In honor of the fortuitously warm first day of summer, a few lovely friends and I convened at Laurelhurst Park Wednesday evening to celebrate the inaugural meeting of the Portland Picnic Society. It was a joyous and filling event, rendered an indelible memory thanks to a trés Portland composite of beautiful food, half-naked tightrope walkers, inquisitive dogs with little to no concept of personal picnicking space, a delightfully awkward corporate team-building gathering to openly spy on, and a soundtrack of secondhand mariachi music from the raucous graduation party down the way.
Since the Portland Picnic Society members are some of the city’s most devoted foodlovers, it’s no surprise that the spread was rather grand. Whole poached Copper River salmon with garlic aoili, a summery blend of orecchiette with pistachio pesto, spring onions and asparagus, a kale, basil, edamame and chopped egg salad, a gorgeous cheese plate and expansive Olympic Provisions charcuterie board, baguette sandwiches stuffed with roast chicken, marinated zucchini and Freddy Guys hazelnuts, and a divine brown butter raspberry tart, to name a few. And of course, plenty of strawberry lemonade and rosé on ice.
For me, nothing speaks summer more fluently than an elegant, velvety, fresh lemon curd with cream, so that’s what I made. A simple preparation of lemon curd spooned into 4-oz Kerr jelly jars* for easy portion control and transport, and topped with a quenelle of softly whipped cream and a rose petal, these Lemon Cream Pots are the ideal picnic dessert, everyday dessert, breakfast dessert and right-now dessert. And they are appallingly easy to make. Sold!
First, the lemon curd, obviously. I am firmly loyal to one recipe—as found in pastry chef Sherry Yard’s “The Secrets of Baking: Simple Techniques for Sophisticated Desserts.” Here is the recipe below. You can modify with Meyer lemon juice if you prefer. Each batch filled six 4-oz jars, so you may need to make a few batches if you end up eating half of it along the way. Not that you would.
Lemon Curd Recipe from The Secrets of Baking by Sherry Yard
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
3 large eggs
4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup fresh lime juice (optional, if not using change lemon juice amount above to 3/4 cup)
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
For a richer curd, you may increase the butter to a 1/4 pound (1 stick)
Prepare an ice bath using a large bowl to hold the ice. Fill a medium saucepan 3/4 full of water and bring to a simmer over medium heat.
Combine sugar and lemon zest in a food processor and pulse until sugar is yellow and very fragrant, about 1 minute. This action heats up lemon zest, releasing its oils into the sugar.
Combine lemon/sugar mixture, eggs and egg yolks in a medium heatproof bowl and whisk together 30 seconds to distribute sugar evenly. Place bowl over the simmering water and immediately begin whisking. Whisk continuously until sugar dissolves, about 20-30 seconds. Add lemon and lime juices and cook, whisking continuously, about 5 minutes. Use a rubber spatula to scrape sides and bottom of bowl occasionally. The curd is done when it has the consistency of sour cream and a temperature of 160 degrees F, using an instant read thermometer.
Transfer lemon curd to a large bowl or to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse while you add butter, piece by piece, or whisk it in by hand in the large bowl. Once all butter has been added, pulse or whisk 10 seconds, or until texture is homogenous.
Strain lemon curd through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl and set in ice bath to cool. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly onto surface of curd to prevent a skin from forming. Stir occasionally until it has cooled completely.
At this point, lemon curd can be used or refrigerated in an airtight container up to 1 week.
When the lemon curd was still just slightly warm, I spooned it into the jars, smoothed the tops so they were perfect because I’m obsessive like that, put the jar lids on top in lieu of the above-mentioned protective plastic wrap, then let them chill in the refrigerator until it was time to leave. For extra protection while in transit, you can screw on the lids as well. (Keep the sturdy cardboard sleeve the jars come in—it makes the ideal vessel for transporting them.)
Just before leaving for the picnic, I whipped up a cup of whipping cream sweetened with a bit of sugar, then put it in an airtight container in the cooler. When I got to the park, after shooing a couple of pee-happy wild dogs away from the table and watching the tightrope walkers fall a few times, I got to work crafting quenelles for each pot (plastic spoons sufficed, but I’d bring metal ones next time!), then deconstructed a wild red rose I found in the garden and put a petal atop each quenelle. Done!
Now you too can have a picnic dessert showstopper in your summer arsenal. And now, I’m going to go eat my Friday breakfast dessert.
*I found the 4-oz Kerr jelly jars at Freddy Meyer, they are $9.88 for a dozen.