On an afternoon stroll, I saw a cardboard box outside a terrace house with bright yellow, knobbly citrus inside. There was a bit of paper stuck on the box that said ‘FREE / lemon and grapefruit’.
I took four at random. One was a large grapefruit, two that might have been large grapefruits or small lemons, and one very small lemon. They filled the house with a real citrus smell: intense, sun ripened on the branch, full of lush oils in the zest.
I thought about ways to celebrate this bounty, and remembered my first taste of lemon curd:
We were talking to a friend’s neighbour, an immaculately flamboyant gentleman in an impeccably restored terrace house. Knowing our love of books, he showed us through his book collection. We marvelled at shelves of leather bound volumes and rare-ish editions, and tried not to stare at the jade-green peacock feathers, tropical fronds and other mad hatter-esque decor that crowded every wall and ceiling. As a finale, he took us into the kitchen and gave us each a spoonful of quivering, pale golden lemon curd he was serving at dinner that evening.
Since then, lemon curd – really tart lemon curd – has had an allure associated with that impeccable, mad hatter-esque house.
Alice Medrich’s no-butter curd
The curd uses simmering citrus and sugar syrup to temper the eggs before heating the mixture to a jelly-like consistency. Instead of a double saucepan, I used a heat mat to diffuse the heat with no problems.
For this batch, I used the grapefruit and added lime zest. Without butter, the curd was slightly translucent, with intriguingly suspended lime zest. The taste was punchy and on the tart (almost mouth puckering) side. It looked and tasted a little like a muddled cocktail, sans alcohol.
My only gripe is the addition of lime zest gave the curd a slightly green tinge. Perhaps a recipe for St Patrick’s Day?
David Lebovitz’s improved lemon curd:
This recipe had the attraction of simplicity. All it tells me to do is mix everything together, melt and gently cook over low-medium heat. I erred on the side of caution, and cooked the lemon-sugar-egg mixture over low heat for a while longer than the recipe stated. Thanks to the heat mat, I avoided lemony scrambled eggs for the second time this afternoon.
The curd came together beautifully. The butter turned the curd a richer, denser yellow, and gave the perky lemon a soft comfy cushion to rest on. The lemons from my neighbourhood fruit tree were quite ripe so I used slightly less sugar than the recipe indicated. I also slightly reduced the amount of butter. This allowed the lemon flavour to really shine through, and the result took me right back to that mad hatter house with its bowl of pale golden lemon curd.
David Lebovitz called this ‘improved’ lemon curd because he made this with an ‘improved’ meyer lemon. I am pretty sure my neighbourhood tree is a non-meyer lemon tree, so does this mean my curd is the ‘original and still the best’?
Alice Medrich: Butter-less curd
(adapted from Chocolate and The Art of Low Fat Desserts)
Zest of 1 lime (or 1/2 lemon)
1/3 cup grapefruit juice
5 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
In a medium saucepan, bring the lemon juice, zest and sugar to a simmer.
In a separate bowl, whisk the egg until yolk and white are well combined.
Slowly pour some of the hot lemon juice over the egg and whisk to temper, return the egg/juice mixture to the saucepan and stir constantly over low heat for 5 minutes or until thickened. Stir through zest and vanilla.
Let cool and cover with plastic wrap before refrigerating.
David Lebovitz: ‘Improved’ lemon curd
1/2 cup (125 ml) freshly-squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup (65 g) sugar (or 1/2 cup, 100 g, if using regular lemons)
2 large egg yolks
2 large eggs
pinch of salt
6 tablespoons (85 g) unsalted butter, cubed
Place a mesh strainer over a bowl, and set aside.
In a medium saucepan, whisk together the lemon juice, sugar, egg yolks, eggs, and salt.
Add the butter cubes and set the pan over low heat, whisking constantly until the butter is melted.
Increase the heat and cook over moderate heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens and just begins to become jelly-like. It’s done when you lift the whisk and the mixture holds its shape when it falls back into the saucepan from the whisk.
Immediately press the curd through the strainer. Once strained, store the lemon curd in the refrigerator. It will keep for up to one week.