*** WE INTERRUPT THIS PROGRAM FOR A TEST OF THE EMERGENCY DESSERT SYSTEM ***
We were going to talk trips today. And beans and greens and kids and whatnot. Next week. This week, we have much more pressing matters. Vital, I'd argue. As in, meanings 3-7 in the official definition, the ones that contain phrases like "necessary to life" and "affecting well-being". Because it dawned on me last week that there might be one or two among you who doesn't know The Nifty Trick. Or, worse yet, the elixir behind The Nifty Trick. And obviously, this won't do, and constitutes an emergency of the highest order, and so everything else will just have to wait.
First things first: Do you know lemon curd? Because to know it is to love it, and to love is is to long for it, and that whole business about absence and fonder hearts is pure poppycock. At least where curd's concerned. (Curd's new to you? Well. Toddle off to the store for a sack of unsprayed lemons, three if they're jumbo, four if they're average. Right now, I mean. Everything else, butter, eggs, sugar, you have on hand, already. Go ahead. I'll wait.)
Lemon curd and I go way, way back, and I have my mom to thank for that. Maybe she packed it in my Montessori lunch box. Maybe she mixed it into my rice cereal. Heck, maybe she started slipping it to me in the hospital, one pinky-tip at a time, when the nurses' backs were turned. I keep meaning to ask. I don't really know. All I know is that she introduced it to me early on, so early the when's lost in the fuzzy early bit of my memory. But the how, or rather, the oh, how I love it so!, that part's tack-sharp.
Technically, curd's a funny critter. Its texture brings to mind a pudding or custard, silky and smooth and the bareliest bit wobbly. But it contains no cream or milk, nor flour of any kind, making it another matter altogether, ingredient-wise. In place of the dairy's a big glug of fresh juice, in this case lemon, though other citrus works, too. (Lime is lovely; orange and grapefruit, not bad. I made cranberry once, a Nigella fillip. Its flavor disappointed, but my, what a sight.) And because curd is a more-is-more sort of affair, a heap of fresh zest goes into the pot, also. You begin to get the idea. Plato does pudding: no cloying, all ZING! The world's best lemon bar, less the pesky distraction of a crust. Tart, smart, unctuous, suave. Edible gold. Sunshine, distilled. Did I mention I love the stuff?
What I loathed, for a very long time, was the making of it. Specifically, the first commandment of every curd recipe, which reads something like, "Get thee to a double boiler!" And stay there, standing and stirring, for twenty minutes or more.
Constant vigilance and little kids aren't even close to compatible. I can hardly plead curd when I've a toddler recuperating (again) on my hip, and Mr. LEGO's running an auto-assembly line, square in my triangle. Then again, curd's a tightrope walk, twenty floors up. Whisper *heat* to all those eggs, unbound by any starch, and they quickly go sideways, bolt without mercy. Scramble's the word, though #@!($*@! is more like it. For years, even when I stirred my curd constantly (not occasionally) in a bowl set over (not on) simmering water (not boiling), I always ended up with jiggly white strings mucking up my dreamy yellow. Egg drop soup is lovely, but not in my lemon curd.
Enter Elinor Klivans. Or rather, Elinor Klivans' hairdresser, who passed on what is perhaps the best bit of advice in the history of hair-cutting counseling: blend your ingredients first. I tried it, stuck my stick blender right into the slurry. It worked. I doubted, tested, abused. I put the pot right on the heat. Still perfect. Turned the heat to medium. Mm-hmm. Then a few ticks past. Ditto. I whisked, when and if I remembered. You guessed it. I've made more rounds of curd than I can count since I learned The Nifty Trick. I have not, could not, gin up any strings. Not a one. You know I've tried.
Why this succeeds is up for debate. Harold would probably point to the blender's efficacy in breaking down the eggs' albumen, destroying its molecular chains and preventing the coagulation of whites into solids. I would point out that we showed 'em who's boss. Whatever. Walk brazenly, and carry a big stick blender. Works every time.
What's that? What to do with your handiwork? Oh HO! What not to do? Pour the whole puddle into a blind-baked short crust, for a fine lemon tart. Stir a half cup into one whipped pint heavy cream; spread another cup thickly between two light cakes; frost the outside with the pale yellow fluff; and make a gold lake of the last bit on top. Behold! Lemon layer cake, second-to-none. Make a fool, or a trifle, or a bright zippy Mess. Slather it on scones. Spread it on toast. Fill sandwich cookies. Fill old shoes. It's all good. Last weekend, we filled some little egg-shaped almond pound cakes. They were cute and fussy and temperamental and alright. Though I couldn't help longing for my favorite curd dish.
It doesn't really need a recipe, my most favorite way, but I'll give it to you anyway, just in case: Grab two bowls, and two spoons, and one fine friend for company. Fill your bowl full as you can, and spoon up the sunshine, exactly as-is. Have seconds ready, if your friend's name is Henry. Call it Vitamin C, if you wish. Dessert, if you must. Lunch, if you dare. What matters is that when you next make curd — and when it comes to making curd, there's no if, only when — I hope you'll try it straight-up, also.
Foolproof Lemon Curd
Adapted from Elinor Klivans, 125 Cookies, and Claudia Fleming, The Last Course
Yields: 2 cups
Lemon curd freezes beautifully, oddly enough. Moreover, it stays pliable, meaning you can get a little fix immediately, as needed. If you want to use it in a dessert, defrost it a few hours in the fridge, then stir to smooth over. I always make a double batch.
I once read lemons are sprayed 7 times, on average, before they come to market. Since curd relies so heavily on the zest, conventional lemons make me queasy, here. Like I might as well call it pesticide curd. More money, organic lemons, but worth it in this one, I think.
Please note, you'll need a fine-mesh strainer (or regular strainer, plus cheesecloth). Pull out your microplane and stick blender if you've got them. Fine holes of a box grater and/or a standard blender make fine substitutes.
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (3-4 lemons)
1/4 cup freshly grated lemon zest, from organic lemons (2-3 lemons)
pinch of salt
4 Tablespoons salted butter, softened, cut into pieces
Wash and dry lemons. Zest lemons, measure out 1/4 cup of the zest, and set aside.
Juice lemons, and measure 1/2 cup. If you have a stick blender, add lemon juice, eggs, egg yolks, and sugar directly to a medium, heavy pot, and blitz 30 seconds or so, until mixture is smooth and no clumps of egg remain. (If using a standing blender, blitz juice, sugar and eggs on high for 30 seconds, then pour into pan.) After blending, add lemon zest and salt to mixture, then place pan on medium heat. Heat mixture for 8-12 minutes, whisking occasionally, until mixture thickens noticeably and coats the back of a spoon. Remove from heat, then whisk in butter, one piece at a time. Set a fine-mesh sieve (or cheesecloth-lined strainer) over a large, heat-proof bowl, and pour in hot curd. Strain curd (to remove zest), nudging as needed with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon. Remember to scrape free the nice slick of curd on the underside of the strainer. A spatula works fine, but a finger works far better. In my experience.