How to Make Lemon Curd

Lemon Curd is tangy, zesty, sweet and oh so simple to make.  It’s basically a custard that swaps out the milk and cream for fruit juice. Anyone who speaks to me for more than five minutes will quickly learn that chocolate is my all-time favourite dessert choice. But this lemon curd recipe is my second favourite indulgence! I have been known to eat this lemon curd straight from the jar with a spoon. So that’s saying something!   

Once you try this fool-proof recipe for making homemade lemon curd, you will be topping it on toast, scones and looking for an excuse to make lemon meringue pie.

Lemon Curd in glass jar with spoon, on wood table with sliced lemons

This lemon curd recipe uses the same cooking methods as when you make Crème Anglaise. It also only uses egg yolks for added richness. Because the egg yolk is used as the main thickener, the curd needs to be cooked low and slow.  The pay off, is a lemon curd that’s silky smooth and melts in your mouth.

Lemon Curd is a great starting point for beginner bakers and a must to master for every pastry chef as you can various desserts using this zesty citrus spread. This recipe as well as my recipes Crème Anglaise and Chocolate Mousse are all included in Module Three: Cream and Custard of the Kira Bakes Gluten Free Pastry School

What is Lemon Curd?

Lemon Curd is a zesty, sweet filling that’s made from lemon juice, eggs, sugar and butter. It is most commonly used as a filling for tarts, pies, cakes and (my personal favourite) spread generously on scones, toast and pastries. 

Difference between Lemon Curd vs Lemon Custard?

The simplest way to look at the difference between lemon curd and lemon custard, is that essentially lemon curd is a crème anglaise that has lemon juice instead of milk and cream.  Lemon custard is a crème patisserie that has lemon juice instead of milk. Lemon custard will have a slightly softer flavour and be thicker due to the cornstarch or flour that’s added during the cooking process. Both lemon curd and lemon custard can generally be used interchangeably. Noting that Lemon curd is slightly more fluid so if you need it to hold its shape or want a thicker consistency, you can add a small amount of gelatin to help set it up. 

What is Tempering?

Tempering is a technique often used in professional kitchens when making custards, desserts and other sauces, (not to be confused with tempering chocolate). Essentially it is the process of gradually raising the temperature of a mixture containing eggs to reduce the risk of them curdling or turning to scrambled eggs.

The process for tempering custard will usually involve firstly heating the milk (and sometimes cream) in a saucepan until it is steaming but not boiling. With the eggs and sugar in a separate bowl, you gradually pour in a small amount of the hot milk into the egg mixture while continuously whisking the egg mixture. The gradual addition of the hot milk raises the temperature of the eggs, preventing them from curdling. The mixture would then be placed back on the stovetop where you would continue to cook the custard until it reaches napper or coating consistency.

Lemon Curd in glass jar, on wood table with sliced lemons

What is ‘Napper’ and how to tell when Lemon Curd is cooked.

Cooking Lemon Curd requires a certain level of care and patience while is cooks at a very low temperature. There are two ways you can tell if your Lemon Curd is cooked. You can either wait until the sauce has reached napper or coating consistency. All this means is that if you dip the back of a metal spoon into the sauce and run your finger through the sauce, the sauce should create a line and not drip.  The other way is to use a thermometer. Cooking the citrus spread until it has reached a temperature between 78C-80C. Cooking it slowly and gently like this will give you a lemon curd that is smooth and velvety. 

Why you can’t boil this lemon curd recipe

When heated, eggs begin to bind when they reach 78C. So if you were to boil the custard (boiling begins around 100C/212F), then you would end up with very, citrusy sweet scrambled eggs. 

What can you do with Lemon Curd?

