(Lemon Meringue Cookies filled with Meyer Lemon Curd - recipes in post)
I'm writing to say, I've missed you. Your puckering kiss, your hidden sweetness, your bold assertion... My winter was amiss without you. Will you run away with me?
Have you ever had citrus curd? It's heavenly. As gross as the name may sound, it's basically a custard. A custard daringly cooked, rather than tempered. It is one of the simplest of things, and yet recipes range on nearly every part... whether whole eggs are used, only yolks, or a combination of the two. How much butter will help determine how smooth and lush your curd will be, but also how fatty. And the sugar? Well, that's variable, too. But however you choose to do it, the ingredients are basic, the technique is simple, and the results are glorious.
Considering how quick and easy they are to prepare, I would say sweet curds offer some of the biggest bang for your buck. There are very few times when a dollop of lemon curd doesn't make things better. On toast, in pastries, with fruit or jam, whipped with cream, mixed into yogurt, or right off the spoon... if Skittles are what rainbows taste like, then this is pure sunshine.
Plus, it can be done with most any kind of citrus - from lemons or limes, to grapefruits and oranges. Even berries can be turned into curd, though they are cooked with a bit of water and strained first. The amount of sugar may need to be tweaked depending on the sweetness of the fruit you use.
I made a simple (and mind-blowingly good) cranberry curd here. But today is no day for fiddling with berries... Meyer lemons are still in season!
(Meyer lemons on the front and left, regular lemons to the right)
Meyer lemons are a completely different variety from the regular lemons you're used to. Similar to the way key limes are not the same as regular limes, only here the difference is even greater. They are smaller, sweeter, and while some suggest they may be a hybrid of oranges and lemons, the truth is nobody really knows what they are.
Meyer, or Meyeri, trees started out as being local only to China - that is, until word spread on how amazing they are. After planting them in the US, however, it was discovered that many of the trees carried a citrus eating virus... and in an attempt to save other trees, they were all torn down.
Thankfully, an effort was made to find virus-free Meyer Lemon Trees, and in the mid 70's they were planted once again. Hooray!
They're biggest production season is in the winter, which I foolishly let pass me by. Luckily, there are still bushels of them in my local market, and I intend to take full advantage of them!
If you can't find these little jewels, regular lemons will work as well. The results will still be delicious, I promise.
(Do you remember my Meyer Lemon Chia Seed Muffins? Imagine a smear of this on top!)
With the leftover egg whites from my custard, I went ahead and made these simple lemon meringue cookies. I took the finished meringues and sandwiched them with a small dollop of lemon curd, for a bite-sized take on Lemon Meringue Pie. Inside some of my cookies I hid a secret little raspberry - a pop of flavor just waiting to be discovered!
(Note that when making a hidden center inside meringues, you should first pipe a small bed of meringue beneath whatever it is you're forming your cookie around. I got a little hasty and forgot)
So bright and ethereal, eating one of these makes me feel like a kid again - like the whole world is this wondrous place filled with magic and sweet things yet to be discovered, like any pebble found could be a precious gem, like every step is a new adventure!
Whoa. Got a little carried away, there. Can you blame me?
Meyer Lemon Curd
(Loosely adapted from David Lebovitz's Improved Lemon Curd, and Martha Stuart's Lemon Curd)
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
3 large egg yolks, room temperature
1 large egg, room temperature
1/2 cup Meyer lemon juice (or regular lemon juice)
1-2 TBSP Meyer Lemon zest, depending on how bold you like it (or regular lemon zest)
1/2 cup granulated sugar (increase by 1/4 cup if using regular lemons)
Very small pinch of sea salt
4 TBSP unsalted butter, cubed and chilled
Optional: It isn't traditional to add any spices or flavorings to lemon curd - it really does speak for itself - but a few drops of almond or vanilla extract could certainly be added if you'd like to mix things up a bit.
The safest way to cook a custard like this is to use a bain-marie (water bath), or a double boiler - a heat proof bowl, set atop a shallow pot of simmering water. This will heat the custard slowly and evenly, and reduce the chances of hot spots that could cause it to curdle or burn. Always be sure to stir constantly with a wooden spoon, or even a whisk, to keep the eggs from cooking too quickly.
Place a small pot of water on the stove, and bring it to a steady simmer over medium heat.
In a heat-proof bowl, whisk together the egg, yolks, sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Set the bowl over your double boiler. (I suggest having a towel nearby to help remove the hot bowl from the steam later).
Cook, whisk constantly, for 8-10 minutes or until the mixture has thickened. If your bowl is particularly thick-bottomed, this may take a little longer.
Once the mixture has thickened, remove the bowl from the heat and whisk in one cube of butter at a time - stirring until each cube has melted before adding the next. If you're using any extracts or flavorings, you can add them now.
Optionally, you can strain your curd through a fine mesh sieve to remove the zest, or if it isn't as smooth as you like.
Pour into a jar or other air-tight container, place a piece of plastic wrap directly on top of the curd (with no air in between, this will prevent a film from forming on top). Let chill for at least one hour.
Freshly made curd should stay fresh in the fridge for up to a few weeks, but extra can be stored in the freezer indefinitely. Thaw in a bath of warm water, and use within a couple weeks of defrosting.
(I like the little flecks of zest, and found the curd to be smooth enough without straining)
Lemon Meringue Cookies
(Makes about 45-55 bite-sized cookies)
3 large egg whites, room temperature
1/4 tsp. cream of tarter
pinch of salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. corn starch
2 tsp. lemon zest
2 tsp. lemon juice
Optional: a few drops of food coloring
Move your oven racks to the upper and middle positions, preheat oven to 200f., and line two baking sheets with foil or parchment.
Prepare a piping bag, or large zip-top bag with the corner snipped off, and set aside.
Sift together the sugar and corn starch. Set aside.
In a large bowl, or the bowl of your stand mixer, beat together the egg whites, cream of tarter, and salt. Beat on high speed just until soft peaks form, then reduce the speed to low and begin adding the sugar/cornstarch mixture one TBSP at a time. Continue to beat until all of the sugar is incorporated and the mixture thickens like marshmallow fluff.
Mix in the lemon juice and zest, and add any food coloring if using.
Scoop the meringue into your piping bag, and pipe your cookies. There's no need to leave a lot of space between them, because they shouldn't spread at all.
For some of my cookies, I piped my meringue around a single fresh raspberry. Note that this will require a longer baking/drying time both because of the size of the cookies, and the added moister from the raspberry in the center. Also, if hiding a raspberry or other surprise inside these cookies, I suggest piping a small bed of meringue first. Set the raspberry in the meringue and then finish piping your cookie around it. This is a crucial step for structural integrity that I forgot about - don't skip it!
Place your cookies into the oven and bake for 40 minutes. Rotate the pans top to bottom and front to back, and bake for an additional 30-50 minutes. The time will range depending on the size of your cookies, and moister levels in the air. The cookies should be dry and hard when finished - if they're gummy or sticky, they need to bake longer. If they begin to brown on top, reduce the oven temperature.
Remove from the oven and let them cool before removing from the trays. Pipe or spread a small dollop of lemon curd on the bottom of one cookie, and sandwich with another to make the lemon-meringue bites.
Meringue cookies are best eaten right away, and may become gummy and sticky if left to themselves. If storing them, I recommend placing the finished cookies, completely cooled, in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer.