Lemon curd: A fruit preserve that’s both sweet and sharp and with its golden yellow colour, like brilliant sunshine encapsulated in a jar. I can remember the first time I discovered lemon curd; YKL and I were still quite young and going through the cupboard, we found a jar of lemon curd which got a chorus of “ooooohs!” from YKL. Me, I’d never heard of the stuff and so couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about – And especially why it got such a reaction from YKL. Asking what lemon curd was, I got a response of “It’s like a lemon jam, but not a jam.” A jam but not a jam? Seriously, my 6 year-old self was full of conflict.
It’s only in recent years that I’ve rediscovered my love of fruit jams, preserves and conserves – There was a phase where I never ate any fruit jam at all (well, apart from marmalade on the rare occasion I had toast). It could be that I have a new-found appreciation of the craft of making fruit preserves and jams or even that my palate is more appreciative of a good jam bursting full of fruit rather than the sugar-loaded fruit jellies that I was force-fed as a child. Whatever the reason, I like a good fruit preserve with my croissants in the morning.
That said, lemon curd still had this odd metallic tang to it which I find partly addictive but equally so repellent. I kind of go to eat it and think “This tastes a bit metallic”, but at the same time go “oooh! lemon currrrrrd!” and carry on. However, all of this changed completely when I made my own lemon curd. I can’t remember what made me think of making my own lemon curd but I’m almightly glad I did. So, armed with an excess of unwaxed lemons which needed using up, it seemed right to dig up the ol’ trusty recipe from Delia here;
The recipe is incredibly simple: Firstly, lightly whisk 4 large eggs into a saucepan. To this, add 12oz caster sugar and 8oz of unsalted butter. The unsalted butter should be cut into cubes and at room temperature (well, it should be soft and not straight from the fridge). Finally, add the zest and juice of 4 unwaxed lemons. It really pays to get a decent zester in this case (I use a microplane) because well, you’ve taken the trouble to buy unwaxed lemons, may as well extract every part of the fragrant yellow lemon zest that you can. Oh, and I know this sounds really obvious, but leave out any pips or large clumps of the flesh in the mix – The flesh ends up making the finishes product quite bitter and awe all know how much of a shock it is when you bite into a pip of any sort from a fruit (never mind how it ruins the aesthetic look of the curd).
With all the ingredients assembled and in the saucepan, place on a medium-high heat. It takes no more than 10 minutes but here’s the important part: You’ve got to constantly whisk the mixture. Seriously, you cannae let the mixture be still for any moment otherwise it will catch on the bottom of the pan and so burn (thus ruin) your curd. What’s more, I like to move the pan around the flame a bit and also rotate the pan so that the heat is evenly distributed. Oh, and make sure you get into the deep corners of the pan with your whisk so that no one part is stuck to the bottom of the pan. I know, whisking continuously for about 8 minutes is quite hard work and you will feel like your arm is about to drop off, but that’s why you have 2 arms..
What will happen is that from starting off as a fairly liquid mixture with cubes of butter interspersed amongst it, the butter will gradually melt and with the action of the constant whisking, the mixture will thicken and gradually transform into something viscous in consistency. After about 8 minutes and the mixture is all gloopy and big bubbles popping around the edges as the mixture cooks. To check that the curd is ready, I dip the back of a wooden spoon lightly into the mixture and if I can drag my finger across the mixture on the back of the spoon leaving a clean mark whilst the rest of the mixture holds on the back of the spoon, it’s ready. Turn the heat down to the lowest setting and let the mixture burble for another minute, before pouring the mixture into hot sterilised jars. Seal the jars then let the mixture cool down and set – I like to leave it overnight in the fridge but if you really must, it’s good to go once it’s cooled down.
I know it’s a cliché to say that homemade is better than shop-bought, and that isn’t always true when it comes to some foods, but in the case of lemon curd it is absolutely right. Most shop bought lemon curds are lemony, but also quite sweet (and with that odd metallic tang), the consistency is quite thick and there’s hardly ever any zest in it. But this homemade lemon curd is much sharper (without the need to absorb your face afterwards), but the consistency is like a set lemon custard all wobbly and golden yellow. Open the jar and the first thing that hits you is the sweet lemon smell, lift out the yellow nectar and it’s only when you spread it that you see the lemon zest. Bite into it and the lemon curd is both tangy and sweet (with neither overpowering the other), it isn’t at all eggy or too buttery and believe me, it’s very moreish. Seriously, I would happily eat it straight from the jar or mixed with some natural yoghurt, but given it’s so easy to make (say for a bit of arm effort in zesting the lemons then whisking constantly whilst cooking the mixture), why take my word for it when you can try for yourself. But I’ll say it now, you’ll not go back to shop-bought once you’ve tried and tasted homemade lemon curd..
You can view the full set of photos on my Flickr page