The first thing I ever cooked was lemon curd. Or perhaps I should say the first thing I ever deliberately cooked was lemon curd. I’d managed to survive before that on quasi-cooking: boiling supermarket ravioli and heating up shop-bought sauces. I’d even baked the odd cake for a coffee morning, with mixed success. But lemon curd was the start of my falling in love with cooking.
Cooking curd is one of those little bits of kitchen magic: the instructions are simple, the ingredients few, but it can feel while you’re making it that you perhaps aren’t getting it right. Until, suddenly, it just works. The mixture goes from terribly liquid and almost translucent to heavy and silken, and the fragrance hits you, sharp and rich all at once. Sometimes, when I’m feeling a little disillusioned with cooking, I’ll make lemon curd to remind myself just how satisfying a little bit of quiet stirring time can be.
Curd should be zingy and zippy; the stuff you get in shops, while thicker and more spreadable, tends to be milder in flavour. I must have tried a dozen different curd recipes and methods, but this is my favourite. It’s pretty thick for a homemade curd, and creamy, but the sharpness comes through delightfully. The slow cooking means that you’re far less likely to curdle or scramble your eggs and get lumps (although, if you do, just pass the mixture through a sieve before you beat in the butter).
I use this curd in absolutely everything I can: cakes, tarts, roulades, buttercream, sandwiched between biscuits, spread onto bread before making a bread and butter pudding. But of course, the simplest way is the best: spread onto really good, hot toast. This will keep in the fridge once made for one to two weeks, but it won’t last that long if your household is anything like mine. It goes like this…
Makes: 250g lemon curd
Takes: 15 minutes on the hob
Bakes: No time at all
Zest and juice of 3 lemons
50g butter, very soft but not melted
1. Fill a small saucepan half full with water and place over a medium heat. Place a glass or metal bowl on top of the saucepan. Zest and juice the lemons into the bowl and add the sugar. Heat until the sugar has dissolved, then sieve to remove the zest, and return the sugar and juice mixture to the bowl – use oven gloves or a thick tea towel, the bowl will be surprisingly hot.
2. Add the eggs to the sugar and juice, breaking them up with a small whisk, and begin stirring, allowing the heat from your pan of hot water to gently cook the eggs. The key here is to be slow and steady: the curd will thicken, but it will take time, and you need to be stirring and keeping an eye throughout. Once the mixture visibly thickens and feels heavy on the whisk, remove it from the heat and set it to one side.
3. Allow the mixture to cool enough so that the bowl does not feel warm, then whisk in the very soft butter in small inclusions, until there are no streaks.
4. Spoon the curd into a sterilised jar, seal it and refrigerate.