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Sep 9, 2012 11:15 PM

Lemon Curd Questions

Hey everyone,

So I just finished another batch of lemon curd for a fruit tart, and while my history of lemon curd has mostly been pleasant, there are still a few things I struggle with.

My main issue is during the heating process. For me, my curd can never just get to the bright, bold lemony yellow that I see other people achieving. Also, though the texture passes the nappe test and it certainly looks like custard, it never has that almost translucent, gel like consistency lemon curd is known for. I only ever achieve these qualities after I put it in the microwave for 20 sec intervals or so.

I'd like to learn to achieve the desired texture and color the traditional way, any tips?

Also, is it normal for your curd to shrink after being heated? I notice that every time I do the microwave route, the volume has gone down quite a bit.

And why is lemon curd so much more stabler than hollandaise sauce when both contain most of the same ingredients? Does the sugar in the lemon curd help stabilize the egg?

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  1. Lemon curd is not generally translucent, to the contrary mine is always a creamy opaque, which I believe is due to the butter content. The filling for a lemon meringue pie is translucent, and maybe that is what you are hoping for, but it is not lemon curd. To obtain a translucent quality, as in lemon meringue pie, the filling should contain egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch (this contributes to the translucent quality), water, lemon juice and optionally, the lemon zest. The water in this type of lemon pudding could account for shrinkage, as the water content evaporates or separates out of the pudding.

    In contrast, Lemon curd, which is opaque, contains no water or thickener beyond egg yolks: egg yolks, lemon juice, butter, sugar, and optionally lemon zest.

    So the lemon stuff that is translucent isn't lemon curd. If you are actually making lemon curd and finding it lacks a translucency which you desire, that could explain it. Which lemon sweet are you actually cooking?

    6 Replies
    1. re: janniecooks

      Thanks for the reply. I am just making straight up lemon curd which I would then mix with cream cheese for a fruit tart.

      Maybe translucency is the wrong word to use. I know that lemon curd is opaque. What I meant to say is that the most lemon curds I've seen usually has a smooth, gel like quality to it. Like the lemon curd in this picture: . See how it almost looks like jello?

      Also, again, I can never achieve this colour w/o the microwave. Though the consistency is thick and smooth, and the taste is great, the colour is always very very pale. Tips?

      1. re: Purdys_99

        I looked at the picture, and that picure is not how my lemon curd usually looks. When I make it it is creamy, not jello-like, no translucency or gel-like quality at all. It is creamy and smooth, and a rather pale lemon yellow. You can't achieve a jello-like consistency and a dark yellow color with lemon curd. I don't have any issues when I make it so it is puzzling that you only get desired results using a microwave. I've never put lemon curd in the microwave and can't imagine a reason to do so. (edited to add: it is likely that the color of the egg yolks used affect the final color of the lemon curd. Some yolks are a very intense yellow-orange, and some are very pale. The paler the yolk, the paler the curd.)

        Maybe seeing a video will help. Here's one from joy of baking, and note the color and texture of the lemon curd on the first frame of the video, before you even play it - that's what I expect lemon curd to look like:

        Re: mixing lemon curd with cream cheese; if you're seeking a dark color be aware that the cream cheese will only further lighten the color of the lemon curd/pudding.

        1. re: janniecooks

          Thanks for your input. I think my lemon curd right off the stove is fine. My personal preference just want that bright lemony yellow and a more gel like texture. Also, yes, I'm a ware that mixing curd with cream cheese will dilute the colour:P. lol Thanks:)

        2. re: Purdys_99

          My guess would be you are not cooking it long enough on the stove. Try a thermometer.

          1. re: Purdys_99

            The one in the picture looks like someone added powdered gelatin to it. A bakery style "cheat" to add stability. Mine is creamy, not gel like.

            1. re: sbp

              I've seen lemon curds with both types of textures so I guess it depends on the recipe. I am able achieve this texture by heating mixture in the microwave every twenty sec intervals. I NEVER had to add gelatin and/ or starch.

        3. What is your recipe?
          The color comes from the Egg Yolks. If you use Pastured Eggs or all Egg Yolks You will get a brighter Yellow.
          I have never seen a classic Curd shrink like a Starch thickened pudding would. Does your recipe "cheat" by using Corn Starch or Flour?

          6 Replies
          1. re: chefj

   I use this recipe. Though my curd comes out smooth, It never seems to reach that beautiful lemon colour in the picture. And though I've gotten consistent decent results, I think the recipe is a little too buttery for my taste.

            The color from from the egg yolks do make sense. Thanks.

            For whatever reason, my curd shrinks DRASTICALLY everytime put in the microwave while it never does this on the stove. I'm guessing the heat of the microwave does a better job of cooking everything down and evaporating the liquid? I never had to add corn starch or gelatin.

            1. re: Purdys_99

              if that picture is true to color(which I doubt) It must be from Farmyard or Backyard Chicken Eggs which tend to have a much darker yellow color.
              The ratio seems right to me, my ratio is 4oz lemon juice, 6 yolks, .5c sugar 4oz butter
              The shrinking is weird but I have never used a Microwave to make Curd.

              1. re: Purdys_99

                If you are satisfied with the taste and texture of the lemon curd from the recipe to which you provided a link (I read it, sounds like a good technique), and from your replies it sounds like you've had success with the recipe, and just don't care for the color, perhaps neither the texture, then maybe you don't like Lemon curd. Lemon curd is what it is, the cooking method really doesn't affect the color, which is the result of the color of the egg yolks and the butter. The recipe and method I use is from Rose Levy Berenbaum's "The Pie and Pastry Bible", and the only difference between RLB's recipe and your linked recipe is RLB has you beat the yolks and sugar directly in the saucepan - no electric mixer required, just arm power. Stir in juice butter and sugar, like in your recipe and cook over med. low heat. That is the normal method. I suppose you could try making it in a double boiler, but you'd still need to stir it and it would just take longer.

