Dear Lynne,

How do you create a stupendous lemon curd? Are you supposed to cook it in a saucepan or in a bowl over boiling water? A chef on TV did it in a saucepan. When I did that I got scrambled eggs in lemon juice.

-Kenneth in New Orleans

Dear Kenneth,

Definitely use the bowl over simmering (not boiling) water because you have much more control over the heat. Eggs are drawn to heat like water is drawn to a sponge. Once they hit direct heat, as with the bottom of your saucepan, they turn solid.

With custards like lemon curd, the eggs should cook to just this side of solid. To get there you want them heated to between 170ºF. and 180ºF., but no higher. Having them over simmering water supplies the gentle heat you need for control and the slow cooking you want for a silky texture.

You want to keep the eggs moving every moment, so use an outsized stainless steel bowl (about 8 quarts), which will let you whisk them constantly without overflow.

Use the following as a hand-holder recipe for your second try at lemon curd. It's unusual in the way the butter goes into the curd.


Creamy Lemon Curd Tart Inspired by Pierre Herme

Makes an 11-inch tart serving 8 to 10; 30 minutes prep time; 20 minutes stove time; 15 minutes oven time

Not your usual lemon curd, this is a billowing, silky cream with an extra tart snap to it. A combination of our favorite formula and a brilliant new idea, the recipe becomes a memorable tart in a gingersnap crust.

France's Picasso of pastry, Pierre Herme, created an innovation for lemon curd. Instead of the usual cooking of lemon juice, sugar and eggs into a custard, and then melting butter into the mix, he cools down the custard to 140ºF. and in a blender whips in soft butter. At that temperature the butter doesn't fully melt so the curd becomes a lemon light cream.

Cook to Cook: Prepare a large bowl of ice water, or fill the sink with ice water to cool down the bowl if the custard gets too hot. Also have handy a strainer and blender or food processor container. Most important: Never stop whisking the curd. If at any time it looks like the eggs are turning solid, immediately get it off the pot and into the cold water.

Lemon curd and the crust keep 4 days in the refrigerator, but assemble them no more than 8 hours ahead.

Lemon Curd

  • 1 cup sugar

  • Finely shredded zest of 3 lemons

  • 4 large eggs

  • Pinch salt

  • 3/4 cup, plus 2 tablespoons, freshly squeezed lemon juice (4 to 5 lemons), with pits removed

  • 2-1/2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces, softened

1. Half fill a 6-quart pot with water. Set it over medium heat and bring the water to a simmer. Place the sugar and lemon zest in a large stainless steel bowl (about 8 quarts) that can be fitted into the pan without touching the water (pour some off if necessary). Off the heat, rub the sugar and zest together until sugar is moist, grainy and very aromatic (about 3 minutes). Whisk in the eggs and then the lemon juice.

2. Fit the bowl atop the pan of water (make sure it's simmering not boiling). Cook, stirring with a whisk, until the curd thickens and reaches 180ºF. on an instant-reading thermometer. The whole process could take 10 minutes.

As you cook the curd, whisking constantly, you'll see that first the curd is light and foamy, then the bubbles get larger, and finally, as the curd starts to thicken, the whisk leaves tracks. The curd is close to done. Keep whisking and checking the temperature.

3. Once it reaches 180ºF., immediately scrape the curd into the strainer and strain it into the container of a blender or food processor. Let sit at room temperature until it reaches 140ºF. (about 10 minutes).

4. With blender or food processor at high speed, add butter, several pieces at a time. Scrape down sides as you go. Once all the butter is used, blend for 4 minutes, pausing if needed. Refrigerate the lemon curd for several hours to four days before filling the crust.

Gingersnap Crust

  • 28 to 30 gingersnaps (I use the Mi-Del brand)

  • 1-1/2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger

  • 1/4 cup sugar

  • Pinch salt

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, melted

1. Preheat oven to 350º F. In a food processor, grind the cookies to coarse crumbs. Turn them into a bowl, stirring in the ginger, sugar, salt, and butter. The mix should be moistened but not soaked with butter. If necessary, grind four or five more cookies and blend them in.

2. Butter an 11-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Pack the cookie mixture into the bottom and sides of pan.

3. Bake 10 minutes and cool to room temperature. Once cool, the crust can be wrapped airtight and held at room temperature 3 days.

4. To serve, spread the lemon cream in the crust and chill 4 to 8 hours. Garnish with shreds of lemon peel. 

Lynne Rossetto Kasper
Lynne Rossetto Kasper has won numerous awards as host of The Splendid Table, including two James Beard Foundation Awards (1998, 2008) for Best National Radio Show on Food, five Clarion Awards (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2014) from Women in Communication, and a Gracie Allen Award in 2000 for Best Syndicated Talk Show.