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Discerning Diner:

For Mom: Lemony flavor, heavenly treat

By Elan Head

May 13, 2006

Although my grandmother’s favorite color is blue, I often associate her with yellow.

Her birthday is May 25, which is always around the time that the first yellow blossoms appear on the wild rose hedge in her driveway.

She’s also very fond of lemon: whether in birthday cakes with lemon filling, lemon meringue pies or lemon curd.

Lemon curd must be one of those foods with a small but devoted following.

I mean, you almost never hear about it, yet you can find bottles of this custardy, sweet-tart spread in the jam aisle of most grocery stores.

Recently, I even came across it at the Crabtree & Evelyn store in the Chandler Fashion Center, where I picked up a jar for my grandmother.

In its bottled form, lemon curd can be used like jam on toast, scones or (mmm) hot blueberry muffins.

Yet it’s also easy to make from scratch, and homemade lemon curd is heavenly stuff.

If you’re looking for a special treat for Mom (or Grandma) this Mother’s Day, look no further — provided, of course, that Mom or Grandma likes lemon.

Lemon curd is essentially a soft custard, so you cook it like you would a pudding.

For 3/4 cup of lemon curd, you’ll need the following: one egg, one egg yolk, 1/4 cup sugar, three tablespoons lemon juice, and four tablespoons of cold butter.

Optional — but recommended — ingredients include the grated zest of half a lemon and a drop (just a drop!) of vanilla extract.

You can double this recipe if you’d like, but if you want even more, resist the temptation to triple it. Custard is finicky stuff, so you’ll be better off making multiple batches.

Here’s what you do. Cut the butter into pieces and set aside. Whisk the egg yolk, egg and sugar together in a saucepan until thoroughly blended, then whisk in the lemon juice and, if using, the zest.

Some notes on zest: use finely chopped or grated zest if you want zest in your final product. If you prefer a completely smooth curd, use a vegetable peeler to harvest long strips of zest that can be removed after cooking — they’ll still provide some extra flavor.

Either way, be sure to remove only the yellow part of the rind and not the bitter white pith beneath.

Set the saucepan over medium heat. Add a few pieces of butter and stir constantly until the butter is almost melted. Add a few more pieces of butter and repeat the process until you’ve incorporated all four tablespoons.

Now reduce the heat to low and continue to stir constantly until the mixture thickens. The curd should be the consistency of hot pudding — it will thicken more as it sets.

Don’t overcook or the curd will, uh, curdle (and turn into lemony scrambled eggs).

Remove from heat and stir in the optional single drop of vanilla extract. If you want a super-silky lemon curd, press the custard through a fine mesh strainer; else, simply transfer the curd to a bowl.

Press a sheet of plastic wrap onto the surface of the curd, then pierce it in several places with a knife to allow steam to escape. Chill in the refrigerator for a few hours or a few days.

Serve the lemon curd alongside fresh muffins for Mom’s breakfast in bed. Or whip a cup of heavy cream, fold it into the chilled curd, and serve this lemony mousse in parfait cups with fresh berries.

You can use lemon curd as a cake filling or fold it into cheesecake batter. Or simply present a (refrigerated) jar of it to your mother or grandmother, with heartfelt thanks and best wishes for a happy Mother’s Day.

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