May 1, 2006
...make almond lemon curd.
I like it when I can count the degrees of separation between an ingredient and myself, especially when I only need the fingers of one hand to do so. In this case, there were just four degrees of separation between me and three large lemons: my sister Céline has a boyfriend I adore, named Christian. Christian has a father, who lives not far from Nice. And this father has a bountiful lemon tree, currently overloaded with beautiful, smooth-skinned fruit, pale yellow like the baby clothes you buy when you don't know if it's a boy or a girl. So when Céline went to spend a few days in Nice recently, she came back to Paris with half a dozen jumbo lemons, which my mother and I shared gleefully.
These lemons, being organic and all, had lemon curd written all over them (if you looked at the rind very very carefully with a magnifier, close to the stem, it said lemon curd in super fine print).
My first attempt at lemon curd, many moons ago, did not quite qualify as a success. I don't remember where I had gotten the recipe from, if I had followed it with enough care, or if it was just a case of beginner's crap luck, but as I was standing over the pan, dutifully stirring the mixture, it became painfully apparent just why they called it a curd. It curdled all right.
Because I was young and too proud to admit defeat, I insisted on eating it anyway, spreading my morning toast with curdled curd, which tasted fine if you managed to ignore the tiny lumps of viscid egg white staring up at you with fierce little eyes. Thankfully, I had made a miniature batch with just one lemon, so it was soon done away with, and I could get on with my life.
Years later I tried my hand at lemon curd again, this time with a bit of research, and it appeared that my first attempt had been somewhat misguided: I had cooked the curd directly in a saucepan, when it is really best to do so over gentle heat, in a bowl set on a pan of simmering water. The result was infinitely more convincing, and this is the method I used again yesterday with my sunny lemons.
Wanting to try something a little different, I made an almond lemon curd this time, using one less egg than I normally would, and adding lightly toasted ground almonds to the thickened mixture. This adds a lovely textural twist, giving the lemon curd just a touch more presence on your toast, and the subtle, nutty, and toasty almond flavor is a great partner to the tartness of the lemon (lemon and almond are such good flavor friends that they have four letters in common, although this doesn't work in French at all).
Aside from spreading lemon curd on toasts of baguette in the morning, or on English muffins, crumpets, and scones (a regional affinity thing), I like to spread it in the middle of a horizontally split yogurt cake, make sandwich cookies, or fill twee little tarts. I should probably note here that I am one of those people who drink lemon juice straight from the juicer, without water or sugar, so it is safe to say I like a tart lemon curd -- if you prefer a milder one, use a bit less lemon juice, or a bit more sugar.
Almond Lemon Curd
- 125g (1 1/4 cup) ground almonds (a.k.a. almond powder or almond meal)
- 3 really big organic lemons (or 5 smaller ones), scrubbed, at room temperature
- 3 eggs
- 200g (1 cup) sugar
- 140g (5 ounces) butter (I use salted), diced, at room temperature
Makes 3 cups (the recipe can be halved, using one egg and one yolk).
Toast the ground almonds in a large dry skillet until lightly golden and fragrant.
Grate the zest from the lemons (I use a microplane zester), and set aside. Squeeze the juice from the lemons. Keep 25 cl (1 cup) for the recipe, drink the rest straight from the juicer or fedex it to me.
Choose a large, non-reactive, and heatproof mixing-bowl among your kitchen cabinet possessions. Fill a medium saucepan with a bit of water (say 5 centimeters or 2 inches), making sure that when you set the bowl over the pan, the bottom doesn't touch the water. Set the pan over medium heat, and bring the water to a simmer.
Beat the eggs in the bowl, and add in the sugar, lemon juice, and zest. Add the butter, and set the bowl over the pan of simmering water. Whisk gently as the mixture heats and the butter melts. Keep stirring with the whisk (in a circular motion, without incorporating any air) to allow the eggs to cook without curdling. After about 10 minutes, the mixture will thicken to a creamy, velvety consistency (if you dip a wooden spoon in and make a trace in the curd with your finger, the trace should stay clear -- the mixture will thicken further as it cools).
Remove from heat, and whisk in the ground almonds. Pour into clean jars, close tightly, and let cool. Keep in the fridge for up to a week. (You can also pour the curd into freezer-safe containers and freeze for up to a month.)
[Variations that tempt me for next time: using unsweetened coconut flakes in place of ground almonds, adding dark chocolate to the mixture as it cooks to make a ganache lemon curd, or blending in cacao nibs once the curd has cooled and thickened a bit.]
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