Lemon pie filling and lemon curd are similar lemon-based dessert ingredients, but they have some key differences in their ingredients and uses. In this article, we’ll explore what defines each one and look at how they compare in texture, taste, common uses, and more.
What is Lemon Pie Filling?
Lemon pie filling is a sweet, thickened filling used to fill lemon meringue pie and other lemon desserts. The basic ingredients are lemon juice, sugar, cornstarch, eggs, and butter. The lemon juice provides tart lemon flavor, while the sugar sweetens it. Cornstarch is added as a thickener to give the filling a thicker, spreadable texture. Eggs also help thicken the filling and add richness, while the butter contributes moisture and additional richness.
To make a basic lemon pie filling, lemon juice and cornstarch are combined and cooked together with sugar and eggs until thickened. Butter is whisked in at the end for extra moisture and richness. The resulting filling has a glossy, pudding-like texture that is soft but thick enough to mound in the pie shell. The flavor is intensely lemony, sweet-tart, and brightly flavored.
Lemon pie filling has a soft, spoonable texture when warm that can firm up slightly as it cools. It is versatile enough to use in lemon meringue pie, lemon cream pie, tarts, and other lemon desserts. It can be made ahead of time and refrigerated or frozen.
What is Lemon Curd?
Lemon curd is a rich, creamy spread made primarily from lemon juice, sugar, butter, and eggs. The ingredients are cooked together over low heat until thickened to a spreadable consistency. The finished curd is intensely lemony, sweet-tart, and smooth.
To make lemon curd, lemon zest and juice are combined in a double boiler or saucepan with sugar, butter, and beaten eggs. The mixture is cooked gently, while whisking constantly, until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Once cooled, the curd takes on a lush, pudding-like texture.
Compared to pie filling, lemon curd has a softer, creamier, and more spreadable texture. It can be used as a filling for tarts, sandwich cookies, scones, and other pastries. It’s also delicious when served atop pancakes, waffles, or scones. Lemon curd can be made ahead and stored refrigerated for several weeks.
Differences Between Lemon Pie Filling and Lemon Curd
While lemon pie filling and lemon curd are both lemony dessert spreads, they have some key differences:
- Pie filling contains cornstarch as the main thickener, while curd uses egg yolks.
- Pie filling is meant to be a slicing filling for pies, while curd has a softer spreadable texture.
- Pie filling uses butter for flavor, while curd has a higher butter ratio for increased richness.
- Pie filling has a slight glossy sheen, while curd is more uniformly creamy.
- Pie filling is thicker and mounds well, curd spreads smoothly.
- Pie filling is typically only used as a pie filling, while curd is more versatile for fillings and spreads.
Similarities Between Pie Filling and Curd
Though they have some differences, lemon pie filling and curd do share some similarities:
- Both are made with lemon juice as the primary flavoring ingredient.
- They combine lemon juice with sugar and eggs.
- Both have a bright, sweet-tart lemon flavor.
- They can each be made ahead of time and stored refrigerated.
- When made properly, they each have a rich, silky texture.
- Lemon juice gives them their signature yellow color.
Substituting Pie Filling and Curd
In some recipes, lemon pie filling and lemon curd can be used interchangeably, but the differing textures may impact the finished dessert. Here are some tips for substituting:
- Lemon curd can replace pie filling in tarts, thumbprint cookies, and other places where you want a softer filling with spreadable texture.
- Pie filling can replace curd in layered desserts or sandwiches that need a firmer, sliceable filling.
- Adjust recipes as needed – curd may make pastries mushy so reduce any extra moisture; pie filling may need dilution to spread or pipe as easily as curd.
- Because lemon curd has more butter, it provides richer flavor but less stability for baked pie fillings.
- Expect slightly different textures and flavors when swapping the two.
How to Use Lemon Pie Filling
Lemon pie filling is best used in desserts where you want a stable sliceable filling. Ideas include:
- Lemon meringue pie – pile high and top with fluffy meringue
- Lemon cream pie – top with whipped cream for a lighter dessert
- Tarts – pour into pre-baked tart shells, top with fruit
- Thumbprint cookies – fill indented centers with filling before baking
- Cake or cupcake filling – use as a tangy lemon filling between layers
- Trifles – layer filling and cake in a glass bowl
- Lemon bars – pour into a pre-baked crust and chill to set
Lemon pie filling holds its shape well when sliced or scooped, so it’s ideal for fillings that need to mound or hold structure. Refrigerate any unused filling in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
How to Use Lemon Curd
Lemon curd is delicious spread onto all kinds of baked goods and pastries. It can be used:
- On scones, biscuits, or toast – spread generously
- In tarts – spoon into pre-baked tart shells
- As a cake filling – adds moisture between cake layers
- In thumbprint cookies – fill into the indentations
- On waffles or pancakes – dollop on as a sweet topping
- In trifles – layer with cake and fruit
- As a pastry filling – for cream puffs, cannoli, profiteroles
- In dessert sandwiches – spread between cookies or cake rounds
Lemon curd’s creamy, spreadable texture makes it perfect for any application where you want a decadent lemony filling. Store refrigerated for 2-3 weeks.
Lemon pie filling and lemon curd both provide bright, tangy lemon flavor to all kinds of desserts. Pie filling has a stable, mounding texture ideal for slicing and scooping, while curd has a rich, creamy texture perfect for spreading. While the two are not exactly interchangeable, they can often be substituted for one another with adjustments as needed. Whip up a batch of each to enjoy lemon goodness in everything from fruit tarts to layered cakes.