Curds: You Can Find Them Outside Iran and Wisconsin

I know, before you go get your undies in a bunch. The people are Kurds with a capital “K.” The version with a lowercase “c” is the dairy product you have when you add an acid to milk and get rid of the whey. (So, was Miss Muffet just eating yogurt when she sat down to eat a few curds and whey with her friend the spider?)

From here on out, we’re talking curds, lowercase “c.” And, in fact, we’re not really going to talk about curds in the truest sense of the word because today I want to go into fruit curds. Specifically, lemon curd because it’s spring and nothing says spring like lemon with tons of sugar added to it.

Fruit curds are the rich man’s jam (mostly because they used to take a bit of doing to make and spoiled pretty easily). They typically don’t have any milk in them at all (unless you throw a bit of clotted cream on top), but are made from butter and eggs, hence the spoilage factor before refrigeration became an easy thing to have. You make them like a custard except you don’t have to bake them at the end. That’s because a good fruit curd (in my opinion) should have a honey-esque quality. Easily spreadable but not too thin that it plops around.

Here are some helpful hints to making a fruit curd, and then I’ll share a pretty good recipe I found on epicurious.com that uses lemon curd in a tart. Yum!

  • Stir, stir, stir. Constant stirring is the key to not messing this up. Not only do you have to pay attention when you’re constantly stirring, but you’re less likely to burn the bottom of the curd to your pan.
  • Unless you have done this before, use a double boiler so you don’t accidentally burn the curd. (A double boiler is a sauce pan filled with your ingredients set over another pan filled with boiling water. It’s also a good way to melt chocolate.)
  • At the first sign of trouble (in the curd world trouble = scrambled eggs), remove your pan from the heat and stir like mad. In fact, I like to periodically remove the pan from the heat for a few seconds (still stirring) just to avoid scrambled eggs.
  • Use a stainless steel pot to make your curd. (This is especially true if you’re going to do anything with lemon. You need something that’s not going to react with all of that acid.)
  • Have all of your ingredients ready before you start cooking the curd. If there’s anything that needs to get stirred in at the end, you really need it measured out first (you know, since you’re going to be constantly stirring).

Lemon Curd Tart with Olive Oil

I only have an 11″ tart pan and the recipe calls for a 9-incher. (I know. I’m odd and I should get a standard size, but pshaw!) I made one and a half times the amount of the recipe and it filled my pan nicely. I’m going to go with the original recipe specifications here (although I rearranged some of the instructions). So, you should use a 9″ tart pan. You can also take a look at the recipe and other reviews at epicurious.com.

For tart shell:

  • 2 T almonds with skins, toasted and cooled
  • 3/4 C all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 C confectioners sugar
  • Pinch of fine sea salt
  • 1/2 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 3 1/2 T fruity olive oil (preferably French. I did NOT use French olive oil, but went with some lovely Italian lemon-flavored olive oil. It really does matter that you get something fruity. It’s a bit expensive and you may have to go to the fancy store, but it’s worth it.)

For lemon curd:

  • 3 large lemons
  • 3/4 C granulated sugar
  • 2 t cornstarch
  • 2 whole large eggs plus 2 large yolks (save all the left-over egg whites for omelets!)
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 2 T fruity olive oil (preferably French… just use the same kind you did above)

Make tart shell:

Pulse almonds with flour, sugar, and sea salt to a fine powder in a food processor. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal with some small (roughly pea-size) butter lumps.

Add yolk and oil and pulse until just incorporated and a very soft dough has formed.

Spread dough evenly over bottom and up side of pan with offset spatula. (Yeah, I don’t have one of those so I smooshed it in with my fingers. But I did it quickly because that butter’s going to melt on you.) Chill until firm, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile preheat oven to 425° with rack in middle.

Bake shell until golden brown all over, about 13 minutes. (I found that at about 10 or 11 minutes, the top tips of the tart [say that three times fast] started to brown and the inside was a spotty golden. Next time, I’d start the oven at 425° for pre-heating, but turn it down to 400° for the baking.) Transfer to a rack to cool completely, about 30 minutes.

Make curd:
Grate enough zest from lemons to measure 1 T, then squeeze 3/4 C juice from lemons. (Yes, you want to use fresh lemons. None of this bottled crap. Seriously, you spent all that money on the fancy olive oil and you can’t juice a few lemons? What’s wrong with you?)

Whisk together lemon zest and juice, sugar, cornstarch, whole eggs, and yolks in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly. Boil, whisking, 2 minutes. (This is where the scrambled eggs could happen. You know your stove, adjust heat as needed. And remember when you’re whisking, get all of the sides and the bottom of the pan. Making a figure 8 instead of going in a circle can help with this.)

Remove from heat and whisk in butter and oil until smooth. (See, you’re going to need that measured out.)

Assemble tart:
Pour lemon curd into cooled shell and chill until set, at least 2 hours.

Results

So, I thought it was good. Some people felt it was too sweet for a lemon tart (there is a ton of sugar), others felt it was a bit too tart (there are a ton of lemons). On balance, I would say that’s just about right. And, as always, apologies for my not so brilliant picture-taking skills.

Lemon curd tart on a plate with a few raspberries

Oh, that top is a bit of burnt. But alas, no one is perfect.

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