (1 1/2 cups), cut into small pieces 7 lemons, zested and juiced (about 5 tablespoons of zest and 1 1/3 cups lemon juice) 8 whole eggs, plus 3 egg yolks, beaten well – set aside in a bowl 1 teaspoon vanilla
Prepare a big bowl of ice water on standby for an emergency. Hopefully you won’t need it.
In a food processor (or, better yet, one of those mini electric-choppers), finely puree the crystallized ginger and 1/2 cup of the sugar until it’s a lovely baby food consistency. (If you don’t have a food processor, just spend a lot of time chopping the ginger with the sugar on a plastic chopping surface (wood will absorb it) until it’s as paste-like as possible.) Set the ginger-sugar mixture aside.
Prepare your “double boiler” — which is basically a smaller pot that fits snugly inside a bigger pot. The bottom pot should have enough boiling water in it to allow the steam to heat the top pan. The bottom pot should not be so full that the top pot is resting in or on boiling water. If you don’t have a double boiler – or one big enough for this huge recipe – do what I do: Set a large bowl over a pot that contains boiling water – enough that allows the bowl’s bottom to touch the sides of the pot’s top – but make sure the top pot is suspended over – NOT IN – the pot’s water).
Gosh, I hope that makes sense. Why all this double-boiler talk? Well, let’s say you skipped the double boiler part and just set the pan directly on the burner to cook the lemon curd. Nine times out of 10 the direct heat would scorch/curdle/ruin the delicate lemon-egg mixture. Yes, I have made lemon curd (and its cousin, hollandaise sauce) directly on a burner, but it’s a very risky procedure; more so even than shopping at my unSafeway after midnight. Cooking lemon cured directly on a burner requires a very low heat, constant stirring, and that ice-bath emergency back-up. If you want to cook dangerously, go for it. Let me know how it turns out.
In the top portion of a double boiler/bowl, whisk the sugar, salt, zest and lemon juice until blended. Add the ginger mixture and stir well. (This part – especially if you’re using the bowl-over-a-pot method, requires a sturdy pot-holder. Also, be careful to not burn yourself on the steam from the bottom pot.)
Add two of the cubes of butter and stir. (Reserve the third to help cool down the curd toward the end to keep it from curdling.)
When the mixture is hot, turn down the heat until the water is simmering. See above where we needed beaten eggs, set aside in a bowl? Into the beaten eggs carefully ladle some of the hot mixture, a tiny bit at a time, to slowly adapt the eggs to the hot liquid. Keep adding a few more spoons of the liquid to the egg, a little at a time, until the egg mixture is quite warm. Add the whole egg mixture into the remaining hot mixture on the stove.
Stir constantly until the mixture starts to thicken. Be patient. As you stir, you’ll feel the subtle change in thickness. Add the last cube of butter and the vanilla. Stir some more until the butter is melted and incorporated into the mixture and the curd looks about the consistency of room-temp yogurt.
Be VERY careful about not allowing the mixture to curdle. If you notice any changes in the texture at all – especially if it’s starting to separate, remove the entire bowl/pot immediately from heat and plunge the bottom of the pan/bowl in ice water. Now immediately throw in a few pieces of cold butter (don’t worry, the curd can take it).
Strain the mixture to remove cooked egg bits and spent zest.
Makes about 4.5 quarts, or 9 pints, or 18 half-pints.