This is the lemon curd recipe for you if you LOVE lots of true lemon flavor and don't like your curd too sweet (like me). This thick lemon curd uses a combination of heat and cornstarch so it's perfect for filling for cakes, tarts, and donuts. Don't need lemon curd right now? No worries! You can make your curd and freeze it until you need it!
You might be intimidated by the idea of making your own lemon curd from scratch but I promise it's super easy! If you're like me, you end up with leftover egg yolks pretty often from making a white cake or macarons. In fact, I think lemon curd might have been invented specifically to use up those leftover egg yolks.
LEMON CURD INGREDIENTS
I’m not a big fan of super sweet lemon curd. I like mine to be pretty tart. If you do like sweeter lemon curd, you can add one or two more ounces of sugar and adjust the sweetness to your taste.
LEMON CURD STEP-BY-STEP
Step 1 – Zest the lemons with a microplane and place them into a bowl to use later. Make sure you avoid the pith (white part) of the lemon. That part is super bitter and will make your curd taste weird.
Pro-tip – Roll your lemons before slicing to release the juices better.
Step 2 - Then slice your lemons in half and juice them into a measuring cup. Use a small colander or a lemon juicer to keep out any seeds.
Step 3 – Place your egg yolks, cornstarch, and salt in a large bowl. Whisk well to combine and set aside. (You will be adding more to this later, so make sure it's a large enough bowl.)
Step 4 – Add your lemon juice, granulated sugar, and lemon zest to a saucepan and whisk together to combine.
Step 4 – Stir constantly and bring to a simmer over medium heat.
Step 5 – When it has reached a simmer, scoop about ½ cup of the hot lemon juice mixture and slowly add it into the egg yolk mixture while whisking continuously. Add about 1 cup of liquid total. This is what we call tempering, meaning we are slowly heating up the cold egg yolk mixture with a hot mixture so that it begins to thicken but we don't accidentally cook the eggs too much by putting them on direct heat.
Step 6 – Now that your egg mixture is warmed up a bit, you can safely add the tempered egg mixture back into the hot lemon mixture while whisking continuously.
Since the main ingredient used in lemon curd is egg yolks, we have to be very careful about how quickly we heat the mixture. If you walk away for even a minute, the eggs can curdle and you’ll have lemon scrambled eggs. Yuck. So whisking is important.
Pro-tip - If you do accidentally get some cooked eggs, you can pass your curd through a strainer after it's done to remove any bits of cooked egg.
Step 7 – Whisk constantly and cook over medium heat until desired thickness. I cook mine for about 2 minutes because I like thick lemon curd.
Test the thickness by dipping the back of a spoon into your lemon curd and drag your finger across it. If it holds the shape without dripping off too quickly, it's done!
Pro-tip – Removing the curd at 170ºF will yield a thinner consistency while removing at 180ºF will be thicker.
Step 8 – Remove the curd from the heat. Add your butter in chunks and whisk until the butter is melted and everything is combined. The lemon curd will continue to thicken as it cools.
Step 9 – Pour into a heat-proof jar and store in the fridge for up to one week or freeze for up to a year. Cover the curd with plastic wrap so that it is touching the surface of the curd without any air bubbles in between, this will prevent a skin from forming on the top of the curd.
LEMON CURD FAQ:
WHAT KIND OF POT SHOULD I USE TO MAKE LEMON CURD?
If you're like me, you've probably heard conflicting information about whether or not lemon curd can be cooked on direct heat. I used to always make it with a bain-marie, but now I just use a large, wide, shallow sauté pan and whisk continuously and it works great.
If you're nervous about it, you can use a double boiler (or bain-marie). Start by placing about an inch of water in the bottom of a saucepan and bring it to a simmer (gentle bubbles) and place a heatproof bowl over the top of the pan. It’s a way to heat very gently so the chances of burning it are lower.
If you use a bain-marie, you'll have to cook your curd for about 20 minutes to get it to 170º F.
IS THERE A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN LEMON CURD AND LEMON PIE FILLING?
Yes, there is a difference. Lemon curd is smooth, creamy, and never really “sets” completely. If you fill a tart shell with lemon curd and bite into it, the curd will slowly ooze out.
Lemon pie filling is set with either corn starch or flour and when it’s poured into the shell, it is then baked so when you slice the pie, the filling does not move a bit. This is how lemon meringue pie is made and one of my favorite pies of all time. Now I want pie.
