I adore the flavor of lemon in almost anything, especially desserts. Even though lemons are at their peak in winter months, my favorite time to make a lemon-inspired dessert is always in the spring and summer. With their sunny color and bright flavor, lemons naturally impart the feeling of summer, and one of my favorite ways to enjoy this beloved citrus is in a Luscious Lemon Cream Parfait, made with homemade lemon curd.
Lemon curd is a wonderfully creamy dessert spread that can be used on cakes, cookies, scones, or just about anything, even a spoon. I've made lemon curd for years, inspired by a recipe from Ina Garten (The Barefoot Contessa), which I've modified only slightly to suit our taste.
There are several methods for making lemon curd and the process can be quite involved, with some recipes requiring a double boiler and even a candy thermometer. What I love about Ina's recipe is its simplicity - even our 12-year-old son Gio can make this lemon curd.
Lemon curd's signature tart and tangy flavor hails from the use of both the zest of the lemon, and the juice. Zest is the colorful outer layer of the peel, which contains the essential oils that give the lemon its pleasing flavor. When zesting any citrus fruit, it's important to use the right tools in order to avoid removing any of the bitter white pith just beneath the peel.
While you could use a fine grater or Microplane tool to accomplish this task, Ina uses a vegetable peeler to remove the zest from three lemons, and then blitzes the zest in a food processor with some sugar. I love this creative work-around, which saves on time and creates a really fine-textured zest.
Ina's recipe calls for 1 ½ cups of sugar, but I've found that amount can be too sweet for our taste, so I use just 1 cup. I also add half a teaspoon of good vanilla, because vanilla makes everything taste better.
For an easy dessert, I love to fold a bit of freshly whipped cream into the lemon curd, which creates a light and lovely lemon cream that simply screams of summer. To serve, I use small glasses to make a parfait with layers of lemon cream, whipped cream, cookie crumbs (any kind) and fresh berries. I recently served this confection to my sister-in-law, who remarked after her first taste, "I feel like this is what sunshine would taste like."
With Mother's Day just around the corner, this would be a heavenly treat to make for the special woman in your life. Real whipped cream is a must for this dish, and so easy to make that it's a perfect task for children. If you're daunted by the prospect of making your own lemon curd, you can find good-quality lemon curd, already made, in the jelly aisle of our local grocery stores.
To all my fellow moms, lemon-loving or not, we hope you enjoy this taste of summer and wish you a Happy Mother's Day!
Homemade Lemon Curd
(Lightly adapted from Ina Garten's recipe)
Makes: about 3 cups
1 cup sugar
¼ pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
4 extra large eggs
½ cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed (about 3 to 4 lemons)
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
Use a carrot peeler or zester to remove the zest of 3 lemons, being careful to avoid the white pith. Place the zest in a food processor, add the sugar and pulse until the zest is very finely ground into the sugar.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter until smooth and then beat in the lemon-sugar mixture until combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. Add the lemon juice, vanilla extract and salt and mix until combined.
Pour the mixture into a small saucepan and cook over medium-low heat until thickened, stirring constantly, about 10 to 15 minutes depending on your stove. The lemon curd will thicken when just below a simmer, or about 170 degrees F if you use a thermometer. Remove from the heat and refrigerate to set.
Luscious Lemon Cream Parfait
Serves: 4 to 6
2 cups lemon curd
2 cups whipped cream
To make the lemon cream: In a medium bowl, use a rubber spatula to gently fold 1 cup of whipped cream into the lemon curd, just until combined. Add more whipped cream if desired.
In small glasses or bowls, fill the bottom with a layer of whipped cream, followed by a generous amount of the lemon cream. Top with fresh berries and a sprinkling of cookie crumbs, and then another layer of whipped cream, berries and cookie crumbs. Chill for 30 minutes before serving.
Real Whipped Cream
Makes: about 2 cups
1 cup cold heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon sugar (adjust to taste)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Use the whisk attachment of your mixer to whip the ingredients together on high speed until medium peaks form, about 2 to 3 minutes (peaks should appear firm, but still somewhat gentle). Be careful not to over-whip, or your cream will become clumpy.
Best when served immediately, fresh whipped cream can be stored in the refrigerator for up to ten hours. Just be sure to whip it again before serving.
"Home With the Lost Italian" is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello's in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 12-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at email@example.com. More recipes can be found at thelostitalian.areavoices.com