Saturday, January 26, 2013

Homemade Lemon Curd and Cheesecake Squares

Photo by Rita Maas
I had never heard of lemon curd before I worked at Fine Cooking magazine, and when I did hear about it I was pretty sure I wouldn't like it.  Boy was I wrong.  Lemon curd is a traditional English spread used on bread, scones, crumpets and the like.  It provides a delicious juxtaposition between sweet and tart, with a luscious, creamy texture that's just irresistable.  It's brightness, both in color and flavor, just makes you want to smile.  On this side of the pond (that is, in the U.S.---must explain since many of you are FROM there but don't LIVE there!), we're more familiar seeing it on lemon merengue pie or on top of cheese cake.  You might also have tried delicious French Macarons, which often use lemon (or lime, or other fruit) curd as a perfect accompaniment in the middle of two tiny and deliciously light flavored merengue cookies. 

The gift I made for my friend...
Lemon curd, along with other citrus and fruit curds, is widely available commercially, but I am of the opinion, as are many others, that once you taste homemade you never go back.  There are many recipes out there, most calling for some combination of fresh lemon juice and zest, butter, sugar and egg yolks, whole eggs or a combination of both.  The amount of each varies on where you look and for what purpose you will be using the lemon curd.  The method used resembles how you make a custard (replacing the traditional milk with citrus juice), but truly is in its own category.

I was recently invited to a friend's house for afternoon tea and a play date, and since I never go to anyone's home without bringing something, I decided I wanted to try something new and interesting.  I had not had lemon curd since my days at Fine Cooking, and I wanted to tackle it again.  I basically used Fine Cooking's Lemon Curd Cake Filling recipe, but switched up the method after consulting their article on a non-traditional but apparently "Fool-Proof" Method.  I had enough to both take my friend a jar full as well as make Lemon Cheesecake squares.  It was so good I ate some right off the spoon, and also froze some for a later use, as lemon curd freezes excellently. (You should be able to spoon it out as you need it as it does not freeze solid.)  You can half this recipe if you don't need that much lemon curd.  Here's the recipe:

Squeezing and Zesting!
"Multi-Purpose" and "Fool-Proof" Lemon Curd
Recipe adapted from
Yields about 2 1/2 Cups
  • 8 oz (1 C, or two sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 C granulated sugar
  • 1 C fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 6 Tbsp lightly packed finely grated lemon zest (using a rasp grater, commonly known by the brand name "Microplane")
  • Pinch salt
  • 12 large whole eggs (I used whole eggs as I wasn't going to use the whites for anything else at that moment and didn't want to waste them!)
  1. Mix lemon zest with half of the sugar and pinch of salt using a spice grinder or small food processor, or just by hand as best you can.
  2. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, cream the butter on medium-high speed, then add the sugar/lemon zest mixture and cream together with the butter until fluffy.  Add the remaining sugar and cream again. 
  3. Beat the eggs in slowly (a couple at a time).  Once well combined, add the lemon juice and mix until combined.  At this point, your curd may look "curdled", but don't be alarmed.  It will cook up smooth.   
  4. In a stainless steel, anodized aluminum, or enamel sauce pan (not plain aluminum or unlined copper), heat the lemon mixture over medium-low heat, stirring often with a wooden spoon.  Make sure you use your spoon to scrape along the seam where the bottom and sides of the pot meet.  
  5. Cook your curd until it thickens significantly and reaches approximately 170 degrees Fahrenheit.  You can use any probe thermometer to measure the temperature.  Make sure your curd does not boil as this will cause your eggs to curdle.  When it's ready, your lemon curd should coat the back of a spoon and when you run your finger across the spoon, it should leave a clear path.  This is known as medium to heavy nappĂ©.
  6. If you see that you have some bits of curdled egg white in your pot, you can strain your lemon curd through a fine-mesh sieve, but usually that is not necessary.
    Checking the temp of the
    curd while it cooks.
  7. Regardless, remove your lemon curd from the pot and let cool to room temperature before using or storing in the refrigerator or freezer.
Lemon Cheesecake Squares
Photo by Scott Phillips
As I mentioned above, I also used the lemon curd over cheesecake squares, which were a HUGE hit.  Make your lemon curd as directed above (a full recipe yields 2 1/2 Cups and a half recipe 1 1/4 Cups) and use 1 Cup of it as directed in this recipe for Lemon Cheesecake Squares, found on Fine Cooking magazine's website.