Monday, March 21, 2011

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Meyer Lemon Curd

It’s a blustery, cold day in San Diego. We’re having what some call a mizzle: part mist, part drizzle, all wretched. Wet bamboo slaps against the tightly shut windows. With each opening of the door comes a gust of wind and little indignant protests arise to meet it. Our black cat has wedged herself between couch pillows, one arm thrown over her eyes: a musty-smelling shadow grunting the majority of the protests.

Back in the kitchen, I’m insulated from most of this, but a glance out the back door reveals heavy grey clouds. We’re grilling steaks tonight. Coldness cascades off the door’s glass panes. A roast may have been a wiser option. Before my tea grows cold, I’ve got a new pot brewing. It’s been going like that for hours. But tea alone is a thin fuel, so I’ve pressed toasted English muffins and Meyer lemon curd into service to hold me over until the steaks are ready.

As I huddle inside and catch up on work at the kitchen table, that little jar of bright yellow spread brings me more happiness than it probably should. It’s my talisman against the cold, a reminder of warmer weather past and yet to come.

Mixing in the egg yolks
I’ve been making curds — and jams, jellies, marmalades, syrups, and other preserves — for the better part of two decades. As much as personal experience guides my dives into the preserving pan, I read just about anything I can get my hands for insight and ideas. Ingredient ratios for curds in particular are all over the board. In general, curds are sort of loosely-set custards or very thick sauces made of citrus sweetened with sugar and thickened with eggs and butter. Some recipes call for salt or water; some eschew citrus entirely for other flavors such as passion fruit. But you get the general idea.

A consultation of a few dozen sources revealed that proportions for those main ingredients, however, are all over the board for lemon curd. Six of those are presented in the following chart; Jane Grigson, Helen Witty, Emily Luchetti, Marion Cunningham, Alton Brown, and Alice Waters.

Various lemon curd ingredient ratios

The last column is my own working ratios for lemon curd. No water, no salt (though the barest amount, a knifepoint, would work), no egg whites. It borrows a technique from 19th century bartending coming back into vogue: creating an oleo saccharum, a sort of “sweet oil” by grinding together citrus zest and sugar. This extracts more flavorful citrus oils than merely zesting the skin into the mix.

Meyer Lemon Curd

2 Tbl lightly packed Meyer lemon zest (from 1-2 fruits)
1 c sugar
5 egg yolks
3 oz Meyer lemon juice
4 oz butter, cut into several small pieces

Make a double boiler by adding 1-2” of water to a medium saucepan. Bring the water to a simmer over medium-high heat.

Meanwhile, in a metal bowl that rests in the top of the saucepan (but does not touch the surface of the water), combine the zest and sugar. Grind them together with a cocktail muddler or a wooden spoon so that the sugar is thoroughly impregnated with the color of the zest.

Add the egg yolks and whisk to combine. Add the juice and whisk again until smooth. Place the bowl on the saucepan. Whisk until thickened, 8-10 minutes, or until the mixture coats the back of a spoon. Remove the bowl from the heat and stir in the butter, one piece at a time. Allow each piece to melt and become fully incorporated before adding the next. Pour into a clean container refrigerate.


Trid said...

So I'm not the only one who's made a "curd matrix." Yours looks eerily similar to mine, too.

Matthew Rowley said...

I suspect, with the publication of "Modernist Cuisine," we're going to be seeing a lot of such matrices in the coming two years.

Trid said...

Between that and Ruhlman's "Ratio" I can definitely see that.

Unknown said...

Huh, spring is clearly in the air.

I also made a lemon tart this past weekend, using the ripe Meyer lemons off the tree and a curd recipe from Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage cookbook. Nice, but the addition of butter didn't wow me as I thought it would.

You see, my go-to curd is from an Italian cookbook (scribbled down at a dinner party in London, which is why I don't have the author's name anymore--she says, wincing):
180 g superfine sugar
juice of 3 lemons
finely grated zest of 2 lemons
300 ml cream
4 eggs and 2/3 yolks (depending on how lavish you feel like being)

No butter at all. And fabulously seductive.

David Lebovitz recently put up a recipe for whole lemon bars that is simply incredible; whole being an entire lemon blitzed in the food processor, minus the seeds. I further amped the lemon, but that idea works a dream.

Latest 'bottling' here? Wild violet jelly...hey, rain or not, it's still spring.