  1. My immediate thought goes straight to lemon tarts or lemon meringue pie! I’m a chocolate person, but lemon desserts come in a close second. 
  2. Use it as aa spread on scones, toast or pancakes to brighten up breakfast time.
  3. Filling cupcakes with Lemon Curd and then topping them off with a light Swiss Meringue Buttercream is perfect for a summer party.
  4. Fold this zesty spread into buttercreams or mousse.
  5. Stir it into a bowl of plain Greek yogurt and top with granola.
  6. Next time you make a Pavlova, top with whipping cream, then add lemon curd and fresh berries. 
  7. Lastly, turn a classic cheesecake into a lemon cheesecake but swirling this lemon curd on top before baking.
close up view of Lemon curd in glass jar with spoon on white background

Tips for making perfect Lemon Curd

  1. Use a heavy bottomed saucepan. Using a heavy bottomed saucepan will ensure that the heat is distributed evenly. Reducing the risk of accidentally making scrambled eggs. 
  2. Flavour the milk.  If you want to make a flavoured crème anglaise you should do this at the very start. Although traditionally vanilla is used when making crème anglaise, you can choose to infuse the milk while it is heating with chocolate, coffee or liquors. Just remember to strain the milk before you start tempering the egg mixture.
  3. Remember to Temper. Tempering the hot fruit juice into the eggs and sugar is critical because if you haven’t guessed what I’m going to say by now, it will turn to sweet, scrambled eggs. If you want a visual of how to temper, watch this video by Taste of Home. 
  4. Heat low and slow. Lemon Curd takes care and patience. Cooking the curd on a low heat will keep is from turning to scrambled eggs. Look pretty much every tip and every instruction I’m going to give you is with a goal of NOT creating sweet, zesty scrambled eggs.
  5. Stir constantly. Because it’s heating so slowing, the custard will naturally want to form a ‘skin’ on the top of the liquid. By stirring constantly, we avoid this happening and also reduces the risk of the custard cooking to quickly near the bottom of the saucepan.
  6. Use quality butter. There is A LOT of butter in this lemon curd recipe and it adds so much, flavour, richness and creates the creamy texture.  Using a higher quality butter that has a higher fat content will provide more flavour.

Lemon Curd Quick Facts:

Origin: Lemon curd originated in the 1800’s in England. Historically, known as lemon cheese because of its texture. 

Difficulty Level: Intermediate, you just need patience.

Ingredients: Fruit juice (lemon), sugar, egg yolks and butter.

Best used for: tart and pie fillings, spread for toast, scones and pancakes.

How to make Lemon Curd Like a Pastry Chef

close up view of Lemon curd in glass jar on white background

Lets get baking! (Step-by-Step Instructions)

Mis en Place

Going back to the Kira Bakes Gluten Free Pastry Principals, this is always our first step when baking as it not only helps ensure accuracy during the mixing process, but it also makes the whole baking process a lot more relaxing and enjoyable. It’s a win/win!

If I’ve said it 100 times, I’ll say it again. Measuring ingredients by weight not volume is the magic sauce to gluten free baking! I always do my best to provide the cup (volume) measurements where possible. If you are going to measure by volume, click this link for tips on the correct way to measure by volume.

Scale the following ingredients

Lemon Curd Ingredients:

200ml Lemon Juice (approx 4 large, juicy lemons, freshly squeezed). Note: You can substitute with any citrus fruit.

120g or 6 Eggs Yolks (large US)

165g or 3/4 cup + 1 tbsp Granulated Sugar

165g Unsalted Butter (cubed and chilled)

Prepare the equipment

  • Citrus Juicer (optional)
  • Small heavy-bottomed saucepan
  • Whisk
  • Rubber Spatula
  • Metal Spoon
  • Medium mixing bowl, x2

Method

Step 1

In a saucepan, fresh lemon juice with ¾ of the sugar. Cook over medium heat until steam begins to form.

In a medium bowl, whisk the remaining sugar with the egg yolks. Whisk until it looks pale and thick.

Step 2

Temper the mixture by pouring a third of the hot lemon mixture into the egg and sugar mixture. Whisking continually so not to overheat and cook the egg yolks.

Step 3

Pour the mixture back into saucepan with the remaining lemon mixture, and return to a low heat. REMEMBER: DO NOT BOIL!

If you want to cook it to temperature:

Stirring constantly with a spatula or spoon, cook the curd to a temperature of 78-80C/172.5-176F. Don’t let it go above this temperature.

If you want to cook it to Napper or Coating texture:

Dip a metal spoon into the lemon curd. Angle the spoon and run a horizontal line through the curd with a finger. If fully cooked, the line will remain neat with no drips.

Step 4

Add butter and salt. Stir until fully incorporated. Transfer the lemon curd to a heatproof bowl and cover with a sheet of cling film (plastic wrap) so that it is touching the surface of the curd. This is called ‘Contact Wrapping’. This will ensure a skin doesn’t form. Allow to cool to room temperature, before transferring it to the fridge.

