Lemon Curd? (ROFL)

Are there words or names of things that just make you want to giggle?  Or maybe they conjure up visions (pleasant or not).  Lemon Curd is one of those things that does it for me.  It makes me think of curdled milk or Little Miss Muffet.  What the heck is a curd anyway?! (I looked it up…click here for the definition)

I have used lemon curd in recipes before, but I don’t recall ever making it.  After doing some baking on Friday, I was left with four egg yolks and a few naked lemons (only needed the zest for a previous recipe).  I also had some blueberries in the fridge that were calling my name.  Now, before I go any further here, I have to confess…I have no photos to share. It was an incredibly busy weekend and frankly, I wasn’t planning on blogging about it.  But that darn lemon curd (snicker) was so delightful…

I decided to make blueberry lemon curd hand pies.  Well actually, I decided to make lemon curd and I needed something to do with it!  I searched the internet for recipes and found several that covered everything but I wanted the best recipe for each phase of the job.  Recipe #1:  Lemon Curd,  Recipe #2:  Blueberry Compote,  Recipe #3:  Pie Crust.

Even though there are no photos, I will share with you the links to the recipes and the notes I made along the way.  Some of their photos are better than mine anyway.

Let’s talk about the Curd (giggle).  When I was recovering from surgery a while back, I spent some quality time with one of the food channels where I met the Pioneer Woman.  I love her, so when I was faced with a million Google returns on my Lemon Curd search, I zeroed in on her blog post, How To Make Lemon Curd.

I was skeptical when I first started making it.  I didn’t see how egg yolks, sugar, and lemon juice were ever going to thicken up – and then adding all that butter just seemed counter-productive to the task.  But, I soldiered on and to my amazement, it worked! The. First. Time.  It’s amazing what being patient and following directions can do – neither of which are my best qualities.  This stuff is really basic in its ingredients and process but it does take a little time and attention.  Overall, it is fairly easy to do and a great way to use up egg yolks.  You will need eight of them, so if you save yours in the freezer, package them in fours or eights and be sure to mark your bag with the quantity and date.

The next component of my hand pies was the blueberry compote.  I make a blueberry sauce that I was tempted to use because it is so yummy, but not being much of a pie master, I decided to, once again, follow directions.  The recipe I used was found on the Vanilla & Bean blog.  It was nicely written and I just had a good feeling about it.  Click here to view it.

Now, if you wanted to, you could use this recipe as your “one-stop shop” because it covers everything from crust to curd (giggle).  I only followed the directions for the compote and I was satisfied with the results, but I can’t vouch for the entire recipe.  I found it interesting that one of the ingredients was maple syrup.  I did not have any pure maple syrup on hand so I used pancake syrup.  I wouldn’t advise it because it gives it a certain taste that I don’t think pure maple syrup would have.  I compensated for this by adding some cinnamon and a little vanilla (please don’t ask me how much because I often channel my Italian grandmother with “a little of this, and a little of that”).

After finishing up both of the pie fillings, I let them cool and then set in the refrigerator for a few hours.  Both thicken up nicely, but oh, that curd (heh, heh)!  It was like satin butter, if there was such a thing.

Lastly I made the pie crust.  This is not my forte.  If you know me, you know my story about my dad.  I learned to bake at his knee.  He could make everything, but we never made pies together.  He occasionally made pie crust but I was never included in the process – and frankly, as long as I got to eat the crust, I didn’t care.  He always made it seem like rocket science – what with needing the right temperature of water and butter and so on.  Rolling it out looked daunting, and of course he said it had to be just the right texture and thickness.  I’m more of an instant gratification kind of girl.  Pie crust was beyond my skills or interest.  Besides, Mrs. Smith made a crust that couldn’t be any more instantly gratifying!  Well, a few years after my dad passed, I decided to try making pie crust.  I’m embarrassed to say it took me so long to do it.  Easy peasy!  This is the recipe I use and it’s the one I will stick with until my dying day.  Sorry Dad, but it’s not rocket science!