LEMON CURD AS A CAKE FILLING
This curd pairs perfectly as a filling with my lemon blueberry buttermilk cake. Make sure you cook your lemon curd to at least 175º F if you’re going to use it as a cake filling. If you don’t, you could end up with runny lemon curd which isn’t going to be very stable in the cake.
Be sure you create a dam (ring of buttercream) around the outside layer of your cake. Then fill the center with no more than ⅛″ of curd. The dam will keep the curd from oozing out the sides of your cake.
LEMON CURD IN BUTTERCREAM
Lemon curd works great in buttercream, too. Just whip about ½ cup of curd into 6 cups of buttercream. Add in lemon extract if you want a full-on lemon-party!
WHAT KIND OF LEMONS ARE BEST?
When you're making lemons you want to use regular lemons not meyer lemons. Meyer lemons are smaller, have smoother skin, and are not as tart. A Meyer lemon curd would also probably be delicious, but you'll want to use regular lemons for this recipe.
Fresh lemon juice is best to use, but you can use bottled lemon juice if you can't get fresh lemons.
WHY DOES MY LEMON CURD TASTE LIKE METAL?
Sometimes using a metal pan can give your curd a slight metallic aftertaste. This occurs because the lemons are highly acidic and can break down metal from cheaper pans. If you have this issue, try doing a bain-marie with and use a porcelain or glass bowl. Using a silicone whisk can also help.
HOW LONG CAN I FREEZE LEMON CURD?
Lemon curd freezes very well! You can freeze it for 6 months and then defrost it when you want to use it. I like to freeze 1 ounce portions in silicone ice cube trays then place them into a ziplock bag so that I can easily portion out my curd for baking recipes.
HOW TO FIX LEMON CURD
If you curdled your curd (lol) DON'T freak out! Strain it through a colander to remove the lumps.
RELATED LEMON RECIPES
- 8 ounces lemon juice (1 cup) About 6 large fresh lemons
- 2 Tablespoons lemon zest
- 6 ounces granulated sugar (1 cup) add 2 more ounces if you like sweeter lemon curd.
- 5 egg yolks
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 Tablespoon cornstarch
- 4 ounces unsalted butter (½ cup)
- Zest the lemons, then slice them in half and juice them into a measuring cup. Use a small colander or a lemon juicer to keep out any seeds.
- Place the egg yolks, cornstarch, and salt in a large bowl. Whisk well to combine and set aside. (You will be adding more to this later, so make sure it's a large enough bowl.)
- Add your lemon juice, granulated sugar, and lemon zest to a large, shallow sauté pan.
- Stir constantly with a whisk and bring to a simmer over medium heat.
- When it has reached a simmer, scoop about 1 cup of the lemon juice mixture and slowly add it into the egg yolk mixture while whisking. Add about 1 cup of liquid total.
- Add the tempered egg mixture back into the lemon mixture while whisking constantly. Keep an eye on it and keep whisking, if you walk away for even a minute, the eggs can curdle.
- Whisk constantly and cook over medium heat until desired thickness. I cook mine for about 2 minutes because I like thick lemon curd. Use a thermometer to check the temperature of the lemon curd.Removing the curd at 170ºF (76ºC)will yield a thinner consistency while removing at 180ºF (82ºC) will be thicker.
- Add your butter in chunks to the lemon curd and whisk until the buter is melted and combined. Remove the lemon curd from the heat. It will continue to thicken as it cools.
- Pour the finished lemon curd into a heat-proof jar or bowl. Cover the curd with plastic wrap so that it is touching the surface of the curd without any air bubbles in between, this will prevent a skin from forming on the top of the curd. Store it in the fridge for up to one week or freeze it for up to a year.
- Weigh your ingredients to avoid failure. Using a kitchen scale for baking is super easy and gives you the best results every single time.
- Roll your lemons before slicing to release the juices better. Make sure you avoid the pith (white part) of the lemon. That part is super bitter and will make your curd taste weird.
- Adding some of the hot lemon mixture into the egg yolks is called "tempering." This helps the eggs mix in smoothly and not curdle.
- Test the thickness of your curd by dipping the back of a spoon into your lemon curd and drag your finger across it. If it holds the shape without dripping off too quickly, it's done!
- If you intend to use this as a cake filling, make sure to cook your lemon curd to at least 175º F. If you don’t, you could end up with runny lemon curd.
- If your mixture is lumpy, you can strain it to remove any large pieces of zest, seeds or curdled eggs.
- Meyer lemons are not the same as regular lemons. You'll want to use regular lemons for this recipe. You can also use bottled lemon juice if needed, but fresh is best.