Before I had ever tasted lemon curd, I was already in love with it—well, the idea of it, at least. I imagined it as a condiment eaten over crumpets by posh Brits alongside a cup of English breakfast tea. In this fantasy, I imagined myself looking out of a window at Buckingham Palace, naturally. In reality, I was in Minnesota, where crumpets are few and far between and lemon curd is even rarer. It seemed so foreign that I had never even thought to search for it.
One day, while in college, it found me when I saw it on the shelf of a local health foods store. Despite my pitiful college budget, I splurged and found the nearest spoon—an intense lemon flavor coated my taste buds and blew me away. The jar was empty almost as soon as I had found it. Seeing as how my budget wouldn't allow me to buy more, I had to strike out on my own—and the results were far better than the store-bought version. The lemon bang was there, but this time, it was smooth and tangy rather than slightly bitter and tart. This time, the love was real—and it was here to stay.
Lemon curd is the result of a beautiful chemical reaction that comes from cooking and whisking egg yolks, sugar, and lemon juice. Lemon zest and a pinch of salt bring out the lemon flavor and butter smooths it out. The transformation of the curd, from watery yolks to the thick condiment of my dreams, is fascinating to watch. And, if you squint really hard, you might even be able to see Big Ben from your kitchen window.
3 lemons 4 egg yolks 3/4 cup sugar 1 pinch kosher salt 6 tablespoons butter, cut into 1-tablespoon pats and chilled
Add the zest from the lemons into a small bowl. Juice the lemons and measure out 1/4 cup of the juice, then add it to the bowl with the zest (save any leftover juice for another recipe). Then, fill a small, high-rimmed saucepan with water approximately 3 inches deep. Bring to a simmer over medium heat.
Meanwhile, in a heatproof bowl, whisk together the yolks and sugar together until smooth. Add the juice and zest mixture, along with the salt. Continue to whisk the mixture until it's well combined.
Once the water is simmering, place the bowl over the pot of water so that the bottom of the bowl is just above the water's surface. Whisk continuously until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon. This will take about 8 minutes if using a metal bowl, or up to 20 minutes if using a ceramic or glass bowl. Once the mixture has thickened, take the bowl off of the heat. Add the butter, one pat at a time, whisking each piece until it melts into the mixture.
Cover the lemon curd with plastic wrap so that the wrap lightly touches the top of the curd. Refrigerate overnight, or for at least 12 hours.
The next morning (if you can wait that long), take the curd out of the fridge and strain it through a mesh sieve, using a spoon to force the curd through the strainer. Discard the remaining zest in the strainer.
Store the lemon curd in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. Enjoy on top of baked goods, in a tart, or by the spoonful.