I want to tell you a story about my first time having lemon curd.
One day I was in San Francisco really early in the morning coming back from the airport, and I had some time to kill. So I decided to stop for breakfast. I pulled out my phone and did a quick google search for the top breakfast spots in the city. Luckily, my top hit was only a few blocks away. So I walked on over, and as I turned the corner, I nearly tripped over the half block line that was forming around this little cafe, my destination, situated innocuously in the middle of the block. I was discouraged. Should I leave? By now I realized I was actually really hungry, and even for the short while that I was in line, I was growing a pretty long trail of people behind me. Oh well, I might as well wait, it couldn’t be that long…fast forward to an hour later, and I was at the front of the line…Finally I could at least see into the restaurant. A host led me to my seat outside in a surprisingly large, beautiful courtyard. If it weren’t for the long line, I would have had no Idea this place was even here. But that’s just how San Francisco is, nothing on the outside, huge on the inside. It’s like you’re in a Harry Potter movie. Any way, I was looking over the menu, and everything looked good. As I was giving my order, the waiter cut me off. “You should get the lemon curd pancakes.” I thought it was kind of weird he was so blunt about it, plus I had been in line forever! I wanted to make this breakfast count, as it was a battle just getting to sit down. But he seemed so confident, I decided to give it a try. As he was walking away, I was thinking that lemon curd didn’t even really sound that appetizing. But it was too late now. So I sat and enjoyed having a table to myself while I people watched and enjoyed the courtyard. Finally, my meal came. A tower of still steaming pancakes accompanied by a bowl of some brightly colored yellow cream I assumed was the lemon curd. Now was the moment of truth. I smothered a fork full of pancake with the lemon curd, slowly raised it to my mouth, and gave it a try. And…i’m not kidding…it felt like time stopped for a moment. I know I was already really hungry, and anything would have been good , but it was not possible that something could be this delicious and I have never heard of it before. The silky texture and sweet citrus flavor that lingered on my palette completely blew me away.
I love having moments like that. Moments of discovery where you unexpectedly find something new and exciting. That feeling is actually the reason I love to cook. The memory of that lemon curd, along with a handful of other moments on my culinary journey, is something that I wall always remember.
So this is really a recipe close to my heart. The amazing thing about lemon curd is how simple it is. I found a few recipes online and toyed around with it until I finally was able to create my own formula. The trick to making lemon curd is in how you cook it. This recipe uses a technique called “tempering”. The idea is to cook something, usually eggs, to a specific heat as gently as possible to achieve the desired consistency. So the benefit of learning this recipe is twofold. On one hand you are practicing a technique that has a lot of benefits in other applications, and on the other hand you get to eat delicious lemon curd while you are practicing.
6 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup lemon juice
3 tablespoons Limoncello
1 stick butter, cubed and chilled
Set up a medium sized pot a quarter full of water and put it on high heat on your stovetop. while that is heating, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar in a large bowl. it will look lumpy at first, but keep whisking and it will smooth out. Once it has lightened in color and is looking luscious and rich, whisk in the lemon juice. This will thin it out quite a bit, but don’t worry, you’re still on the right track. By now the water should be at a boil. Turn the heat down to medium-high and place the bowl on top of the pot. The goal is to gently heat the egg mixture so that the egg yolks will thicken the mixture, not coagulate into scrambled eggs. This is called by the pro’s “tempering eggs”. By constantly whisking over the gentle heat of the steam, the heat will distribute evenly and slowly bring the egg mixture to the desired temperature of 180 degrees F. This will ensure that the lemon curd will be smooth, not grainy.
So here’s how I like to do it. Get your most comfortable oven mitt and an electric hand mixer. with a firm grip on the bowl, turn the mixer on low and mix away. If you have a probe thermometer, check every few minutes to monitor the temperature. We’re looking to see anywhere between 175 and 180 degrees F. If you don’t have a thermometer, that’s fine too. Just pay close attention to the texture of the lemon curd. It should start to look thick like cake batter. Once you see this texture, cook for 3 more minutes and it should be close to the mark. Once the lemon curd is at the appropriate temperature, remove from the head and stir in the butter and Limoncello. Let it cool down on the countertop for 5 minutes, then get it into an appropriate sized container. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly over the surface of the lemon curd so that it won’t form a skin, put a lid on it, and chill in the refrigerator. This is an important step, believe it or not. Cooling it down in the fridge will give us maximum texture, plus smooth out the flavor. Once it has cooled down for a few hours, enjoy on cake, pancakes, bread, or even just by itself!
Lemon curd is delicious to make, and pretty easy to master. Once you have made this a few times, there are a ton of other similar things you can make with the same technique of tempering your eggs such as Zabaglione, hollandaise, and even vanilla Ice cream! So give this recipe a try and let me know how yours turned out.