Friday, August 10, 2012

The Anniversary Cake Project: Lemon Curd

Additional installments of the Anniversary Cake Project:  lemon cake

Whew!  After baking 4 batches of cake, I went to bed and decided to work on the filling another day!  My dad just sat in the kitchen and watched his kitchen turn in to a bakery (his words) while the cake process was happening.  It really was a process and rest was needed before tackling another step!

Sugar and lemon peel in the mini-food processor
After some rest, I moved on to lemon curd!  I have a recipe for microwave lemon curd that I enjoy but I decided to try a stove-top lemon curd for this project.  Originally I thought I would only need to make one batch, but after making it once I decided I might as well make up another one.  It would be a real bummer if I ran out or had to do thin layers when the day comes to actually create these cakes, and is there such a thing as too much lemon curd?  I think not.  So, I made a second batch.

Creaming butter and sugar/lemon peel
The tricky part with most stove-top lemon curd recipes is that most of the time you need to strain them, as the egg cooks unevenly and tiny bits of cooked egg get in the curd.  Yuck!  This recipe avoids this gross predicament and creates a smooth lemon curd every time!

The secret is adding creaming the butter and sugar together first.  Often, lemon curd recipes call for beating the eggs and sugar first thing.  However, if you add the butter early on, the butter coats the egg and helps protect the egg from the lemon juice acid.  In addition, this recipe is mixed a lot with the mixer, and beating the heck out of the eggs denatures the egg proteins, which tempers them a bit so they will not curdle as easily when heated up.

Adding the lemon juice
Once the eggs are really mixed in, the lemon juice is added.  Don't freak out here, because the end result will look sort of curdled.  I promise it will not stay that way!

This is what the mixture will look like after the addition of lemon juice and salt.  Do not fear.  Pour it into a heavy based saucepan and set it over low heat.  You want it to heat slowly.  The butter will slowly melt and the random curds will disappear!

Within a few moments, you will have this smooth mixture!  It is a lemon curd miracle!  Keep stirring constantly until it thickens, which happens at around 170F.  You don't want it to boil, just slowly heat up.

It is done when it is nice and thick and reaches the 170F mark.  When you dip in a metal spoon, it will coat the spoon and leave a path where you drag your finger for a taste!  If you scroll up and see the top photo, you might notice some bumps on the spoon.  They are not yucky curdles.  That is lemon zest that is bigger than it should probably be.  I used my mom's blender attachment thing to chop the lemon peel and sugar for the first batch, following the recipe's instructions.  This contraption didn't work as well as I wanted, so I changed things up on the second batch.  For this batch, I used a micro-plane to get the lemon zest really small, and then mixed it in with the sugar until all of the sugar was coated with the lemon oils and smelled nice and lemon-y.  Then I creamed it with the butter as with the original batch.  There were less lemon zest bumps in the second batch.  I mixed both batches together so it will be consistent!

Lemon Curd
adapted from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook
3 large lemons
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 stick (1/4 lb) butter at room temperature
4 large eggs
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

Using a carrot peeler, remove the zest from 3 lemons, being careful to avoid the white pith.  Put the zest and sugar in a food processor fitted with the steel blade.  Pulse until the zest is finely minced into the sugar.

Cream the butter and sugar/zest mixture until fluffy.  Add the eggs, 1 at a time, and then add the lemon juice and salt.  Mix until combined.  Do not worry if it looks curdled at this point!

Pour the mixture into a 2 quart heavy saucepan and cook over low heat until thickened (about 10-15 minutes), stirring constantly.  The lemon curd will thicken at about 170F, or just below simmer.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool before refrigerating.

Tightly cover the lemon curd and put it in the refrigerator, where it will keep for about a week.  Or, put itinto the freezer.  It doesn't freeze solid so you can spoon out whatever you need whenever the desire for lemon curd hits!
Printable Recipe

Here are some of my favorite ways to use lemon curd:
  • Use it as filling in a cake!
  • Put it on your toast in the morning.
  • Make a lemon parfait with lemon curd layered with a whipped-cream/lemon curd mixture OR with lemon curd and vanilla ice cream.
  • Make some pie dough and put it into muffin tins.  Fill with lemon curd and bake for about 15 minutes at 325F. Top with whipped cream or powdered sugar.
  • Use it as a dip for pretzel sticks.
  • Spread it on cookies for a cookie sandwich.
What are your favorite uses for lemon curd?  

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