February 08, 2004

Curds, Way!

A common ingredient that I like to use in desserts is Citrus Curds. The most traditional, of course, being Lemon Curd. However, all manner of cirtus juices make curds. The method is simple, and adds a great flavor and texture to fruit based recipes. "Curd" is really sort of an unpleasant name for this dish, which is actually a very thick sweet-tart fruit filling that is very smooth with no "clumps" at all.

The basic proportions are:
- about 1/2 C citrus juice (two large lemons)
- 1 C sugar
- 3 whole eggs
- 1/8-1/4 pound butter
- zest of cirtus, if desired
(makes about 2-3 C of curd)

Combine the sugar, eggs, and juice. Whisk to combine, then place in either a heavy pan with curved sides, or (what I usually use) a large stainless steel mixing bowl. Put on a medium heat and stir continuously with a heat proof spatula, scraping the sides as you stir. When the mixture begins to steam or become obviously hot, pay extra attention. The transition from liquid to thickened sauce happens fairly quickly at this point. When thickened to a very thick sauce or very light pudding consistancy, remove from heat, and immediately add the solid butter, stirring rapidly to remove excess heat. Stir to encorporate the butter, which at the same time will cool the curd and prevent over cooking. Continue stiring until all of the butter is "melted". If using zest, add at the end and stir in. Place in a non-reactive bowl or container, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and chill until needed. As the curd cools, it will become less liquid as the butter returns to a more solid phase.

You can overcook a curd and make it curdle, however the acid raises the curdling point of the eggs a fair amount which reduces this chance. The first time you make a curd you are more likely (out of fear) to undercook it rather than ruin it by overcooking. An undercooked curd is still fine, it just won't be as "solid".

I find that using a bowl directly allows easier control of the heat (here's a case where a heavy pan is a disadvantage -- as soon as I remove the bowl from the heat it begins to cool rapidly). Some recipes call for melting the butter first. Again, I add it at the end because it gives me a cold item to add to the finished curd to help lower the temperature once I think it has thickened enough.

As I mentioned, lemon is traditional. But lime, orange, grapefruit, and tangerine (which I have too many of in my yard) all make excellent curds. You can add non-citrus juice like pomegranate to change the color a bit. It is best to stick with fruits that are quite high in acid. You can make more than one and combine them in desserts -- particularlly nice in plated presentations.

What can you do with curds?
Well, one of the easiest things it to simply use it as a sauce for fruit and berries. Another excellent use is to spread it on commercial pound cake. It's not a bad topping for fruit flavored ice creams or sorbets either.

Some slightly more fancy options include using it as a filling for a baked tart shell, and then topping with additional fruit. If you have a deeper pie shell, consider whipping cream and then folding 50/50 cream and curd together to make a filling.

Going still more nuts: Baked puff pastry squares, triangles, or other interesting shapes, can be layered with the curd and fruit to make a stacked plated dessert. Surround with additional berries, top with some whipped cream, and you're impressing the neighbors!

Curds also go well with ginger or spice cakes or cookies. For breakfast, scones, pancakes, or waffles are nice if you also include fruit.

And making it all the more merry is the fact that you can keep curds for several weeks in the fridge if you keep them tightly covered.

Posted by dowdy at February 8, 2004 02:55 PM