This no-butter lemon curd is better-for-you, yet just as rich and puckery as the traditional treat. Learn where lemon curd comes from, how to make it, and enjoy it from breakfast to dessert!
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Lemon curd is one of my favorite citrus condiments. Everything about it makes me happy: its bright yellow color, its zippy, puckery flavor, and the fact that you can enjoy it from breakfast to dessert.
A bit of lemon curd history: Lemon curd is a creamy fruit spread usually made with egg yolks, butter, sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest. It’s an English condiment that dates back to the 19th century. Lemon curd was traditionally (and is still now) served with afternoon tea as an alternative to jams with scones, bread, and cake. It can also be used to fill pastries and tarts.
After making traditional lemon curd for years, I started experimenting with different variations to avoid using the butter usually required in traditional recipes (making it friendlier for my lactose-intolerant belly). After perfecting this completely butter-less lemon curd, I realized I didn’t miss the traditional, butter-laden variety at all. Everyone who tasted loved it too, not noticing the lack of extra calories—so I’ve never looked back.
This no-butter lemon curd is now my go-to lemon curd recipe. The use of a little cornstarch helps achieve the right silky consistency, and the addition of just a little cream leaves room for a slightly puckery taste—the hallmark of the bright condiment.
I always keep a jar of this no-butter lemon curd in the fridge and use it on anything and everything, from breakfast to dessert. I’m addicted, you see, and I think you’ll quickly become so, too.
Now, if you’re not very familiar with the condiment, here’s a bit of background information on why lemon curd is so delightful, and some helpful tips to learn how to make it at home.
In 19th century England, lemon “curd” was exactly that: curds were created by mixing acidic lemon juice into cream, which was then strained from the dairy whey through a cheesecloth.
Over time, butter, eggs, and sugar replaced the cream to create the rich, velvety spread we know today. Modern lemon curd is made just like a custard, which is liquid (lemon juice) thickened by eggs.
Traditional lemon curd is made with butter, eggs, and lemon juice. In traditional lemon curd, butter is used both as a thickener and to create a richer mouthfeel and flavor. In my no-butter lemon curd recipe, I achieve the same velvety texture with a spoonful of cornstarch and a bit of heavy cream. This allows me to completely leave the butter out of the equation, creating a better-for-you condiment in the process.
Lemon curd is meant to walk that fine line between too-acidic and just-sweet-enough. That said, the sweetness levels of lemons vary. I do understand that some people might enjoy the aromatic quality of lemon curd but not its puckery acidity. You can add up to 2 tbsp (24 g) granulated sugar to this no-butter lemon curd recipe to round off its edges.
But if you are looking for a sweeter, less acidic citrus curd, I recommend using Meyer lemons, which are much sweeter than regular lemons, or swapping in a bit of orange, mandarin, or clementine juice for part of the lemon juice required in the recipe. This will naturally sweeten the curd without adding more sugar.
Refer to my citrus fruit juice to sugar ratios, below, for more information about the different citrus fruits you can use to make curds and the associated amounts of sugar you should use to make them.
You can refrigerate no-butter lemon curd in an airtight jar for up to 5 days.
You can’t freeze this no-butter lemon curd. This curd is cooked like a pastry cream that is stabilized with cornstarch. If you freeze no-butter lemon curd, it will thaw to a completely different texture. That rich, smooth texture will be replaced by a yucky, grainy one because the fats and proteins will have separated during the freezing/thawing process. That silky smooth texture you want for your pastries will be gone. This is not something you can fix. So please, do not freeze this no-butter lemon curd!
Of course, you can! You can use any citrus fruit to make curd. My favorite alternatives are clementines and mandarins because they’re so aromatic! Of course, oranges are much sweeter than lemons, so if you’re swapping oranges for lemons, you’ll need to adjust the sugar quantity used in the curd, but also expect a much tamer, sweeter condiment. Those who specifically love the tartness of lemon curd will truly enjoy using limes or grapefruit! You can also mix citrus fruits and make curd with lemons and clementines, for example.
Refer to my list of fruit juice to sugar ratios below to see the different varieties of curds you can make.
Photo above from my cookbook Simply Citrus.
If you’re swapping out lemons to use other varieties of citrus fruits in this no-butter lemon curd recipe, you’ll need to adjust the sugar content. I’ve made nearly every variety of citrus curds, so here are the citrus fruit juice to sugar ratios I’ve created.
The number of citrus fruits indicated below should provide the amount of juice required in the recipe. Of course, the juiciness of citrus fruits varies widely according to provenance and season, so whichever citrus fruits you use, make sure to always reach the total amount of 1/2 cup (125 ml) strained juice required in the recipe.
Photo above from my cookbook Simply Citrus.
You can also quite simply enjoy no-butter lemon curd straight out of the jar, by the spoonful! However you choose to serve lemon curd, you can’t go wrong with this wonderfully versatile condiment.
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