Saturday, September 17, 2011

On Lemon Curd (and how 'complicated' does not always equal 'better')

In 20 minutes, start to finish (at 11:30PM instead of sleeping) I just made a lovely lemon curd. As I was making it, I spent some time reflecting on previous lemon curd efforts, and thought, I'm glad I've now made enough lemon curd in my life to know that simple is best.

There are lemon curd recipes that require double boilers, eggs to be separated, and fancy lemons. In my ongoing "quest for the best," I did once turn a rare discovery of Meyer lemons in Saskatoon into Alice Waters' Meyer Lemon Curd. Alice Waters is a hero of mine, and if she recommends a lemon curd recipe, I'm going to assume it's going to be the best lemon curd I've ever tasted. While this has been the case with other recipes I've made from her Chez Panisse collection, it wasn't so with the lemon curd.

The Meyer lemon curd was very very good, but it wasn't good enough to justify the extra effort of separating eggs, finding uses for the egg whites, and so on. And basically, the recipe calls for milk as well, which seems to only be required to thin the mixture because the egg yolks thicken it too much. The dead-easy, no egg separating version from The Canadian Living Cookbook was just as smooth (in fact, smoother, because it seems to be more forgiving if you let it get too close to boiling, which I often do) and just as delicious, had a pleasing luminous yellow colour, and was perhaps more satisfying because it took less effort.

Sometimes it is worth the effort to undertake a fussy recipe. I often do so and will again. But there are so many culinary challenges out there that are truly difficult; so why make things any harder than they need to be? This, I confess, is one of the reasons I often run out of patience with Martha Stewart recipes. I usually cut out half of the steps and the results are still just as good as if I'd spent the extra hour and followed the directions exactly.

So here is my favourite Lemon Curd recipe. Rest assured I have done the research for you. No need to look elsewhere, or get any more fussy than this:

(from The Canadian Living Cookbook)
3 eggs, beaten
1 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. lemon juice
1 T. grated lemon rind
1/4 c. butter

In a small, very heavy saucepan, combine all ingredients. Cook at just below a boil, stirring almost constantly, until thick enough to thickly coat a spoon (I find the thickening process to happen almost instantly), about 15 minutes. The mixture will thicken as it cools. Store in covered jar in refrigerator.

Spread this on toast or scones, mix half and half with whipped cream to fill tart shells, scoop out of the jar with your finger, or use in any recipe that calls for lemon curd. Mine is an ingredient in my husband's birthday cake. More on that tomorrow.

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