Curds 101: All You Need to Know About Fruit Curds

Fruit curds are a dessert spread or topping made from fruit juice or puree, sugar, eggs, and butter. They are smooth, creamy, and have an intense fruit flavor, making them perfect for spooning over scones, biscuits, pancakes, waffles, or pastries and cakes.

Sweet and tangy jar of raspberry curd

What’s great about curds is that once you master the technique, you can make fruit curds from a dozen different fruits, making them a valuable part of your cooking repertoire.

This guide talks about curds in general. We go over ingredients, techniques, and troubleshooting. Internalizing this information will help you with all your curd-making efforts in the future.

Ingredients

The ingredients list for a curd recipe should look something like this:

  • Fruit juice or puree. Depending on the type of fruit, we either use the juice (say, lemon juice) or puree (e.g., strawberry puree).
  • Lemon juice and/or zest. Most curd recipes call for some lemon juice and zest because it helps bring out the natural flavors of the fruit we’re using. A little goes a long way here.
  • Sugar. Curds are supposed to be sweet, so we need sugar. The amount you use depends on your preferences (you might prefer yours to be more or less sweet) and the fruit used. For instance, you’ll probably use more sugar when making raspberry curd than strawberry curd.
  • Eggs. Eggs are our primary thickener, and we use them to adjust the thickness of the curd. Some recipes call for whole eggs, others for a combination of whole eggs and egg yolks. I’ll get more into that later in the article.
  • Butter. Butter adds extra richness and helps to thicken the curd when it’s cold.

Preparation Techniques

To make a curd, you’ll want to mix all the ingredients and cook them until the egg yolks thicken the mixture and the butter melts and blends in. That’s a very high-level overview.

The main challenge is heating the yolks so they thicken the curd without curdling. We’re not making scrambled eggs here.

That brings us to the three main preparation techniques, each with its advantages and drawbacks.

Homemade lemon curd served in jars
Homemade lemon curd

Double Boiler Technique

For this technique, mix all ingredients (except for the butter) in a heatproof bowl, then set this over a pot of simmering water. Keep whisking continuously as the mixture warms and the curd thickens.

This method is great for beginners because the gentle heat reduces the risk of curdling the eggs.

The downside? It’s time-consuming and requires constant whisking. It’s manageable for small batches of curd, but it can feel like an eternity if you’re working with larger quantities, like a pound of strawberries.

Egg Tempering Technique

Here, you heat the fruit juice or puree to a boil, then gradually blend it into the egg, yolk, and sugar mixture while stirring. After combining, return the entire mix to the pot and cook on low to medium heat until it thickens.

This method significantly reduces cooking time. You quickly boil the juice or puree, temper the eggs, and then cook the mixture directly on the stove, halving the cooking duration.

However, there’s a higher risk of the yolks curdling from the direct heat, even with constant whisking.

That’s the technique I use almost every time.

Cook Everything Technique

In this approach, combine everything except the butter in a pot and cook it on the stove until it thickens. This method is typically faster than egg tempering, and as long as you consistently whisk, you should achieve a smooth curd with few, if any, curdled bits.

This technique works well for large quantities of curd. However, if you’re making a smaller batch, egg tempering or double boiler techniques are safer bets.

Flavor

Here are popular fruit curds you could make:

Tips

Curd is Not Thick Enough

If your curd isn’t as thick as you’d like after cooking, there are two main ways to thicken it.

The first method is to add more yolks. Beat the yolks in a heatproof bowl, gradually temper them with the curd you’ve already cooked, then return everything to the pot and cook until the mixture thickens.

How many yolks should you add? It depends on the amount of curd. One extra yolk can significantly alter the texture of a cup of curd. For more than two cups, consider adding two extra yolks to see any effect.

Alternatively, you can add cornstarch. Mix one teaspoon of cornstarch with one teaspoon of water, then stir the slurry into the curd as it cooks. The texture should thicken quickly once the cornstarch reaches its gelling temperature. Repeat if needed.

(New to starch slurries? Read my starch 101 article.)

Cornstarch is an excellent quick fix if you’re short on eggs or want to avoid leftover egg whites.

Sweetness and Tartness Balance

Balancing the fruit’s tartness with the sugar’s sweetness is crucial in fruit curd. You’re the judge of the right balance for your taste.

To adjust the flavor, taste the curd after adding the butter. If it needs more sweetness, add sugar; if it lacks tartness or flavor, add more lemon juice.

In my recipes, I consider the specified amounts of sugar and lemon juice as flexible guidelines rather than strict rules.

Sweet and zesty lemon curd

Flavor Intensity

Not all fruits are created equal when it comes to flavor intensity.

For example, lemons and limes are highly acidic, and just a tiny amount of juice can infuse your curd with a strong lemony or lime flavor.

On the other hand, fruits like strawberries aren’t as potent. Curds made with these types of fruits often have a more subdued flavor.

But what if you want a more pronounced fruit flavor? The solution is reducing the fruit puree on the stove.

Start by doubling the amount of fruit specified in the recipe, then simmer it with a couple of tablespoons of water on the stove until the volume reduces by half and the puree thickens. This process concentrates the flavor, making your curd tastier and more vibrant.

Smooth lime curd in a jar
Lime-flavored curd

Whole Eggs to Egg Yolks Ratio

When browsing through curd recipes, you’ll find some that use only whole eggs, others that use a mix of whole eggs and yolks, and some that call exclusively for egg yolks. So, what’s the deal with that?

Here’s a bit of food science.

Egg whites have a higher water content than yolks, which dilutes the richness of the curd, making it lighter and softer—essentially, thinner.

Egg yolks, on the other hand, make the curd thick, rich, and creamy.

The goal when making fruit curd is to strike a balance between richness and lightness, which is why many recipes use a combination of whole eggs and extra yolks.

For lemon and lime curds, which don’t use much juice (and therefore less water), using only whole eggs can be a good option to maintain balance. However, for curds made with fruit purees that introduce more water, adding extra yolks can help achieve the desired thick and creamy texture.

So, if you need to thicken your curd, consider adding extra yolks for more thickening power or substitute some of the whole eggs with yolks to reduce dilution.

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