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Joy of Baking

A lemony taste of Old England

(Food styling/karoline boehm goodnick; yoon s. byun/globe staff)
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March 19, 2008

A beloved British culinary tradition begins with lemons. Their juice and rind are stirred with eggs, butter, and sugar and turned into curd - a thick, rich, sunny concoction as familiar to the breakfast plate as back bacon and boiled eggs, and equally appreciated with scones and clotted cream at teatime.

Lemon curd is hard to classify. It's not a jam, it's not a marmalade, it's too thick for a sauce, and it's more sharp than sweet, a quality that endears it to many. To the initiated, there's nothing like lemon curd on a piece of hot buttered toast, with that pungent yet smooth citrus burst on the tongue.

Southern bakers use a mixture similar to lemon curd as a filling for pies and cakes. You can find jars of imported curd in specialty markets and well-stocked supermarkets; Robertson's and Tiptree are two familiar brands.

As with many treats, it can be satisfying to make. Good recipes exist from Victorian times; my own is an adaptation, through long use, from Joan Parry Dutton's 1960 cookbook, "The Good Fare and Cheer of Old England," which specified farm eggs - then smaller than our large eggs - and loaf sugar.

Lemon curd consists of five ingredients: lemons, butter, sugar, salt, and eggs. You also need a whisk, a double boiler, and an unhurried half-hour. This is not a difficult recipe, but it requires attention. When you bite into a gleaming dab of sharp, intense lemon essence, you'll know it was time well spent. This indulgence can clear the clouds on a gray day. - ROBIN SHEPARD

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