I chilled the dough for about an hour before rolling out on a heavily floured surface.  I used my Pampered Chef Cut-n-Seal to cut out discs for my hand pies.  I made 32 discs for 18 pies.  I covered two baking sheets with parchment and laid out the  first 16 discs.  I spread each disc with a heaping teaspoon of lemon curd (tee hee) to within a half-inch of the edges.  I spread egg whites around the exposed dough. Next, I put a heaping tablespoon of blueberry compote over the curd (there, I said it without so much as a grin).  I rolled the remaining discs a little thinner so that they would overlap the bottom discs.  As I placed one over each base, I lightly pressed around the edges so that I could see the outline of the bottom disc.  Covering it with the Cut-n-Seal, I pressed down to crimp the edges firmly.  Finally, I made four slits in the top of each pie.

The trays went into the freezer.  Let’s put this step under “Notes”.  When you make a normal pie, it’s in a plate and therefore, sturdy to handle.  Hand pies do not have any kind of reinforcements and can become quite messy before they are baked.  I wanted firm pies to work with so I froze them for a few hours.  This can be done the night before or the day of baking.  If you do it the night before, be sure to take them from the tray once they are solid and place them in a bag to keep them from drying out in the freezer.

I took the pies out of the freezer and placed them on cookie sheets lined with non-stick foil.  I love that stuff!  I let them sit for a bit until thawed.  After an egg wash and a sprinkle of cinnamon and sugar, I popped them into the oven as directed in the recipe.  Keep an eye on these because mine baked quicker than expected and there was too much work that went into making them to let them burn up.

The pies cooled for about an hour before I plated them and went off to the covered dish gathering.  It was not the fastest treat I’ve ever made, but certainly one of the more satisfying.  AND, I have a new-found respect for CURD!


Helen’s Cake

Last summer, I was cleaning the basement of my old house.  My goal was to have everything in the house in its place or gone by the end of summer.  Goals can be lofty things…

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In my travels through boxes upon boxes of “stuff”, I came across my mother’s recipe box.  I set it aside for further inspection later that night.  Who am I kidding; it was the perfect excuse to stop the sorting and have some fun.

My mother spent the last ten years of her life afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease.  Her kitchen skills vanished slowly.  She went from cooking full meals with dessert to serving my dad a can of soup that hopefully she remembered to heat up.  She never claimed to love cooking or baking.  In fact she would proudly state the opposite.  She lost her mother at eighteen and never really had training in that department.  My grandmother, as I have been told over and over, was a kitchen wizard, an amazing seamstress, and a gracious hostess.  They say I took after her, but I never met the woman.  I think, perhaps, I have strived to be like her in an effort to connect with a grandmother I never knew but somehow loved.

My mother told me that when she married my father, she learned enough to get by in the kitchen, but she found no joy in it.  I imagine that my dad’s daily critiques (for her own good, of course) weren’t quite as helpful as he thought they would be.  My dad probably couldn’t contain himself, as he was a pretty good cook and quite the baker.  It was following him around the kitchen that instilled my love of baking.

Family 1965

In looking back on this, I have to say that she sold herself short.  I don’t remember a bad meal.  Fancy, no.  Tasty, always.  And no one could touch her Blueberry Cobbler!  She worked full time and kept an immaculate home.  Her household expertise was in the laundry room…as an adult, I was still taking hard-to-get-out stains to her for her miraculous touch.  She loved it and basked in the glory of everyone’s praise.  I think, that’s it, you know?  We love to be recognized for what we do and I think we excel at the things that people take notice of early on.  I also think that we play down those things that we imagine aren’t worthy or that we have attached sorry memories to.  That’s unfortunate because in my mother’s case, it would have been amazing to see what she would have created in that kitchen on Grape Street.  I’m sure of it.


I have no idea who Helen was.  I googled “Helen’s Cake” to see if it was an actual recipe, but it was not listed.  My guess is that Helen gave my mother the recipe for her cake.  This is funny because I can almost play out the scenario in my mind…

Mom:  Helen, this cake is delicious.
Helen:  Thanks Rita.  It’s such a simple recipe.
Mom: Oh, well you’ll have to give me the recipe sometime.
Helen:  I have it right here; it’s yours!
Mom:  Thank you.  I’ll be sure to make it soon.

