Lemon curd dates back to at least the early 19th century in England, but it’s changed a whole lot since then. It started not as the velvety, creamy confection we know and adore today. Rather, it was cream curdled (get it?) with the addition of lemon juice, then separated from the whey through cheesecloth.
Nowadays fruit curds resemble jams much more than cheeses. Curds differ from custards (like pastry cream) in that they hinge on fruit juice versus dairy, which makes them more tart and zingy affairs, though they are just as smooth and silky.
Any fruit that can be easily juiced can be made into a curd. Passionfruit is another favorite. There’s also lime curd, grapefruit curd, cranberry curd, and more—from mango and pineapple to pomegranate and tangerine.
To make a classic lemon curd, you’ll need only a few ingredients: egg yolks, granulated sugar, lemon juice and zest. That said, there are recipes for lemon curd that include butter, or egg whites, for an extra decadent result.
Depending on your nearest supermarket, you should be able to easily find and buy jarred lemon curd, but steer clear of those with added preservatives or thickeners. Or just make it yourself—it’s not hard, and the results are so good.
Here are a few places to get started.
This recipe from Alice Medrich is a foolproof method for achieving a silky, tangy lemon curd. Use this as your back-pocket go-to.
While most lemon curd recipes use granulated sugar as the sweetener, this one uses floral honey instead.
A certified-Genius method, which incorporates agar agar instead of eggs. This plant-based gelatin is a great thickener and stabilizer, derived from seaweed.
Now that you have your lemon curd, what are you going to do with it? There really are limitless possibilities for this timeless treat. Here are some of my favorites.
1. Serve with crepes.
Dollop with lemon curd and crème fraîche (or Greek yogurt or whipped cream).
2. Or with toast, crumpets, muffins, pancakes…
Anywhere you smear some butter and jam, ditch the jam and use lemon curd instead.
3. Swirl into breakfast buns.
Who doesn’t love pillowy breakfast buns? Serve these at your next brunch or picnic, and see guests’ eyes widen with delight at the lemony swirls.
4. Bake into flaky pastries.
These gingery lemon curd pastries are like grown-up Pop-Tarts. See if you don’t eat a whole tray in one sitting
5. Make lemon bars (of course!).
This classic hits all the marks: tangy, creamy, crumbly, and shareable. This riff from Rebecca Firkser uses preserved lemon for a salty, funky twist.
6. Turn into a tart.
Once you’ve made lemon curd, making this impressive-looking dessert is a cinch. Bake off a pastry shell. Once it’s cooled to room-temp, spoon in enough curd to fill it, swirl to the edges, then accent with berries or whipped cream, and chill completely.
7. Make brighter bread pudding.
Bread pudding is one of those bakes that—hooray—can do double duty as a breakfast or dessert. Add dollops of lemon curd as you fill the baking dish, then bake as directed in your go-to recipe.
8. Fold into whipped cream.
Whip heavy cream to soft peaks, then use a spoon to swirl in lemon curd. Still marbled, this is delicious with berries (or any dessert that wants to be topped with whipped cream). Or incorporate the mixture fully and put toward cream puffs, doughnuts, or trifles.
9. Sandwich some cookies.
What’s better than shortbread? Shortbread sandwiches filled with lemon curd! And don’t stop there—lemon curd makes a terrific filling for macarons and linzer cookies, too.
10. Have your cake and eat it, too.
There is always room for cake. Whether as the filling to a layer cake, or a bright addition to supple cheesecake, lemon curd is always a good choice.
11. Add to ice cream.
With the machine still running, once the ice cream is nearly ready, add a few spoonfuls of lemon curd. It’s that easy. You can also swirl in by hand once you’re transferring the ice cream from machine to container.
12. Shake up a cocktail.
Craft a whole new spectrum of tipples. Lemon curd adds both sweetness and acidity, so you can pull back or skip the more traditional sweetener (such as simple syrup) and acid (like citrus juice).
13. Or a vinaigrette.
Instead of freshly squeezed lemon juice and honey or maple syrup, lemon curd adds citrusy brightness and just enough sweetness. Whisk with olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper until smooth.
14. Roast a chicken.
Yes, lemon curd can even be used for dinner, too. In this recipe, its richness makes roasted chicken thighs even more sublime, adding sweet-puckery flavor contrast.
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