When I was growing up in Germany and Greece, satiny lemon curd was never on our table. In fact, I had not even heard of it before moving to the States. But it did not take long to find myself gushing over images of this smooth, spreadable custard in cookbooks and magazines. Its vivid color and glistening shine were tantalizing: I absolutely had to try it.
I was not yet an adventurous food writer when I spent what felt like forever stirring and monitoring the rich butter and egg mixture on the stove. Using a double boiler, with no food thermometer on hand, I had many questions: Was it done yet? How would I know? Will I get the gentle heat just right? Or will I go too far and scramble the eggs, destroying the sublime treat?
While my first lemon curd did turn out lovely, all that fretting made me never want to try again. Given its richness, with all the butter, sugar and egg yolks, lemon curd was something I did not miss much, either — until this winter, when beautiful organic Meyer lemons arrived at my grocer’s.
I also had happened to flip through Heidi Gibson’s “Muffins & Biscuits” book (Chronicle, 2017), which includes a curd recipe done in the microwave. Seriously, I wondered? How could such a finicky custard be prepared in the heat of an appliance that can cook things so unevenly?
Well, I am no longer skeptical. And a quick Internet search revealed a bounty of microwave curd recipes.
I have since learned that you can cook just about any citrus curd in the microwave in mere minutes. It is so easy and effortless, chances are you will never buy a jar again. Best of all, you won’t be stuck with leftover egg whites because you can use whole eggs to make it. More win-win.
Soon, I was on a citrus curd binge. Having been raised by a Greek mom, I first reduced the butter and incrementally increased the amount of olive oil. Before long, my citrus curd was made entirely with olive oil and it worked well, to my surprise. I had assumed the spread would not hold up or achieve the right consistency. But as I learned from Cook’s Illustrated, this curd is not firmed up by the butter hardening as it cools. Instead, it is mainly the coagulation of egg proteins that are responsible for the stable yet quivering spread.
Henceforth, I felt emboldened to tinker. I omitted the refined white sugar and switched to a mild honey. Lo and behold, this, too, proved to be an improvement. Using honey seems to yield a finer, more fragrant curd and it mellows the citrus’s acidity. To me, the olive oil is responsible for a brighter taste overall. Cook’s Illustrated explains that the dairy proteins in butter bind to flavor compounds in lemons, muting their tang.
My basic recipe for a super-easy citrus curd in the microwave uses aromatic Meyer lemons, which are rounder and sweeter than the common Eureka lemons. I learned to love the Meyers’ delicate scent when I lived in the Bay Area, where the fruit was so abundant people would hand it to you in huge bags. No one has done that yet in the frigid Boston area where I now live.
I have included two flavor variations: a tart lemon curd that is puckery in the best of ways, and a pleasing orange curd. Each batch makes about 3/4 cup. I find that this relatively small amount allows you to whip up a batch often, with whatever citrus you have on hand.
Spread your homemade curd on a slice of toast or in a breakfast croissant; spoon it into yogurt and on dark chocolate ice cream. The latter is a terrific combo, especially. Citrus curd freezes well, which means you can have it on hand long after Meyer lemon season is over.
MAKE AHEAD: The curd can be refrigerated for up to 1 week, and frozen for at least 1 month; defrost in the refrigerator overnight.
2 or 3 Meyer lemons, preferably organic (250 grams)
2 tablespoons plus 1 1/2 teaspoons (50 grams) mild honey
3 tablespoons (40 grams) extra-virgin olive oil, a mild fruity one, such as Trader Joe’s Greek Kalamata
1 large egg, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
Finely grate the lemons, avoiding the bitter white pith, until you have 1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons of zest. Juice the fruits, straining the seeds, until you have 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon juice (90 grams).
Whisk together the honey and oil in a medium microwave-safe bowl, then whisk in the egg, lemon zest, juice and salt until smooth. Don’t worry if the honey hasn’t completely dissolved at this point.
Set your microwave at 50 PERCENT POWER. Heat the mixture for 1 minute, then stop to whisk and scrape around the sides of the bowl. Repeat, then continue heating and checking every 30 seconds, whisking and scraping in between; the mixture will foam and gradually thicken. The custard is done once it coats the back of a wooden spoon and a path remains when you slide your finger across. This should take about 3 minutes total, depending on the power of your microwave. The temperature of the custard should register at least 170 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. (This is hot enough to cook the egg.)
Let cool in the bowl for about 15 minutes, whisking a few times. Strain the curd through a fine-mesh strainer for a super-smooth silky spread. (Personally, I love the golden bits of zest and skip this step.)
Spoon the curd into an 8-ounce glass jar. Chill, uncovered, until completely cool, then seal the lid.
VARIATIONS: To make a tart lemon curd, replace the Meyer lemons in the basic recipe above with 2 medium lemons (250 grams). Use 1 tablespoon more honey for a total of 3 tablespoons plus 1 1/2 teaspoons at the start (70 grams).
To make an orange curd, replace the Meyer lemons in the basic recipe above with 1 medium orange plus 1/2 small orange (250 grams).
Speck is a veteran journalist and the author of “Simply Ancient Grains” (Ten Speed Press, 2015). She will join Wednesday’s Free Range chat at noon: live.washingtonpost.com.
Tested by Miriam Albert; email questions to email@example.com.
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The nutritional analysis is based on 3 servings.
Calories: 200; Total Fat: 15 g; Saturated Fat: 3 g; Cholesterol: 60 mg; Sodium: 200 mg; Carbohydrates: 17 g; Dietary Fiber: 0 g; Sugars: 15 g; Protein: 2 g.