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How Do You Keep Dairy from "Curdling" in a Recipe Containing Citrus?

Three years ago I made a Pashka, a low calorie treat for Easter dinner. Ingredients:

2 lbs. fresh farmer cheese
6 egg yolks
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 c. heavy cream
3/4 lb. (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 tsp. grated nutmeg
Grated lemon peel, grated orange peel
2 tbsp. Vanilla

That year I didn't have any oranges or lemons, so used dried lemon and orange peel. The Paska was awesome.

Easter 2009, confident of similar success, I made another one, only I used fresh orange and lemon zest. The resulting mixture was lumpy and somewhat "loose", not solid and smooth like the previous one. I attributed the mess to the fact I hadn't pressed the cheese thru a sieve and tossed the whole mess.

This Easter I tried again. I sieved the cheese, but the final product was still all lumpy and nasty. It tasted ok (but not as good as the first one) but the texture was downright unpleasant.

In retrospect I remember trying a recipe several years ago for something else containing dairy and citrue (in that case it was oj) and it looked like someone tossed their cookies in the bowl.

So my conclusion is the citrus is curdling the dairy. Yet every pashka recipe I find includes some sort of dairy and either oj or zest.

These experiments are getting expensive!

So, what is the trick to using citrus and dairy together?

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  1. I know nothing about this food, and will no doubt be wrong about this. Im thinking it is an issue of the liquid acid in the form of the oj. I watched it happen when making a cream sauce one night I decided it needed to be brightened and so I added a squeeze of lemon. The sauce when from smooth and creamy to looking broken and curdled.

    I'm wondering if you couldn't emulsify the eggs with the egg yolks? This seems to work well for suspending ore acids like vinegar.

    Actual knowledgable people: fire away

    1. Hi,

      I do know that adding citrus to dairy will curdle quickly and most often if the dairy is warm or hot. so one thing to try would be letting the rest of your recipe cool to room temperature or to cool in the fridge (if possible) before adding the citrus.

      I've also heard sometimes if you mix the citrus with another ingredient first and THEN add it into the rest of the recipe, it has less chance of curdling. Like mixing fresh squeezed lemon juice with vanilla and some sugar before adding into the butter and eggs for a lemon cake recipe. Does this make sense?

      Anyway, good luck. Maybe if you posted the directions for making the Pashka, someone could help with where you should add the citrus for best results.

      4 Replies
      1. re: nothingswrong

        The zest added with the last of the ingredients, after the egg yolks, sugar and heavy cream are heated (double boiler I hope) and combined with the cheese and butter and stirred until cool. A number of recipes I've seen use farmer and cream cheese, and put the mix into a food processor resulting in a very smooth texture. I can't understand how a small amount of zest added to eggs, sugar, heavy cream and cheese will cause it to curdle, citrus zest does not contain citric acid anyway, just essential oils. Nothing there to curdle the dairy. It's something else. Possibly if the OP posted the directions...are the eggs curdled?

        1. re: bushwickgirl

          That sounds a little odd to me too..the mixture is very similar to cheesecake to which I add citrus all the time in both liquid & zest form and I've never experienced this...seems like something else is off IMO..but it could have been smoothed out in the food processor or blender. Also, I'm a little thrown off by the OP's reference to the recipe being "low calorie"..butter, sugar, eggs, cheese, cream...low calorie?

          1. re: Cherylptw

            Yes, I do not think of Pashka as a low calorie dessert, unless the OP is using a low fat version of farmer cheese, but the heavy cream cancels out any calorie savings there. I've never had a cheesecake filling curdle with the addition of citurs juice and zest whether I used cream cheese, riccotta, cottage cheese or farmer cheese.

            The mystery deepens, hopefully the OP will respond.

            1. re: bushwickgirl

              Heavy cream, yes, plusd eggs and butter, some of my favorite high calorie foods, all make up most of the recipe!

      2. " I'm a little thrown off by the OP's reference to the recipe being "low calorie"..butter, sugar, eggs, cheese, cream...low calorie?"

        Great minds think alike! Tasty, rich, definitely. Use other sweeteners and very low carb.
        Definitely not low calorie, though.

        2 Replies
        1. re: mcf

          Geeeze! Didn't anyone see my tongue firmly planted in my cheek?

          1. re: al b. darned

            That's what emoticons are for. ;-)

        2. As requested

          I've never gotten any liquid when I drained it, so I stopped doing that step.

          I've also used this as a pie filling in a graham cracker crust.

          PASHKA

          2 lbs. fresh farmer cheese
          6 egg yolks
          1 1/2 c. sugar
          1 c. heavy cream
          3/4 lb. (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
          1/4 tsp. grated nutmeg
          Grated lemon peel, grated orange peel
          2 tbsp. vanilla

          With back of spoon, press farmer cheese through sieve or medium strainer.

          In mixer beat together egg yolks and sugar at high speed until a ribbon forms (about 5 minutes).

          Reduce speed, add cheese, heavy cream, butter, nutmeg, and citrus peel.
          Combine until very smooth.

          Add vanilla and additional sugar if desired.

          Line Pashka mold or flowerpot with dampened cheesecloth and add batter, fold cheesecloth over the top. Put a plate or flat cake round on top and weight it down (about 5 pounds) to compress the batter.
          Put the filled mold over an empty pot.

          Let drain overnight in the refrigerator. Remove the weight. Carefully invert mold onto a plate and lift off. Remove cheesecloth.

          3 Replies
          1. re: al b. darned

            Considering that nothing is heated, the acid in the peel shouldn't affect the turnout of your recipe. (Even if it was heated, I couldn't imagine the peel having too much of an effect) Perhaps your butter and cheese are too cold. I've had issues with lumpy desserts because I got lazy and used butter/cream cheese straight out of the fridge; they're unable to emulsify into the liquids.

            1. re: AndrewK512

              There is no acid in citrus zest, just essential oils. al b. darned, don't you heat the eggs, cream and sugar first, before stirring in the cheese? Maybe that's the deal, um, dessert breaker.

              1. re: AndrewK512

                I didn't let the cheese come to room temperature, but it pretty much comes to temperature during the sieving process.

            2. There is a lot more acid in lemon than orange so that may have contributed.

              Second, Once cream and citrus comes together, you can not let the concoction boil.

              I am not familiar with the item you are cooking but from the ingredients, I suspect you need to whisk it together in a bowl over a double boiler. You whisk it until it thickens slightly and becomes slightly warm to the touch about 180 degrees F.

              If it gets much warmer than 190 degrees it may curdle.

              1 Reply