Lemon Curd Definition, Uses, and Recipes

Two small containers of lemon curd

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Lemon curd is a popular condiment for afternoon tea and is used similarly to jam or custard. It is a sweet, tangy topping with a strong lemon taste (much stronger than, say, a lemon custard). Lemon curd's texture is smooth and silky, similar to a very smooth, creamy custard, and thick enough to be spread on scones and other foods.

In Britain, lemon curd is also known as "lemon cheese," and other fruit curds are known as "[name of fruit] cheese."

What's in Lemon Curd?

Traditionally, lemon curd is made with the zest and juice of Meyer lemons. Meyer lemons are a crossbreed between regular old lemons and either Mandarin or regular oranges, and they give lemon curd a distinctive flavor.

However, lemon curd can also be made with regular lemons, and other types of fruit curds can be made with citrus fruits like limes (lime curd), tangerines (tangerine curd), oranges (orange curd), or with other fruits, like passion fruit, berries or mango.

Traditionally, lemon curd also includes egg yolks and sugar. Some recipes also include egg whites and butter.

Commercial lemon curds may also include thickeners (such as cornstarch; these dilute the flavor and quality of lemon curd), preservatives, colors, and flavorings.

How Is Lemon Curd Used?

Although it's most often used as a scone topping, lemon curd is surprisingly versatile. It's also used on cakes, cupcakes, bread, muffins, pancakes, crumpets, waffles, cream puffs, tarts, and cookies, and is the lemony filling found in lemon meringue pies.

Since lemon curd has such a strong taste, it is not usually eaten on its own.

How Long Does Lemon Curd Keep Fresh?

The downside to lemon curd is that it doesn't keep fresh as long as jam does. When you make a batch, you'll need to use it up quickly—ideally within a week or two.

Luckily, the homemade lemon curd is not only versatile, but far better than the store-bought varieties, so it's easy to use up quickly. That said, there are two ways around its short shelf-life.

  1. Freeze it, which can stretch its shelf life for up to a year, and (surprisingly) does not impact its texture.
  2. "Can" it, so it can keep good for three months or so in the fridge (yes, really—not on a shelf).

Both work well, but freezing is easier, and it keeps lemon curd fresh longer, so if you have space in the freezer, go for it!

Lemon Curd Recipes

The basic method for making lemon curd is simple:

  1. Zest and juice lemons.
  2. Cook with beaten egg yolks and sugar in a double boiler, stirring often, until thick and smooth.
  3. Cool and enjoy.

However, the variations on how to make lemon curd are infinite!