June 27, 2018
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Attention Bakers: Buy a Jar of Lemon Curd
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If your baking experiments tend to result in disaster, a little jar from the grocery store might be the solution.

I’m a skittish baker. Baking, I’d been told, was not for impulsive improvisers like myself; it was about careful teaspoons over haphazard pinches. Then I found the training wheels I needed in a jar of lemon curd.

I’ve long had the habit of picking up $2.99 jars of Trader Joe’s “authentic” English lemon curd to smear generously on toast, muffins, and, on particularly trying weeknights, directly onto a spoon and into my mouth. One summer Saturday, I set out to make lemon curd ice cream using the last half of a jar. The viscous curd, I found, was surprisingly easy to beat into the hot-milk-and-cornstarch base that would become ice cream. As my mixture quickly became a confident, consistent yellow, I poured the mixture into a bowl, tossed it into the freezer, and set to Instagramming various snapshots of my triumph.

After the lemon ice cream went off without a hitch, I managed to botch some simple lemon bars. I didn’t make it very far past a thin, crumbly crust and a filling that I hadn’t cooled for the requisite amount of time. Ice cream had been a surprisingly straightforward endeavor, but it hadn’t really exposed me to the skills necessary to become a strong baker–nor had I learned much about how lemon curd’s strong, tart profile interacts with other flavors.

The key, I learned, was to add ingredients sweet enough to balance out the sharpness of the curd, but not so strong that it felt like a flavor overload.

Cue a ’90s rom-com montage scene of lemon curd baked goods: Crepes with lemon curd and blueberry compote! A simple pound cake! Thumbprint cookies! The key, I learned, was to add ingredients sweet enough to balance out the sharpness of the curd, but not so strong that it felt like a flavor overload. Frozen blueberries turned out to be the most fun to experiment with because of their mildness and affordability, once I got over the alarming neon green my batter turned when I mixed the frozen berries with lemon curd (for those in my generation: think slime straight out of a Nickelodeon afternoon show). Strawberries and raspberries (all frozen—the fresh stuff seemed to get a little too mushy) also worked well. Meanwhile, walnuts or pistachios and lemon curd made for an unpleasant “melted brittle” texture that didn’t go over well with any of my taste-testers.

As I made my way through an array of recipes I had flagged as potential vehicles for lemon curd, I jotted down the takeaways in an attempt to make something useful out of the batches of wasted dough and curdled fillings. When I made thumbprint cookies that required lemon zest in addition to lemon curd, I learned that aggressive zesting can turn a cookie overly bitter. I found that adding just one too many dollops of Greek yogurt to lemon curd batter makes for an unappealingly soggy cake. Likewise, flavored Greek yogurt (like key lime) sounds like a natural choice to mix with lemon curd, but in reality, it makes for too many competing flavors. Simplicity, especially with a bold ingredient like the one I had chosen to work with, was key. After countless sour-faced taste tests, I internalized the importance of adding a few teaspoons of vanilla extract (and sugar) to balance out the overall tartness of a lemon curd filling in cupcake recipes.

My first truly successful off-recipe modification was adding two teaspoons of matcha to a lemon pound cake batter. It was a teeny, tiny tweak that I wouldn’t have had the confidence to try if it hadn’t been for experimenting with different jams, yogurts, and berries in previous cakes and muffins. Baking might be for the teaspoons-not-pinches crowd, but I’ve found there’s still a lot of wiggle room within the confines of those teaspoons.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ⅔ cups granulated sugar
  • zest of one lemon (about 1 1/2 teaspoons)
  • 3 tablespoons lemon curd
  • 2 tablespoons Earth Balance butter (or other vegan butter)
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • ¼ cup vanilla almond milk
  • ½ cup fresh or frozen blueberries

A great, easy use for lemon curd in baking is swapping it into cakes and muffins in place of yogurt. Because store-bought lemon curd tends not to have any butter in it, you can use it to make dairy-free baked goods. The very first time I made these, I accidentally added 2 tablespoons instead of 2/3 cup of sugar. They were still very good––just more neutral and in need of some curd to slather on top––so that should speak to the crowd-pleasing nature of these muffins.

Adapted from The Kitchn’s Lemon-Blueberry Yogurt Cake with Lemon Cream

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F with rack in the middle. Grease a muffin pan.
  2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.
  3. Place the granulated sugar and lemon zest in the bowl of a stand mixer or in a large mixing bowl. Using your fingers, rub the zest into the sugar until it is the texture of damp sand and smells like lemon candy. Add the butter and beat in a stand mixer or with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the vanilla and the egg. Add the lemon curd and beat well.
  4. At low speed, beat in half the flour mixture until just combined. Then beat in the milk and remaining flour mixture.
  5. Spread batter evenly in the pan. Scatter berries over top and sprinkle evenly with turbinado sugar.
  6. Bake until cake is golden-brown and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 15-20 minutes.

Oset Babur

Oset Babur is a writer in Boston, MA. Her work on everything from women-owned cider houses to unruly eyebrows lives at www.osetbabur.com or @baburoset.

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