My paternal grandmother, Gimmy, is the queen of conserves and condiments.
In my hazily filtered childhood memory, she was always sitting or standing near the stove. If she was sitting, you'd typically find a ball of wool at her feet, a pair of heavy dressmaking scissors resting on a newspaper at her elbow, as she tackled a towering pile of mending or a half-finished crochet blanket made out of leftovers from knitting projects. If she was standing, she had a wooden spoon in hand, gently stirring a pot of steaming fruit and sugar ready to pour into a haphazard collection of jars she'd been hoarding for months.
Even now, in her late 80s, she painstakingly prepares buckets and buckets of cumquats from an enthusiastic tree in her backyard to cook down into marmalade. When I opened her pantry to put away some cups and plates last time I visited, I was greeted by an entire shelf filled with various sweet and sour things in jars.
Jam is her jam.
But out of all those things in jars, it was her lemon butter we used to fight over. Between spoonfuls sneaked from the fridge and a generous lacquer applied to hot, buttered toast, the jar of quivering yellow would never last very long. (And yes, it's important to administer a layer of butter first then a splodge of lemon butter over the top. I also butter the toast first when I use peanut butter. Sorry?)
I'm not sure when I started making it myself, but I do recall some early lemon butter experiments using a recipe from my mother's Sanyo microwave cookbook — inevitably the part where I'd have to strain out little jellied lumps of cooked egg from the curd.
It felt like a significant rite of passage when I finally mastered stovetop lemon butter in my late 20s, during a period of my life I shall affectionately call 'the intermission' from now on'. (There was also a sponge cake phase and an intensive period spent trying to replicate Starbucks's pear and raspberry loaf.)
Because it's as easy on the eye as it is on the tastebuds — and because it keeps so well — lemon butter makes a lovely gift to share. I whipped up my first lot yesterday afternoon: one jar for us, one for a friend.
So, I thought I'd share my recipe. Mi lemon butter es su lemon butter. It's robust enough that it can take a little bending and flexing. The size of the eggs or the lemons doesn't matter very much. You can use less sugar, if you like. I even made a quadruple batch once and forgot to melt the butter first. While I wouldn't recommend this approach, the end result was actually just fine.
My grandma would have been impressed.
Low-fail lemon butter of dreams
Making lemon curd is much like making custard. It's a mixture that thickens as the incorporated eggs cook. The best way to set yourself up for success is to measure and prepare all of the ingredients, and to whisk them together thoroughly, before you put them over the heat (i.e. don't try to make a quadruple batch and chuck in a block of unmelted butter!).
2 large, juicy lemons
1/2 cup or 115g melted unsalted butter
3/4 cup or 150g castor sugar
1 whole egg + 2 egg yolks
For this recipe, you will need to make a double boiler. Find a smallish saucepan and fill it with an inch of
water. Bring to a simmer. Also find a medium-sized bowl that you can set over the saucepan so that it sits firmly around the rim but the base does not come into contact with the water.
Once you’ve found the appropriately sized bowl, you’re ready to rock and roll. That rhymes!
Zest the lemons or finely grate the peel. Then, squeeze the lemons and combine the juice, rind, butter, eggs,
and sugar in the bowl you will sit atop the saucepan. Whisk the mixture well to thoroughly incorporate the egg and yolks and to create an even consistency.
Set the bowl over the saucepan of simmering water.
Now, whisk. That’s all you need to do for approximately the next 10 minutes. Whisk. Whisk and whisk and
whisk until the mixture thickens to the consistency of a softly set egg yolk. Remove it from the heat and continue to whisk for a couple of minutes as it cools. It will thicken more during this time — and especially once you put it in the fridge.
Spoon the lemon butter into a big, clean jar (approximately 300ml capacity) or a couple of smaller jars, and store in the fridge for up to a fortnight.
Makes about 300g or 1 1/2 cups.