When I was 11 years old, my cousins in Walnut Creek, California sent us a jar of homemade lemon curd. They kept chickens in their backyard, had lemon trees out front and so made jars of curd using these homegrown ingredients to send to friends and family for the holidays. It was love at first taste.
For a couple days, I kept up the charade of sharing this sunshiny jar with my parents and sister, dolloping scant spoonfuls onto toast like everyone else. However, on the third day, I couldn’t continue to resist. I removed the half-full jar from the fridge, snuck to my room and ate the balance of the jar a spoon while reading a book. I am not to be trusted when it comes to lemon curd.
Speaking of meyer lemons. One of the magical things about Southern California is that they just grow on trees there. I was born in Los Angeles and for my first nine years lived amidst that magical bounty. Our Hawaiian mailman taught me to eat the tender blossoms from the the guava tree along our front walkway and my grandma Bunny had a tree that produced heaps of sweet/tart Meyer lemons each year (my mom used to squeeze them and freeze the juice into ice cubes).
Having lived in colder climates for the last 21 years, I am startled when I am reminded that there are places where people can just walk outside and pick citrus (and that I was once one of them).
For those of you who have yet to taste a meyer lemon, they’re thinner skinned and sweeter than your typical lemon. They are also intensely fragrant, and give this curd a lovely, delicate taste/aroma.
Making curd is time consuming, but once your ingredients are all assembled, it goes quickly. This basic recipe makes just a single pint, but happily you can easily double or triple it without any ill effects. Separate six eggs, tucking the whites into a jar for later use (I’m thinking of making a batch of meringue cookies tomorrow).
Zest three juicy meyer lemons (make sure to pick ones that seem heavy for their size). Juice the lemons (always buy one extra, in case you don’t get quite enough juice).
Measure out 1 cup of sugar and set a heavy bottomed pot over low heat. Whisk the egg yolks together with the sugar. Pour in the lemon juice, add the bits of zest and switch to a wooden spoon for stirring (using a whisk past the initial step will aerate your curd and your final product won’t be silken).
Don’t worry if your curd looks texturally weird during cooking, a quick trip through a fine mesh sieve at the end ensures that the finished curd is perfectly silky.
When the sugar, egg yolk and lemon juice have thickened (it takes 10-15 minutes of cooking over very low heat and near-constant stirring to get to this point), stir in the butter until it’s melted. Remove the pot from the heat and pour the curd through a mesh sieve that you’ve perched over a glass or stainless steel bowl.
Gently work the curd through the sieve with a wooden spoon, removing the bits of curd and any curdled bits of scrambled egg.
You can process lemon curd to make it shelf stable, but it doesn’t have the shelf life of other jams and preserves. You won’t want to keep it more than two months (but with something this good, I truly doubt you’ll have it hanging around that long). Process half and quarter pints in a boiling water canner for 20 minutes (starting the timer when the water returns to a boil so that they get the full effect of 20 minutes of boiling water processing).
For those of you who like recipes in a traditional format, sans narrative, it is after the jump.
- 6 egg yolks
- 1 cup sugar
- 3 meyer lemons, juiced (you should get a generous 1/2 cup. Make sure to strain it, to ensure you get all the seeds)
- zest from the juiced lemons
- 1 stick of butter, cut into chunks
- In a small, heavy bottom pot over medium heat, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar.
- Add the lemon juice and zest and switch to stirring with a wooden spoon, so as not to aerate the curd.
- Stir continually for 10-15 minutes, adjusting the heat as you go to ensure that it does not boil.
- Your curd is done when it has thickened and coats the back of the spoon.
- When you determine that it's finished, drop in the butter and stir until melted.
- Position a fine mesh sieve over a glass or stainless steel bowl and pour the curd through it, to remove any bits of cooked egg and the zest.
- Pour the curd into two prepared half pint jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace. If you want to process them for shelf stability, process them in a boiling water canner for 20 minutes (start the time when the water returns to a boil).
- According to So Easy to Preserve, it is best to process only in half-pint jars or smaller, as they allow better heat infiltration.
- Eat on toast, stirred into plain yogurt or straight from the jar with a spoon.
Update: While there are still instructions in "So Easy to Preserve" about canning citrus curds, current conventional wisdom has us moving away from water bath canning anything with dairy in it. What's more, I find that the texture of this curd is better when it is preserved by freezing rather than canning.
Adapted from "The Martha Stewart Cookbook"