Lemon curd is so delicious, so luscious, and so versatile that I'm sure it's what all good lemons aspire to be when they grow up. We can thank the English for this bright yellow curd with its tart, vibrant flavor, as well as for the wonderful notion of spreading it on scones hot out of the oven.
Made by gently cooking a mixture of fresh lemon juice, sugar, butter, and eggs until thickened, lemon curd is also divine on buttered toast, a simple and perfect way to appreciate the curd's cool, satiny texture. It makes an easy and delicious filling for tarts, cakes, and cookies. And a dollop of lemon curd tastes delicious with a piece of gingerbread or a slice of pound cake; its tart lemon flavor counters the spiciness of the former and the sweet richness of the latter. Pair it with a piece of thick Scottish shortbread and you'll appreciate how lemon curd can transform a simple, somewhat homely cookie into something wonderful.
A foolproof method makes the smoothest lemon curd
Lemon curd is easy to prepare, except for one pesky problem: it sometimes winds up with bits of cooked and curdled egg. This problem is especially common in curds that use whole eggs as well as egg yolks. Because the eggs whites cook at a lower temperature, they're more prone to coagulation. These cooked bits don't ruin the flavor of the curd, but a smooth texture will require careful straining, and quite a bit of the mixture can get lost in the process. It's also rather alarming, especially for the uninitiated, to see those white lumps form during cooking.
For years I tried to find a method that eliminated the need for straining the curd. I tried cooking the sauce in a double boiler, cooking it in a heavy saucepan, adding some of the hot liquid to the eggs to temper them, whisking the mixture, using more eggs, using fewer eggs. I thought of eliminating the whole eggs altogether and using just the yolks as some cooks do (since the whites are more troublesome), but I prefer the lighter, almost custardy results I get from using whole eggs. When I finally found the answer, it wasn't in my kitchen. It was at my hair salon.
I was getting my hair cut when my hairdresser, Mary Jane, told me that when she made my recipe for lemon curd, it didn't need any straining. There were none of the cooked egg-white particles I had warned her about. As she cut my hair, we went over how she made the curd. By the time we were finished, I had a new recipe for lemon curd as well as a new haircut.
Instead of simply combining the ingredients in the pan on the stove as most lemon curd recipes call for, Mary Jane mixed the ingredients as if she were making a cake. She creamed the butter and sugar until fluffy, beat in the eggs slowly, and only then did she add the lemon juice. The method works every time: the curd thickens properly, becomes satiny-smooth, and there's not one drop of cooked egg to strain.
Beating the eggs with the butter and sugar makes the curd especially smooth. This method eliminates the small bits of cooked egg that usually require straining.
Don't panic at the curdled appearance right after mixing; it will become satiny-smooth as it cooks.