It’s a birthday again around here, and this one has all the markings of what my mother likes to call a Polish Festival. She had a good friend when I was little who was a Polish doctor, and he clued us in to a host of Polish customs whenever he visited, among them the general principle that one quality that a Pole likes in his holiday is that it goes on and on. “And then on the third day, we dance a little and eat this kind of pastry...” That sort of thing. So in our house growing up, any holiday that had to be celebrated multiple times, say to accommodate both marking the actual date of birth and again later on, to include some key relative who had been absent at the original celebration, became known as a Polish Festival. This was said with the utmost respect for all persons of Polish extraction, not least because we all like to have a reason to eat cake twice and get more presents and would gladly honor anyone who suggests we formalize it into a strategy.
The present birthday has all the makings of a first-rate Polish Festival, as her birthday party isn’t happening for another two weeks. In preparation, a large amount of dessert must be prepared because it is a big party and one that is kind of focused on dessert, much like the birthday girl herself. Now that I am inching off of my sick-bed, I am going to be making lots of little sweeties and sticking them in the freezer, so you may hear a little more about dessert than usual. I'll try to keep a few vegetables in the mix, for fiber and so forth.
As for my continued ill health and how sorry I am feeling for my sad, miserable little self, I am glad you asked. I continue to feel very sorry for myself, mainly because I am coughing so much that the muscles in my earlobes are sore. Thank you for the folk remedy for coughing that you are about to suggest to me, and rest assured I have already tried it, and apparently it does not apply in this case. I just cough and cough, like a Victorian heroine, but with less interesting clothes (can't say the corset would me much of a boon to the proceedings anyway). And I am as sleepless as the mother of a newborn, but without any of the perks of having a baby around.
Oh, enough already. It’s just a cough.
In happier news, I have a LOT of lemons.
When I tried to stick to a 100-mile diet a few years ago, and had to pick the one exception food that each of us were to be allowed, I was hard-pressed to choose between lemons and olive oil. In fact, that was what basically scuttled the whole enterprise, because despite all my bullying none of the little children would use their credit for me. Olive oil is a given, and there is just nothing like a lemon (even sumac, as it turns out--I really tried).
I have just learned that there is absolutely nothing on earth like a really good lemon, one that reaches you 72 hours after being picked, sun-ripe, from the tree of someone who loves you enough to mail you four boxes of lemons. I want to eat these lemons like apples. They are brazenly lemonesque, curvy and fragrant and round and juicy and nearly seedless. You know that scene in Atlantic City where Susan Sarandon stands by her kitchen window and rubs lemons on her elbows? OK. That’s what I’m saying.
Lemon curd is one of the best things I know to do with lemons when you have a bunch of them, and it freezes well so you can make one episode of preparing it last and last. The birthday girl likes to pretend it is pudding and eat it with a spoon, but here are some other things that you can do with it:
1. Spoon it into a tart shell or a meringue, and put blueberries on top, or any other berry, for that matter.
2. Fold it into whipped cream and call it mousse.
3. Use it to flavor a plain buttercream.
4. Serve it with scones.
You could also rub it on your elbows, I guess, but if you do, stay away from the windows.
Rose Levy Berenbaum, author of The Cake Bible, was the one who freed me from the double boiler and the idea that lemon curd was tricky or difficult. Revolutionary. But her recipe uses egg yolks only, and I think that makes the lemon curd taste funny, a little metallic and a little like a wet cat smells. Not very appealing, I think you will agree.
Whole eggs are the answer.
To pull this crazy simple recipe off, you have to have a fine mesh strainer on hand, just FYI. The silkiness of the end result depends on it, and this is all about silkiness.
You probably already know these other two things, but I will go ahead and say that (1) a microplane makes the zesting of lemons a simple delight, and helps you forget the thing you used to have to do with a box grater and a toothpick or some parchment paper, and (2) you can freeze lemon zest, just plop it in a jar or plastic container and freeze it, for instant access to lemony bliss when you are baking but sadly out of lemons.
makes about two cups
1 1/3 cups sugar
3 T lemon zest (about 3 lemons)
1 cup fresh lemon juice (about four lemons)
1 ½ sticks butter, cut in 1” bits
Have a fine mesh strainer over a medium bowl near your stove.
In a heavy saucepan, whisk together the eggs and sugar. The sugar will protect the eggs from curdling when you add the lemon juice. Now whisk in the lemon juice and zest, and then throw in the butter. Cook over low to medium heat, stirring all the time with a wooden spoon, until the mixtures thickens and pales and nicely coats the back of the spoon. Keep it from boiling--if it begins to threaten boiling, raise the pot up off the burner while you turn down the flame--but otherwise do not fret about how thing are going at all, as long as you keep stirring.
When it reaches spoon-coating thickness (it will continue to thicken as it cools, so that’s as far as you need to take it), immediately dump it into the waiting strainer and force it through. All manner of eggy nubbins and lemon parts will stay behind in the strainer, and you should have a lovely, satiny curd in the bowl--unless you did not believe me about the fine mesh strainer and tried to get by with something else.
If you want little flecks of yellow zestiness to perk things up visually, you can stir in another few scrapings of zest at this point.
You’re done. It will keep a week or more in the fridge, and well longer than that in the freezer, and there is a raging debate over whether or not you need to put buttered parchment right on the surface to better preserve it or not, and I say you don’t.
If you'd like to upgrade the lemon curd even further, see here for some wild and sexy additions.