Ah, Curd

Now that Patriots’ Day is over, it’s Curd Week in my kitchen. When I was at the Cambridge Library checking out Dessert University and Roses’s Heavenly Cakes, I also spotted Sherry Yard’s The Secrets of Baking. I’d never heard of it, but with a title like that, how could I resist? Sherry Yard is the executive pastry chef at Spago. The book is organized into types of pastry or pastry components, such as pâte à choux, laminated dough, or caramel.

The third chapter is Curd, and lemon curd is one of my favorite things, so I’m starting there. There are different formulas for lemon curd, but they’re similar: Lemon juice and zest, eggs or egg yolks, and sugar are whisked together and cooked, then butter is added. I tend to omit the butter because I find it takes the edge off the lemon. I add water and cornstarch to the formula and I stir in the lemon zest at the end because that’s how I learned to make lemon curd for lemon meringue pie.

I find most recipes use too little lemon juice and too much sugar for my taste. My usual formula is some multiple of ⅓ cup of sugar, 1 T of cornstarch, ¼ cup of lemon juice, ⅓ cup of water, and 1 egg or yolk (depending on whether I want the whites for meringue or not). I whisk the sugar and cornstarch in the saucepan, stir in the lemon juice and water, then whisk in the eggs and cook that over medium heat until it thickens, which takes about 10 minutes, then stir in the lemon zest. It’s pretty quick and easy and there’s not much to clean up.

Tonight I got some organic lemons and limes at the Harvest Coop in Central Square, Cambridge. They also had Meyer lemons ($6.99/lb!), so I got one to find out what it is. Meyer lemons are smaller and darker, and the skin is smoother:

Meyer lemon on the left and Persian lemon on the right

Meyer lemon on the left and Persian lemon on the right

I can’t say I’m enthusiastic about the Meyer lemon; it tastes different, but it doesn’t taste better to me. I like that sharp, bright flavor of the Persian lemon. I’ll use the Meyer lemon, though.

Sherry Yard’s Master Lemon Curd calls for

⅔ cup sugar
2 T lemon zest
3 large eggs
4 large egg yolks
½ cup lemon juice
¼ cup lime juice
4 T butter, cubed

So that’s different right there. You dump the sugar and zest in the food processor and process that for 1 minute because that helps release the oil from the zest. Then you put that in a bowl with the eggs and yolks and whisk those together. The bowl goes over simmering water, and you whisk until the sugar is dissolved, then add the lemon juice and whisk until the mixture thickens and reaches 160℉, at which point it should have the consistency of sour cream. She says it should take about 5 minutes, but it took me longer—maybe 8 minutes.

Once it hit 160℉, it got pretty stiff:

Lemon curd at 160℉

Lemon curd at 160℉

Then you return the curd to the food processor and add the butter, one cube at a time, pulsing after each addition. Finally, you turn the curd into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and chill in an ice bath. With the butter added, it’s pretty creamy:

Lemon curd with butter incorporated

Lemon curd with butter incorporated

The curd was nice and lemony before I added the butter, and it was still nice and lemony after I added the butter, so that’s good. This is a ton of work, though, and a major amount of cleanup! I really can’t see making this version when I just want to whip up a tart. However, at the end of the recipe she says you can use this to make a tart: “Pour the finished curd into a prebaked tart crust. Bake for 15 to 25 minutes in a 350℉ oven, until the top is set.” So I think that’s what I’ll do with this batch of curd and see if it’s better than my usual quick and easy version. This version might be worth the work for a spread on brioche or some other extravagant application.

She also gives a variation for blood orange curd, and I got some blood oranges today, too. I was astonished to see them, because the season is over now; I have no idea how they are, but I’ll find out when I take a stab at blood orange curd, which I think will be tomorrow.

Rose Levy Beranbaum: Rose’s Heavenly Cakes. Hoboken: John Wiley, 2009.
Roland Mesnier: Dessert University. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004.
Sherry Yard: Master Lemon Curd. In The Secrets of Baking. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003, pp 75-76.


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