I like to give the gift of food. Partly, it's because I'm not very attached to objects, so I often assume others aren't either -- or that maybe they won't share my taste in objects, and thus won't appreciate being stuck with something I get for them, no matter how well-intentioned the gift was. Partly, it's because I love food, and sharing it with people, and food is love in my world.
However, like the rest of us, I have a pretty busy schedule. I don't always have time to bust out in the kitchen for days, or even all day, to make something. That's why this recipe, adapted from "The Joy of Cooking," is one of my favorite gift ideas (and if you don't want to read all my yammering, here's the quickie version). It takes less than 20 minutes to make (longer if you're stopping to photograph it, of course), and it's ready to give out after a few hours cooling in the fridge. So, basically, you can make it the morning of a party and be good -- or even right before, and hope that your host doesn't randomly decide to open the jar mere minutes after it was made. It's also very scaleable, so you can make bigger batches as-needed.
Citrus curds are very basic. You whisk together eggs, sugar, citrus juice, and butter on medium to low heat until the mixture starts to thicken, and then, bam, you have curd. The tricky parts are picking which citrus you want to use, and controlling the thickening.
You can use pretty much any citrus fruit you want -- I happened to use lemons, because they were what I had around. I highly recommend Meyer lemons (which these were not), because they have a very mellow, lovely flavor. Blood oranges are great too. But really, world, oyster, etc. When selecting fruit, look for specimens that feel heavy for their size, because that means they're juicy.
To control the thickening, it's a good idea to use an enameled or otherwise thick saucepan, which will distribute heat evenly. Keep the heat medium to low, depending on your stove, and stir steadily with a spatula, just like you do for pudding. Move the spatula all around, wriggle it, scrape the bottom of the pan with it, and wipe down the sides. If you start to see white streaks forming, those are egg whites, which means it's cooking too fast, and that the egg mixture wasn't beaten well enough before you started cooking. Turn the heat down, and keep stirring.
Start by whisking together three large eggs, 1/3 cup sugar, and the zest of two fruits. You can mix up your fruit zest for added fun times. Whisk the mixture until it turns pale, because you want the eggs well-integrated or you're going to have problems later. I like to do this in the cooking pan, and in the sink, so that if it sloshes, there's no harm done. Tip: Consider your fruit (and taste the juice) to determine if you should back off on or add more sugar, as it can be hard to adjust the sweetness after your citrus curd is done.
Add 1/2 cup fruit juice and six tablespoons of butter, cut into chunks. Transfer that puppy to the stove, and turn the heat on. Stir and keep stirring until the mixture thickens, a process that can take between six and 10 minutes. Don't stress if it takes more or less time. Cooking isn't always precise. While the mixture becomes sort of gloppy, take it off the stove.
At this point, your lemon curd will look runny. Don't panic.
Sieving is totally optional, but it will eliminate lumps. Especially if you had an egg white problem, it's a good idea. After you've run your curd through the sieve, it will have a nice, even texture, and you can pour it off into containers. Or you can skip the sieve, like the rebel you are, and go straight for the containers and a more chunky texture. Either way, it's all good.
Stick your containers in the fridge to cool. They should hang out there for at least four or five hours to allow the curd to solidify, but it's not the end of the world if they come out a little early (though the curd may be a tad runny). If you're serving your citrus curd on the teatime table, keep it out of the sun -- it can tend to go gushy.
Quality control check: Your curd should look even, with no obvious chunks or pieces in it. If it's not, it needs to be sieved (possibly again). Taste it, too -- if it's excessively sour or sweet, keep that in mind when you're using it and temper it a bit. Or, to correct tartness, make a simple syrup, reheat the curd, and gently whisk it in. You may need to add some cornstarch to thicken. If the curd is too sweet, you can try adding more citrus juice, but be aware that you could break the curd and have to start over.
And that would be tragic.
You can totally hand it out as-is, in a jar, but a gift bag is nice if you happen to have one lying around or you're crafty and can make you. Consider adding a cool piece of custom silverware from milk & honey luxuries, my current Etsy love affair. You could also give this out with a jar or bag of your favorite dry scone or biscuit mix -- I'm still perfecting mine, but hopefully I'll have it up for you soon.
Please note that although I used mason jars for my lemon curd in this case, this recipe wasn't prepared to canning standards. My kitchen wasn't nearly clean enough (cat hair, let's talk about it), the jars weren't sterilized first, I didn't fill them to the top, and the recipe wasn't designed for canning. This lemon curd keeps for about a week safely in the fridge, and while I've eaten it long-past that due date, I'm not officially recommending that you do that. Don't keep this stuff at room temperature, kids!
Whisk together until pale in color:
3 large eggs
1/3 cup sugar (adjust as needed for sweeter or sourer fruits)
Zest of 2 fruits
1/2 cup fruit juice
6 tablespoons butter, cut into chunks
Cook on medium-low heat, stirring constantly, for 6-10 minutes or until thickened. Remove from heat and sieve, if desired, before pouring off into storage containers and refrigerating. Keeps approximately one week under refrigeration. (Return)