We Tested 8 Methods for Making Lemon Curd and the Simplest Was Also the Best
I love lemon curd. I mean, I love all things lemon — full stop. I always go for the lemon cupcake or the lemon donut or the lemon bar first. But there’s something about the sweet-tart richness of lemon curd that always grabs my heart. Although it’s an ideal base for tart fillings and cake layers and ice cream, I have also been known to eat bowls of it plain, as if it were pudding. No shame!
So I’ve made gallons of lemon curd in my lifetime, but I’ve only ever made it one particular way: using a double boiler.
When I had the opportunity to test out every method of making lemon curd under the yellow sun, how could I resist? If there’s a better way to make one of my favorite lemon desserts, I’d love to know about it. So I scoured the internet and found seven other ways to make lemon curd and put them all to the test.
A Few Notes on Methodology
Ingredients: All methods used the same four ingredients: lemons (juice and zest), granulated sugar, large eggs, and unsalted butter. Although the quantities of the four key ingredients varied slightly from recipe to recipe, the differences were minor and all recipes made approximately 2 cups of lemon curd.
Ratings criteria: I judged each method by the final taste and texture of the curd: Was it thick and smooth in consistency, or was it a soupy mess? Did the curd have a perfectly puckery, not-too-sweet lemony taste?
I also judged the method on whether it not actually worked and produced an edible curd, as well as its relative ease. If a method required special equipment or a complicated process, it needed to justify the work involved. And, because I’m always petty this way, I considered the mess each method made. Don’t make me wash five different bowls for no reason, curd!
Lemon Curd Method: Cooking Directly in Slow Cooker
About this method: This method, as seen on a few slow cooker-specific sites like Slow Cooker Central and Slow Cooker Tip, calls for melting the butter into the whisked eggs, lemon juice, and sugar directly in the slow cooker bowl on High. Once the butter is fully melted, cover with a towel to absorb moisture before placing the lid on the slow cooker, then cook on Low for 1 1/2 to 2 hours — stirring every 20 minutes.
Results: Right off the bat, I was mad at this method, because it took a full 30 minutes to melt the butter. Although the instructions said to stir continuously, I couldn’t get things going until I put the lid on the slow cooker to start trapping the heat, stirring every 5 minutes or so.
Then I got angry because I would have to open the slow cooker and stir every 20 minutes for 2 hours. Isn’t the point of a slow cooker to set it and forget it? I don’t want to babysit; I want to go do a dance workout or something.
After only 40 minutes on low, the curd was already thickened and verging on overcooked with big pieces of egg forming in the slow cooker. I switched it off and quickly strained the curd, even though the recipe didn’t call for it. Straining the curd revealed browned bits where the curd had started to caramelize and burn around the edges of the slow cooker. And while straining did smooth out the texture, the butter was pooling and separating from the curd, even after stirring.
The next day, the butter had turned into solidified chunks around the edges of the jar and the curd tasted gritty. Not a successful experience at all!
Lemon Curd Method: Instant Pot
About this method: With this method described by Mel’s Kitchen Cafe, you combine melted butter, lemon juice and zest, sugar, and eggs in a blender, then pour that mixture into a heatproof bowl or glass measuring cup that fits inside the Instant Pot. Cover the bowl with foil and place on the Instant Pot trivet, then add water to the Instant Pot and pressure cook. (Mel’s Kitchen Cafe recommends cooking on high pressure for 10 minutes before naturally releasing the pressure for 10 minutes and then quick releasing the remaining pressure).
Results: On first inspection, I thought this method was a success. Although the curd looked, well, curdled in the bowl immediately after it was taken out of the Instant Pot, the mixture appeared smooth after I whisked it. And the consistency was fairly thick even before refrigeration.
But after an overnight rest in the fridge, I tasted the lemon curd and discovered that it contained big chunks of cooked eggs and tasted unpleasantly of cooked eggs, which overwhelmed any lemon flavor.
Could this have been alleviated by straining the curd immediately after cooking? Maybe. But this method also loses points because you have to clean both a blender and an Instant Pot, and have a heatproof bowl that fits inside your Instant Pot. I’d rather just make it straight in the blender (scroll on down for that method).
Lemon Curd Method: Microwave
About this method: Whisk eggs and sugar together; stir in lemon juice, lemon zest, and melted butter; and then microwave for 5 minutes (stirring after every minute). This lemon curd recipe seems easy and straightforward, right? It certainly won’t take as much time as stirring things in the slow cooker, anyway.
Results: I’ll admit this right off the bat: I don’t trust microwave cooking. So I watched this curd like a hawk, faithfully stirring every minute. After the 5-minute mark, the texture was still soupy and thin, but I didn’t want to push it further since I could see some egg proteins coagulating around the edges.
While the lemon curd thickened to a respectable consistency overnight, the texture was gritty instead of smooth — even though I strained it before cooling and refrigerating. And while some of this could be chalked up to my budget-priced (albeit very cute) microwave, it shouldn’t matter how expensive or fancy your equipment is.
