A brilliant English invention, this tart, lemony cream is truly irresistible!
Our trees are brimming with fragrant lemons and I made lots of marmalade with and without Seville oranges; I also made lemon liqueur, and this year I took the time and candied some peels (see recipe). I was inspired by the exquisite “tasty, bite size, fruit candy” my friend June Taylor–the marmalade-maker par excellence–makes!
Finally, the time has come to make my most favorite treat: lemon curd, with our lemons and the eggs from our neighbor’s coop.
The 19th century English recipes instructed to rub the lemons “well with sugar” to remove the zest with its fragrant oils. “This seems rather a curious thing to do; perhaps the zester or fine-grater hadn’t been invented, or maybe it was terribly difficult to lay one’s hands upon such a thing. It all makes perfect sense in the end though because the sugar in the larder wasn’t granulated in a bag like we get it now, but was a solid, long, tapering palisade – a sugar loaf,” I read in British Food: A History.
Unlike lemon marmalade, which keeps for years if properly sealed in sterilized jars, lemon curd cannot be sealed the same way; it is not solid but light and airy like a mousse. It needs to cool completely in the jars, and then the lids can be closed. Before refrigeration it only lasted for a week at the most, so English ladies made small batches regularly to serve with scones, to spread on toasts, or use as filling for the elegant lemon tarts.
You can also make tangerine, orange, or bitter orange curd, also a combination of various citrus fruits. You can also blend lemon juice and zest with other fruits, like strawberries or raspberries that you will mush in the blender. Although you could make a fruit curd with just about any fruit, lemon zest and juice is needed to compensate to cut the taste of the eggs, especially the intensely-flavored ones we get from our neighbors’ free roaming hens.
I make my lemon curd without butter because I like its intense lemony flavor. I even enhance it with a few tablespoons of my bitter-sweet lemon marmalade. Butter makes a smoother and creamier lemon curd, so it is up to your personal taste.
Also, I don’t pass the cream through a fine sieve as the classic French and old English tradition dictates. The occasional tiny lumps don’t bother me.
If you want to make more lemon curd, repeat the process, which only takes about 10-12 minutes. I have found that it is difficult to whisk and cook properly more than four eggs at a time.
See the Recipe: Lemon Curd with Lemon Marmalade