You can’t read cooking blogs for very long without running into lemon curd. Usually it appears in a beautiful sunny soft-focus photo, in a little jar, possibly with a gingham fabric cover, or possibly open, with an adorable tiny spoon ready to dollop it onto a fresh-baked scone. I have to admit that ever since I saw my first photo of lemon curd, I was entranced. What is this magical substance, which seems to glow with its own light? People rave about it with something between reverence and fanaticism; if Pinterest is to be believed, every adult kitchen has a bowl of lemons on standby at all times, ready to whip up a few jars of curd at a moment’s notice. What the hell is curd, anyway? I went my entire life without ever hearing about it, and suddenly it was everywhere. In my 20’s, as I was just beginning to be more serious about cooking for myself regularly and was still not quite sure how to adult, I wanted to be one of these people for whom a quick batch of lemon curd was a casual, everyday thing. For whatever reason, in my mind it became more than just a condiment; it represented an elusive stability, preparedness, and self-sufficiency, which I was not sure I would ever achieve.
Now, I’m sure that at any time I wanted over the last ten years, I could have just gone ahead and made some lemon curd. There was absolutely no reason not to. It takes ten minutes and five ingredients. But somehow, the moment never seemed right.
So lemon curd was just on the back burner for me for a long time, occasionally popping up on Pinterest or in blogs, reminding me that it existed, was around, would be there when I was ready. And over the last couple of weeks, as the chaos has begun to calm down from our cross-continent move, as my fiancé and I start to feel settled in our house, as the summer (finally!) begins to arrive and we enjoy the warm breeze and birdsong through our open windows, as I start to feel like I’m at home in the right place with the right person and the right job and can finally, kind of, relax… I started to think, hey, lemon curd. Lemon curd sounds pretty good right about now. Maybe now’s the time.
I had this buttermilk scone recipe open in a tab in my browser for a couple of weeks, along with the lemon curd recipe, waiting to think of something else I could make to use up the rest of the buttermilk. Then the other day Dusty suggested that we should make our favorite baked onion rings recipe, which calls for a full quart of buttermilk, and I thought, yes! It’s go time. Let’s do this.
Now, I’ve had plenty of experiences that seemed a lot better in my head than they were in real life. Sometimes (most times?) the things you’ve built up in your imagination turn out to be a little duller or stranger or less satisfying than you expected. This is just a natural consequence of trying new things, and the lemon curd could easily have fallen into this category, and I’m sure the sun would have gone on rising and setting and I would have woken up to try another recipe another day.
But it didn’t.
It was amazing.
It was everything I wanted it to be.
It’s nice when that happens, isn’t it? I think it’s safe to say that expectation vs. reality, especially with regard to things discovered on Pinterest, is a bit of a crapshoot. But the lemon curd 100% delivered. The lemon curd + buttermilk scone combo, in fact, is basically unbeatable. As I took my first bite, all the rumors were confirmed; my mind was blown. It was like biting into a little piece of sunshine. Bright, tangy, and just sweet enough; a taste of concentrated summer.
As I was making it, I was seriously skeptical. I hadn’t taken a super close look at the ingredients list before (or if I had I’d forgotten), and I’m not sure what I was expecting, but this wasn’t it. It’s basically all egg yolks and butter. Which, on the one hand, didn’t seem like a bad start; those are both ingredients in lots of delicious things. But they seemed like a weird combination for a standalone condiment. I need not have worried; they came together easily into smooth, delicious lemony goodness.
Note: if you made baked onion rings earlier in the week and saved the egg yolks, now is the time to use them.
I did make some modifications to reduce the amounts:
– I put in less than 1/2 cup of sugar, instead of 1 to 1 1/2 cups as written, because my fiancé and I both tend to like things on the less-sweet side. This also let the lemon flavor shine through.
– I used “only” 6 egg yolks and 8 tbsp (1 stick) of butter, mostly because I felt like I was going to end up with an insane amount of this stuff otherwise.
I later discovered that another favorite food blogger has a similar recipe with more sensible amounts for a small household:
I will likely use this recipe going forward. The principles are pretty much the same. The key is cooking on low heat, and whisking constantly, to avoid overcooking your egg yolks. I was a little bit anxious about this, but it was not that hard and turned out totally fine.
I’ve been so focused on the lemon curd that I’ve barely mentioned the scones, which were amazing in their own right. Relatively quick to put together, with a great slightly-flaky texture and just a hint of citrus. I’m always nervous about doughs that require you to cut the butter into the flour, partly because my pastry cutter is horrible and frustrates me every time I use it, and partially because I’m never sure if or when I’ve crossed the line into overworking the dough. You need small pieces of intact butter to melt in the oven and create the flaky layers, so stirring or kneading too much will work in all the butter chunks and you won’t get that flaking; but underwork it, and the dough doesn’t stick together, and also you get big weird butter pools. Luckily, this dough must have been pretty forgiving. I actually remembered the egg wash (a thing I tend to forget at the last minute), and baked these for the full 25 minutes at 350 degrees, and they turned out great.
All in all, I couldn’t be more delighted. This is a breakfast that does take a little time and planning, but it’s hearty, festive, and totally soul-satisfying. Definitely worth the time. And I will be incorporating lemon curd into a lot more of my baking from now on.
Deliciousness score: 10/10
Easiness score: 8/10