                Why are you microwaving the curd? When are microwaving it? Finish cooking it on the range and be done with it. No microwave necessary, and if anything the MW would toughen the egg yolks further. I advise against it.

                I'm thinking you've got a good recipe that produces good results. Maybe lemon curd is just not to your taste?

                1. re: janniecooks

                  I'm picking up great tips for making lemon curd. I have tried a few recipes myself, and if you don't mind, I have a few questions of my own: I've noticed some recipes call for the whole egg and some call for the yolks only. I used yolks only, along with the lemon juice, zest, sugar and lastly, butter. Recipe said to slow cook over double boiler for about 15 minutes to get a thick, mayo like thickness. Well, I cooked and cooked and still couldn't get that thick consistency. I'm using it for a filling in cupcakes, so I need a thick stable consistency. If I used the whole egg, would that make it more stable? Do you have any other tips for me? thank you

                  1. re: Candacelee

                    According to Beranbaum, fruit curd thickens sooner (finished temperature is lower than 196 degrees F) with strongly acid fruit juice and less sugar, which she has accounted for in her curd recipes and variations. So maybe the recipe you're using has less lemon juice? My go-to uses 2 teaspoons zest, 4 egg yolks, 3/4 cup sugar, 6 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, and 4 tablespoons butter. The zest is added after the curd is done and removed from heat.

                    Making curd over a bain marie takes longer than over direct heat. Perhaps the temperature in the simmering water is too low? I prefer to cook over direct heat, using a heavy stainless saucepan and medium-low heat. Never had a problem with the curd not thickening, if anything I tend to cook it a bit too long so it becomes incredibly stiff, because I don't use a thermometer and rely on cook's intuition to know when to stop cooking it.

                    Using whole eggs rather than just egg yolks will alter the texture - just yolks make for a denser, creamier texture - and the coagulating temperature, since whites coagulate at a lower temperature than yolks. Using whole eggs is a kind of cheat, IMO, and I'm not sure it makes the making of curd any more foolproof than one with just yolks. I've never used whole eggs.

                    As to whether using whole eggs rather than just yolks makes curd more stable, I don't have an answer to that. It is my experience that lemon curd is very stable and can become very thick the longer it is cooked.

                    If you have an accurate thermometer, use that to determine when the mixture has thickened. Cook to 196 degrees F (though that temp makes for a rather stiff curd). Make sure the eggs are relatively fresh; don't use egg substitutes, use freshly squeezed lemon juice. Use the proper size eggs, consider weighing rather than measuring ingredients, as actual weight of eggs even of the same size can very. Also keep in mind that curd will thicken considerably as it cools. Other than that it would be helpful if you provided the exact recipe you're using that isn't working for you.

                    1. re: janniecooks

                      although i prefer using a double boiler, i use just yolks also and have never had a problem. even though i cook it til fairly stiff, it still thickens considerably as it cools.

                      sorry, am not home for my exact recipe.

            2. as an aside, i use a scottish recipe for curd that calls for honey rather than sugar. it does add to the color, much like the difference between battery eggs, vs. pastured eggs.

              why the heck are you microwaving it at all?

              after it cooks and cools it sets up a bit more.

              2 Replies
              1. re: hotoynoodle

                I don't micorwave all the time, especially since I'm left with less lemon curd before. I only do so if I want a more gel like texture or a more prominent yellow. Works nontheless and it still tastes great. I think the buttery texture can be too rich for me sometimes.

                1. re: Purdys_99

                  If you bake lemon curd in a tart shell, it also becomes a brighter yellow, slightly shrinks, and the texture is slightly altered. I believe you are removing additional moisture, but I can't state that as a scientific fact if you are just looking for a brighter color, try adding an additional yolk.

              2. while currently I don't own lemons, I do have a large bag of limes.
                last night I made a small batch of 'TimBit' type doughnuts for my husbands' dessert. he ate 'em all so making another small batch again today with different flavor dough and I'll top with lime curd I just finished.

                I agree that lemon curd can be tricky to get just right. color wise mine is usually quite pale yellow like butter color. with the lime curd, the zest really colored it a nice light green.
                whole eggs, sugar, zest, juice, butter, pinch salt.

                5 Replies
                1. re: iL Divo

                  If you use all Yolks you will get a better color 6 lrg Yolks per .5C Lemon Juice. Or if you can get Back Yard Eggs even a whole Egg Curd will be bright Yellow.

                  1. re: chefj

                    appreciate your advice. I don't mind the color it's actually lovely plus the flavor is perfect and very easy. this lime curd I must say is delectable

                    1. re: iL Divo

                      Cool, lovely green color.
                      When Seville Oranges are in Season they make a amazing Curd.

                      1. re: chefj

                        I could curd any citrus chefj.
                        love the stuff.
                        the jars I used for the lime curd yesterday were 1/2 cup Ball jars, new in the box. I presented one of them with hubby's Timbit clones last night, he ate it all. oh my the stomach acid problems I worried about. guess it was pretty good.
                        love Myer lemon/grapefruit/tangerine/lime/orange curd.
                        hubby's favorite is by far orange, followed by a close second of lemon.
                        I'll have to look up Seville Oranges.

                        1. re: iL Divo

                          The Sevilles work so well because they are so Sour. So getting that Sweet:Rich:Tart balance is much easier to do than with sweet varieties Citrus.
                          Also Rangpur Limes make a nice Curd also.