Storing Lemon Curd

Keep Lemon Curd stored in the fridge for up to 7-10 days. 

Lemon Curd in glass jar with spoon, on wood table with sliced lemons

Lemon Curd Q&A

Question: Is Lemon Curd Gluten Free?

It is gluten free! Because Lemon Curd only incorporates fruit juice, sugar, eggs and butter it is naturally gluten free and safe for anyone who is celiac or can’t tolerate gluten.

Lemon Custard can sometimes contain wheat flour instead of cornstarch. So if you are buying or making Lemon Custard instead of Lemon Curd. Make sure you double check that it uses cornstarch.

Question: Why is my lemon curd runny?

It could be one of two things. Either it didn’t reach a high enough temperature while cooking (78-80C) or it just needs time to set-up in the fridge for a few hours.  Lemon curd is a thinner consistency when its warm.  As the butter cools and sets in the fridge, the lemon curd should become thicker.

Question: Can I save a curdled Lemon Curd?

Usually! I’m an optimist and honestly as long as the lemon curd reached a high enough temperature to ensure the eggs are safe to eat I say it’s fair game.  You can simply use a fine mesh strainer after adding the butter to remove any lump or bits of scrambles eggs. It can be our little secret.

Print
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Lemon Curd in glass jar with spoon, on wood table with sliced lemons

How to Make Lemon Curd


  • Author: Kira McMullan
  • Total Time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: 2 cups 1x
  • Diet: Gluten Free

Description

Lemon Curd is tangy, zesty, sweet and oh so simple to make.  It’s basically a curd that swaps out the milk and cream for fruit juice. Once you try this fool-proof recipe for making homemade lemon curd, you will be topping it on toast, scones and looking for an excuse to make lemon meringue pie.


Ingredients

Scale

200ml Lemon Juice (approx 4 large, juicy lemons, freshly squeezed). Note: You can substitute with any citrus fruit.

120g or 6 Eggs Yolks (large US)

165g or 3/4 cup + 1 tbsp Granulated Sugar

165g Unsalted Butter (cubed and chilled)


Instructions

Step 1

In a saucepan, fresh lemon juice with ¾ of the sugar. Cook over medium heat until steam begins to form.

In a medium bowl, whisk the remaining sugar with the egg yolks. Whisk until it looks pale and thick.

Step 2

Temper the mixture by pouring a third of the hot lemon mixture into the egg and sugar mixture. Whisking continually so not to overheat and cook the egg yolks.

Step 3

Pour the mixture back into saucepan with the remaining lemon mixture, and return to a low heat. REMEMBER: DO NOT BOIL!

If you want to cook it to temperature:

Stirring constantly with a spatula or spoon, cook the curd to a temperature of 78-80C/172.5-176F. Don’t let it go above this temperature.

If you want to cook it to Napper or Coating texture:

Dip a metal spoon into the lemon curd. Angle the spoon and run a horizontal line through the curd with a finger. If fully cooked, the line will remain neat with no drips.

Step 4

Add butter and salt. Stir until fully incorporated. Transfer the lemon curd to a heatproof bowl and cover with a sheet of cling film (plastic wrap) so that it is touching the surface of the curd. This is called ‘Contact Wrapping’. This will ensure a skin doesn’t form. Allow to cool to room temperature, before transferring it to the fridge.

It will look fairly fluid when you first make this lemon curd.  Allow it to cool for 1-2 hours in the fridge to help it thicken.

Storing Lemon Curd

Keep Lemon Curd stored in the fridge for up to 7-10 days. 

  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cook Time: 10 minutes

Keywords: lemon curd, citrus dessert, easy dessert, gluten free, lemon custard, creme anglaise,

Recipe questions? I’d love to help!

Connect with me @kirabakesglutenfree or info@kirabakesglutenfree.com

Gluten Free Pastry Chef Kira McMullan, eating slice of cake

Ready to try another Gluten Free Recipe? Why not bake my Gluten Free Homemade Caramel or Gluten Free Brownies.  

The next lesson is Module Four: Gluten Free Pastry. Modules launch the last Monday of each month. Make sure to sign up to my newsletter for reminders and other gluten free recipes and tips.



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