Lemon Curd Method: Water Bath in a Slow Cooker
About this method: As seen on a few U.K. sites like Miss Thrifty and Cooking with Emily, this method differs from the slow cooker version above in that you make a water bath inside your slow cooker bowl. You whisk the eggs with sugar, lemon juice and zest, and melted butter in a bowl that fits inside the slow cooker, then cover tightly with foil. Place the bowl in the slow cooker, add enough hot water to fill the slow cooker halfway, then cook on Low for 3-4 hours.
Results: Although this method was easy and seemed like it should have been gentle on the lemon curd, once again the curd was overcooked in record time. After only 1 hour and 15 minutes on Low, there were big chunks of egg white floating in the bowl like iles flottantes. I strained the curd thoroughly before refrigerating, only to get a similar gritty texture to the other slow cooker method and the microwave. It wasn’t as bad as those earlier methods, but it’s still not worth the trouble to make lemon curd in a slow cooker at all.
Lemon Curd Method: Mixer Then Stovetop
About this method: As seen on Fine Cooking, this method calls for creaming the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer before blending in the eggs and lemon juice. The mixture is then cooked directly on the stovetop in a saucepan until it reaches 170° F. After stirring in lemon zest, the curd gets refrigerated without straining.
Results: Although I usually use my stand mixer for everything, the recipe recommended creaming the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer. So I used an electric hand mixer, and even in one of my largest bowls, what a mess! Even on low speed, pieces of the mixture were flying everywhere. Once everything was blended, the mixture did look strange and curdled as the recipe warned, but smoothed out once it was heated up in the saucepan, as the recipe promised.
Even on medium-low heat, it only took 5 minutes for my curd to heat up to 170 degrees instead of the 15 minutes called for in the recipe. Quickness is a bonus here, but how did it turn out?
This was the thickest of all the lemon curds I tested — so thick that I would recommend using it as a no-bake tart filling — and was nice and smooth without any straining necessary. If I made it again, I’d blend everything in my stand mixer’s wonderful high-sided bowl to reduce the splatter factor.
Lemon Curd Method: High-Speed Blender
About this method: This method, as championed right here on the Kitchn, has you blending the four ingredients together in a high-speed blender like a Vitamix, letting its vroom-vroom motor do all the work for you. If you have a powerful blender at your disposal, it couldn’t be easier.
Results: So loud! But effective! I cranked my Vitamix up to high and let it do its thing, resulting in an incredibly creamy curd that tasted like a lemon mousse. It was indeed super easy to make and there was definitely no need to strain anything after the blender whipped everything into oblivion.
But for my personal taste, where I want a thick and rich curd with that slightly bouncy, eggy feel, the whipped texture took it into the territory of a different dessert. I absolutely love it and will use this method when I want to eat an entire bowl of lemon mousse, but for classic curd, I prefer one of the other methods described below.
Lemon Curd Method: Stovetop (Custard-Style)
About this method: This method, where an egg-based liquid is cooked gently in a saucepan until thick, is frequently seen in ice cream recipes. And that’s the method King Arthur Baking recommends for its lemon curd.
The trick with this technique is to heat up liquid — in this case, melted butter, sugar, and lemon juice — and then whisk some of the hot liquid into a bowl of beaten eggs, gently cooking them off the heat so they won’t curdle when they hit the pan. This is called tempering the eggs. (See our post about pastry cream to learn more about tempering eggs.)
Results: I make a lot of ice cream, so this wasn’t a completely new method for me, although I never thought to try it with curd until now. This was the only lemon curd out of the batch that I felt measured up to my ideal double-boiler method’s taste and consistency. It was tart and rich, thick and smooth — all the adjectives I look for in a curd! Plus, I always appreciate a method where I can see the visual and textural changes as they happen, and this lemon curd process gave me the results I was looking for.
Lemon Curd Method: Double Boiler
About this method: The double-boiler method is what I know and am completely fine with doing. With this method, you whisk the ingredients continuously in a heatproof bowl placed over a small pan of steaming water until they cook and thicken into lemon curd. Some recipes have you whisk the butter in at the end of the process, but I don’t bother: I just put it all in and stir, stir, stir.
Results: No surprises here — it worked as promised and gave me the thick, smooth, tart, and glossy curd that I love so dearly. Sure, it feels slightly tedious to whisk for 12 minutes straight, but that’s just time for me to catch up on the New Yorker. (Try it! Prop your iPad up next to the stove and scroll away.) Plus, there are no extra bowls to wash.
Out of all the fancy equipment tested in this Skills Showdown, when it comes down to it, the simple double-boiler method is still my favorite way to make lemon curd.
I’ll definitely make the whipped-up blender lemon curd again when I want that specific consistency for a dessert, but I’ll stick with the double boiler — or maybe once in a while, the stovetop custard method — when I get the lemon curd craving.
One thing I will do from now on is to have my thermometer on hand to check the temperature of my curd as it cooks, stopping it before it hits 170° F. Again, it’s something I do when making ice cream bases, but never connected the dots on the similarities before. See, there’s always room for improvement!
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