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Now, for those of you that knew my mother, you already know that there are two key words tucked into this dialogue.  “Sometime” and “soon”.  Both imply that it will happen, but commit her in no way to baking in the near future.  She was polite, but I guarantee you she only took the recipe from her as a curtesy.  You can see by the hand copy (her beautiful cursive) that she didn’t even bother to get all of the directions down, nor did she even find out what the actual name of the cake was.  Gotta love that woman!

In an effort to make this cake and update the recipe as well, a few changes were made.  You will note that the recipe doesn’t specify creaming the sugar and butter or any order of adding ingredients.  It also calls for 20 minutes of beating the batter.  Really?  20 minutes?  This threw me off a bit.  I am a self-taught baker and I am aware that there are many, many things I’ve yet to learn – so back to Google to see about that.  Turns out, this is unnecessary.  The recipe predates the time when stand mixers were a common thing in the home.  So, can you imagine 20 minutes of beating by hand? UGH!

I am not sure what Helen’s Cake is supposed to look like.  I didn’t even know what type of pan to bake it in.  I chose to use a classic stoneware bundt pan.  There was too much batter for this so my second attempt will be in an aluminum tube pan.  I still have the one that my aunt gave my mom when she was a store clerk at Grant’s in Hammonton.  The recipe calls for vanilla and lemon extracts.  I used vanilla bean paste and orange extract, since this is what I had on hand.  The baking time was not specified so I baked it for an hour, checking it several times throughout the process.

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This is what we used to call “company cake”.  My aunts that lived next door always had a company cake on hand.  If no one visited (company), we got to eat it the next day.  Never something fancy, gooey, or overly sweet, but always made from scratch and just right for a midafternoon snack.  The texture is course and moist with the slightest crunch from the delicious crust.  It is heavier than a sponge cake, but not as dense as pound cake.  The only decoration is a light dusting of powdered sugar through a sifter.

Upon removing the cake from the oven, I was pleased on several levels.  First, it had a beautiful golden brown crust.  The portion of the cake at the top of the pan (eventually to become the bottom of the cake) was crusty and even.  This is by far my favorite part of the cake.  I usually eat a ring of crust around the center…it’s too good to resist (and when the cake is flipped, no one will notice!).  The cake released from the pan easily and unbroken.

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The slice removed from the cake did not disappoint.  The orange flavor was present, but mild.  The cake was dense and moist.  I’m not sure that I would change much about this other than experimenting with other flavors or adding a little orange zest to the batter. (Scroll down for the updated recipe)

My mother died almost three years ago.  The disease had taken her away from us long before that.  It had been difficult for me to connect with her since her passing.  Who knew that there would be a blessing for me waiting in her recipe box of all places!  I am looking forward to baking my way through all of the recipes that she had in there (even if she never did).

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RECIPE:  Helen’s Cake

1 lb butter
4 cups sugar
4 cups flour
4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
8 eggs
1 cup milk
2 tsp. vanilla bean paste
2 tsp. orange extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour bundt or tube pan.

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy (approx. 5 minutes).

In a medium bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Mix with a whisk to thoroughly combine.  Set aside.

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Measure the milk and then add the vanilla bean paste and orange extract.  Set aside.

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Add eggs, one at a time, to the butter/sugar mixture, beating after each addition.  Beat at medium speed for 3 minutes.

Into the batter, add the flour mixture and milk mixture in portions – alternating dry and wet (ending with wet) while mixing on low speed.  Beat at medium speed for 3 minutes. Spoon batter into prepared cake pans.

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Bake 50-60 minutes, checking for doneness by inserting a knife or wooden skewer.  Do not overbake.

Allow cake to sit in pan outside of the oven for 10 minutes.  Invert onto cooling rack.

Dust with powdered sugar or glaze of choice.  Serve to company and think of Helen.  Or, just say you are going to bake it “soon”, and think of Rita.

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