luscious vanilla bean lemon curd

I am going to make this soooooo super easy for y’all:

You can make lemon curd with equal parts sugar, butter, eggs, and lemon juice. If you convert any lemon curd recipe into grams or ounces, you’ll see that, on average, they all use equal parts of the four main ingredients, and then some salt, lemon zest, and maybe vanilla (definitely vanilla.) I did not know this until about a month ago, after I’d been making lemon curd for well over two years.

The most eye-opening thing I’ve learned about baking in the past few years is that many recipes have a Golden Ratio. In fact, I have my pie crust recipe memorized specifically because of the Golden Ratio for Pie Crusts (I’m officially calling it that now.) There’s a golden ratio for French tart dough, cookie dough, genoise sponge cakes, and even yeasted breads.

Now we can all sleep easy knowing the Golden Ratio for Lemon Curd: 1:1:1:1, 1 part sugar: 1 part egg (white, yolk, or whole): 1 part lemon juice: 1 part butter. The most important thing about knowing these ratios is that you can use them to manipulate your recipes: do you want a sweeter lemon curd? Maybe you do 3 parts sugar to 2 parts everything else (3:2:2:2.) Do you want your lemon curd to set and thicken more? Follow the ratio, then add in one more egg yolk, or do 3 parts butter to 2 parts everything else (2:2:2:3.) If you want more lemon-y tartness, add more lemon juice and an extra egg yolk: 2:3:3:2. If you want a thinner lemon curd, add more lemon juice or reduce the amount of butter: 1:1:2:1 (more lemon juice), or 2:2:2:1 (less butter.)

And now I’m going to blow your mind again: to make approximately 1 cup (8 fluid ounces) of lemon curd, you use 4 ounces (by weight) of each ingredient. To make approximately 1.5 cups (12 fluid ounces), you use 6 ounces by weight of each ingredient: the input of each ingredient ends up being about 1/2 of the total output. I know, super technical, but we are talking about ratios here, so it’s totally appropriate. If you can’t remember your recipe, or want a certain amount of finished curd but can’t conceptualize how much of each ingredient to use, multiply your desired amount of lemon curd by 1/2. The actual ratio varies depending on how much you cook the curd.

You might want to make 1 cup but end up with 1 1/3 cups. Let’s call that a Baker’s Cup: the baker gets to eat the extra 1/3 for their time and effort.

Y’all know I loooooove lemon and when I choose a flavor, I go hard on that flavor (cardamom and aniseed, heyyyyy!) Since making lemon curd the first time (btw, the first time I ever made lemon curd, there was absolutely no egg scrambling and I didn’t have to strain the curd at all, so there), I’ve fallen head over lemon stem for it. It seems like the perfect marriage: lemon and sugar. But there is one very helpful wedding guest: vanilla. I use the 1-quart vanilla bean paste bottle that I bought 2.5 years ago (which has more than doubled in price since I bought it so buy yours now while vanilla still exists), but you can use any form of vanilla you want. I do strongly recommend that it be real vanilla beans and not synthetic vanillin (nothing against vanillin but it’s not quite the same as real Madagascar vanilla beans.)

And the ringbearer: lemon zest. Overkill? Nahhhhhh. The lemon juice is the main flavor but lemon juice and lemon zest are slightly different flavor experiences, and adding the zest from fresh lemons on top of the full amount of lemon juice really gets that flavor. Aaaaand, here’s another kicker: 1 large lemon produces about 2 ounces of juice on average (1.75 – 2.25 ounces), and the perfect amount of lemon zest for this recipe is the zest of 2 large lemons. Therefore, all of the lemon juice you need (plus extra or minus just a bit) and the lemon zest come from 2 large lemons or 4 small baby lemons.

That was pretty long but in summary: 2 large lemons (or 4 baby lemons), 1 stick of butter (4 oz), 4 oz sugar, and 2 large eggs (which coincidentally contain as much egg as a lemon contains lemon juice), a pinch of salt and a hit of vanilla and wham, bam, thank you, ma’am.

She’s rich. She’s vividly lemony. She’s got just a hint of Madagascar vanilla. She’s Covergirl.

No, she’s vanilla bean lemon curd.



Another great thing about lemon curd: You can use the recipe to make other curds, as well. Think lime or orange curd, pineapple curd, mango curd, or even pumpkin curd and ginger curd (macaron filling ideas for the win, y’all.)


luscious vanilla bean lemon curd

makes about 1 cup


4 oz granulated sugar

4 oz freshly-squeezed lemon juice

zest of 2 large lemons (or 4 baby lemons)

2 large eggs

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract

4 oz unsalted butter, cut into small pieces (about 8 pieces)


In a small non-stick saucepan, whisk together sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest, eggs, salt, and vanilla.

Place the saucepan over medium heat and bring to a simmer, whisking frequently to prevent the eggs from scrambling.

You don’t need to boil the mixture because the eggs cook at a lower heat than water boils or simmers. You should see the sugar dissolve and then a very thin layer of white froth cover the surface of the curd. It’ll look like the white foam you get when you cook pasta.

Make sure you stir pretty frequently, because the curd will cook around the edges and on the bottom before it cooks in the middle. You don’t have to whisk or stir continuously, but fairly often to prevent scrambling.

At first, it will seem like the curd is cooking slowly and steadily, and then all of a sudden, it will be thick. Once the curd is the consistency of lava (and bubbles and pops like lava in a volcano), then it’s almost done and you won’t need to stir it as often. Test the curd for doneness before adding the butter.

You can test the curd a couple ways. The first is useful for any sauce: dip a wooden or metal spoon (or spatula) in the curd to coat the spoon/spatula. Run your finger through the coating and if the curd doesn’t run along the surface of the spoon/spatula (to fill in where you scraped it off with your finger), then it’s done. You can continue cooking if you want it to be a little thicker.

The second way is the same as testing jam: the freezer test. Freeze a metal spoon, then place a small amount of the curd on the spoon and put the spoon back in the freezer. The spoon will heat up and then cool down. After about 2-3 minutes, check the spoon: if the bottom of the spoon is room temperature and the lemon curd is thick (does not move), it’s done.

The curd will thicken and set more as it cools but you can also keep cooking for about 5 – 10 minutes to get a little more of the water out.

Once the curd is done, add the butter and whisk constantly to melt it. You can place the saucepan back on medium or low heat if you need to. Once the butter is fully melted and incorporated, strain the curd to remove any scrambled bits and the lemon zest. Place a fine mesh strainer over a bowl or a measuring cup and pour the curd through, using a rubber spatula to push the curd through the strainer until all that’s left is solid (the zest or any scrambled eggs.) You might not need to strain the curd at all but it doesn’t hurt to do it anyway.

The curd will keep in a sealed container in the refrigerator for about a week, and in the freezer for a couple months.


Y’all come back now, okerrrr-d?

Nick P.

Categories: side dishes

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