I like to think I am pretty brave in the kitchen. I’ll try just about anything, as long as I am not expected to serve it to company, and I’m almost always game to take on big cooking projects – even when they involve risk of utter failure and the distinct possibility that $50 worth of ingredients might end up in the trash.

The more I cook, though, the more I realize that there are certain things I inexplicably avoid making. Perhaps I dodge them because I think they’ll be difficult, or maybe it just never occurred to me to try. Either way, I’ve got some serious blind spots in my repertoire.

A few weeks ago, our friends asked us to bring dessert to a dinner party. It was that annoying part of spring when no one wants to eat heavy, wintery desserts anymore, but there isn’t really any seasonal fruit available either. I didn’t feel like going to the store, so I rummaged through my pantry and found nothing that would make an appropriate dessert, except maybe a few cans of coconut milk. I settled on my trusty Triple Coconut Cake, but wanted something springy and bright to punch it up. Surely, I thought, we must have some good jam lying around that I could spread between the cake layers.

I hauled out all the jams my pantry-packrat husband had stashed in there – raspberry, apricot, cherry, fig, strawberry, and ginger-orange marmalade. I imagined encountering each one between the layers of rich coconut cake and creamy frosting, and they all seemed like pretty good options to me. Anthony, however, poo-pooed every last one of them. A fight ensued. (Yes, we regularly argue about things like whether raspberry and coconut taste good together.)

In desperation, I finally shouted. “WHAT ABOUT LEMON?” Silence followed as Anthony considered the flavor combination. “Fine,” he said, “lemon would be fine.” Trouble was, we didn’t have anything lemon-flavored to go in the cake. In a desparate effort not to shatter our delicate equilibrium, I grabbed the Joy of Cooking off the shelf and scanned the index for lemon curd. As I flipped to the right page, I steeled myself for a long and arduous process. To my utter surprise, there were only six ingredients listed and the instructions were about five sentences. Thank God, I thought to myself, and if it’s this simple why haven’t I ever made it before?

In all of ten minutes, I whipped up the lemon curd and got it chilling in the fridge while I made the rest of the cake. When it was time to assemble my dessert, I split the cake layers and spread creamy coconut buttercream between two of them and a thick layer of lemon curd in the middle. It was incredible! The brightness and tang of the lemon paired perfectly with the coconut. I am never making regular coconut cake again.

Whether or not you try this with coconut cake, promise me you’ll try it and stop spending $9 on precious little jars of lemon curd. I know I am!

Simple, Classic Lemon Curd

Makes about 1 2/3 cups.

This recipe is from the Joy of Cooking. It’s pretty mistake-proof. Even if your eggs start to break a little, just strain it through a sieve and no one will be the wiser. In my experience, using a good, heavy-bottomed pot gives the best results.

3 large eggs
1/3 cup sugar
Grated zest of one lemon
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

In a medium saucepan, whisk together the eggs, sugar, and lemon zest until well combined. Turn the heat to medium, add the lemon juice and butter and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture is thick and simmers for a few seconds. Using a spatula, scrape the curd through a mesh sieve set over a bowl. Once the curd is strained, stir in the vanilla extract. Let cool, cover, and refrigerate to thicken. This will keep in the refrigerator for about a week.