It’s been said that the only way to benefit from a lemon is to to add sugar. That’s a bum rap. The lemon is sour, to be sure, and often seedy. It is also is as indispensable in the kitchen as a knife. The lemon’s very tartness can bestow greatness on any number of sweet and savory dishes.
Classes devoted to lemon recipes have been perennial favorites over the years. We prepare recipes in which the lemon is a key ingredient even when it has a bit part. Just a spoonful of lemon juice can intensify bland flavors, serve as a salt replacement, or reduce sweetness in a recipe. We also explore the importance of lemon’s acidity as a preservative and tenderizer before refrigeration. The distinctive way lemons preserved in salt flavor Moroccan cuisine is also a taste legacy from a time when citrus fruits arrived on Silk Road caravans from Asia.
The flavor of lemon is most addictive as a rich golden curd, a thick custard of eggs, sugar, butter and lemon juice. Here, the inclusion of grated lemon zest with its intoxicating aroma of tropical fruit is essential. I can’t resist using lemon curd to give a tart jolt to comforting but overly sweet English nursery desserts such as trifle and bread pudding.
Let me caution you that my technique for preparing lemon curd demands your focused attention. I combine close observation and a digital thermometer to prepare curd in a fraction of the time it takes in a double boiler. Follow the detailed directions and lower the temperature under the pan to your comfort level. Straining the curd after it thickens will remove the zest and any 'boo-boos' if the eggs have started to scramble. If you want to avoid the stress, prepare the curd over hot water in a double boiler and take your time. Nobody’s watching.
LEMON BREAD PUDDING WITH DRIED CRANBERRIES
Ingredients for 8 to 10 servings:
1 pound day old loaf of French bread
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice
grated zest of 2 lemons
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
2 cups milk
3 large eggs
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Garnish: 2/3 cup dried cranberries or cherries
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter a 2 quart baking dish or bread pan. Trim crust from the bread, if desired, and slice evenly.
Lemon Curd: Warm the eggs, yolks, and sugar in a heavy saucepan to 100 degrees whisking continuously. Add the lemon juice, zest and butter, and cook over medium low heat using a spatula to continuously clean off the bottom and sides of the pan. Monitor the temperature of the curd as it begins to coat the sides of the pan. It is thick enough when a digital thermometer reads between 160-170 degrees. Strain the curd into a bowl. Cover its surface with plastic wrap to avoid a skin from forming.
Custard and assembly: Whisk together all the custard ingredients until the mixture is homogeneous. Determine the number of pudding layers looking at the thickness of the bread slices and the depth or circumference of your container. Make 3 -5 successive layers of bread, custard, curd and cranberries ending with curd and cranberries. Let the pudding stand for 5 - 10 minutes so the bread has time to absorb the custard. After 15 minutes, run a knife around a pan, reverse pudding onto wax paper and turn upright on a serving platter for slicing. Serve directly from a bowl either warm or at room temperature.