I knew it had to be lemon curd. Usually I’m not this passionate about the sweet and tart, pudding-like dessert but with that lemon tree right outside the window (the same one of the Whiskey Sour fame) it was practically taunting me. With branches bending under the weight of the fruit and large vibrant leaves shining in the sun I swear I heard all the lemons say, “Use me, use me while you can. They don’t grow them like us in Seattle.” You’re right, lemons, they don’t but have you seen our rhubarb (it’s coming!)?
While I had the lemons and strawberries that flooded the rows of the farmers market with their floral scent, I was without a bain marie or any sort of bowl and pot situation that would make a suitable replacement. But I couldn’t let the lemons continue their taunting any longer and I already had the taste of tart curd alongside a fresh berry salad with mint and vanilla scented whipped cream. And once you get that idea inside your head there’s no telling what you would do to make it a reality. Like say, create a “bain marie” out of a frying pan and an oversized metal bowl. I did what I had to do.
Technically the bowl isn’t supposed to touch the bottom of the pan but it did. The curd survived – actually it did more than survive, it sang. I even attempted to strain it through a tiny tea strainer but I gave up and came to terms with the possibility that this batch might not be up to my usual standard of perfect, uninterrupted smoothness.
When I teach people how to cook and bake I show them the techniques I’ve learned while working in professional kitchens and cooking at home. Trying as best I can to get them as excited as I get when I see a beautiful brunoise or even layers of butter spread thin throughout a batch of puff pastry. I teach them how to make lemon curd using a legitimate bain marie. But more than that I try to teach them to be fearless in the kitchen. To be a bit of a rebel – bend the rules, try something new, to use their instincts and be resourceful. And most importantly, to not be afraid of making mistakes because they will happen. And you know what, I do a terrible job of telling you all about my mistakes. I mean they aren’t pretty and they show my insecurities so I’m not usually inclined to run here and share them but they happen, a lot and I should tell you about them because the beauty of mistakes is that if you push through the fear and doubt you’ll usually find something better than what you originally set for. Or you’ll have a soggy cake that you need to throw out but even with that you tried and learned and you’ll move on.
So if a recipe says use a bain marie and to be be sure the bowl doesn’t touch the bottom of the pan, as the recipe below says, then do it but if you don’t have a bain marie then keep on going because the lemon curd is worth it and the rules don’t mind a little stretching every now and again.
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Lemon Curd with Berries and Mint
adapted from epicurious.com
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) chilled unsalted butter
Whisk the sugar, lemon juice, eggs, and yolks in medium metal bowl. Set the bowl over saucepan of simmering water (do not allow bottom of bowl to touch water – or just do the best you can). Whisk constantly until thickened like a warm pudding, about 10 minutes. Remove bowl from over the water. Add butter, salt and vanilla; whisk until melted and combined. At this point I like to strain the curd to make sure no little bits of cooked eggs hinder the smooth texture. It is however, an optional step. Press plastic wrap directly onto surface of curd. Chill. Will keep, refrigerated, for one week.
I served the lemon curd with fresh berries that were tossed with just a bit of raw sugar (less refined, more coarse) and mint leaves. The whipped cream was flavored with just a touch of vanilla extract.