This refreshing lemon ice cream recipe is wonderful for spring and summer! Fresh-squeezed lemon juice adds zest and a sunny, citrusy brightness. It reminds me of a creamy, frozen lemonade.
Spring weather is always bonkers around DC. Last week temperatures were in to 50s, this week they’re in the mid to high 80s. It’s a little annoying, but I’ll take it over the dark cold of winter any day. Now that it’s hot outside, I’ve got homemade ice cream on the brain (as usual).
This lemon ice cream recipe screams (sings?) summer to me. The ingredients are simple, and if you’ve never tried preparing ice cream from scratch, this recipe is the perfect place to start.
- Half-and-half (or whole milk + heavy cream)
- Egg yolks
- Granulated sugar
- Kosher salt
- Lemon juice & zest
- Heavy cream
- Optional: vodka (for easy scooping)
How to Make Lemon Ice Cream
Let’s break this ice cream recipe down step-by-step so you can see exactly what to do.
Step 1: Place the yolks, sugar and a pinch of salt in a bowl
While the half-and-half warms up in a saucepan, place the yolks, sugar and salt in a bowl. Adding a pinch of salt to sweet recipes always helps create a pleasant flavor balance.
Step 2: Whisk the ingredients until smooth
You want to vigorously whisk the ingredients for around 30 seconds until thick and creamy. If you lift the whisk out of the bowl, the mixture will drizzle down slowly to form what’s known as a ribbon. Then continue whisking in the lemon juice and zest.
If you’re curious, here’s a quick YouTube video demonstrating what the ribbon stage looks like (you can see it better in a video than you would in a photo).
Step 3: Temper in the hot cream
When it comes to eggs, tempering refers to slowly adding a hot liquid to raise the temperature without scrambling. This is the same concept I apply when adding hot sugar syrup to egg whites to prepare meringue buttercream frosting.
Step 4: Place the ingredients over low heat
Now that the egg yolks are tempered, you want to add everything back into the same saucepan and set it over low or medium-low heat. Stir constantly in a figure 8 motion for a few minutes until the mixture coats the back of a spoon or spatula. You should be able to draw a line through it with your finger.
If you want to make sure the eggs are cooked safely, use a digital thermometer to make sure the mixture is at 165 degrees F before removing it from the heat.
Step 5: Strain out the zest
Strain the ice cream base through a fine mesh strainer (or a colander lined with cheesecloth) to remove the zest. You can technically leave the zest in if you’re feeling lazy, but this step will ensure a perfectly smooth ice cream.
Step 6: Chill the ice cream base
Cover the mixture with plastic film, pressing the plastic directly against the liquid to prevent a skin from forming on top as it chills. Once the ice cream is cold (this will take a few hours), add it to your ice cream maker and follow the manufacturer instructions to finish preparing the ice cream.
What is Lemon Zest, and Why Use it in Ice Cream?
Zest is the thin, colorful top layer of citrus peel. The softer white section of the peel which sits just underneath the zest is called the pith.
While the white pith has a bitter flavor, zest is like concentrated citrus gold. It contains essential oils that can be used to enhance the flavor of many dishes, both sweet and savory. Lemon, lime, and orange zest are the most commonly choices for recipes.
Why Use Vodka in Homemade Ice Cream?
Do you ever take ice cream out of the freezer only to find it so frozen that you need to wait for several minutes in order to scoop it? Alcohol has a much lower freezing point (-16.51 degrees F) compared with most ingredients (32 degrees F).
So basically, adding a small amount of vodka will lower the freezing point of the ice cream, making it more scoopable without adding any flavor. However, it’s entirely optional!
How to Make No-Churn Ice Cream
No ice cream maker? No problem! When it’s time to churn the ice cream in the final step, head over to my recipe for No-Churn Vanilla Ice Cream and follow the freezing instructions. Note that it will require more hands on time.
Which Ice Cream Maker is best?
I upgraded last year to a Whynter Ice Cream Maker. I love it, but it’s not cheap. However, it’s worth it to me since I make a lot of homemade ice cream.
Prior to upgrading, I used a more affordable ice cream machine from Cuisinart. There are even cheaper options available that have great reviews, though I can’t personally vouch for them. I don’t recommend purchasing something like the Whynter unless you find yourself making homemade ice cream on a regular basis.
What is Half-and-Half?
What is half-and-half, and how do you make it if you already have cream and milk in the fridge? Read my tutorial on how to make half-and-half so you can save time and money!
Why Egg Size Matters in Baking
This recipe calls for large eggs. Using different size eggs can drastically impact baked goods. Don’t substitute a different size unless you have a kitchen scale to measure an equal weight by volume (ounces or grams) to get the same total amount of egg.
Read more about why egg size matters in baking (and how to make substitutions).
More Frozen Dessert Recipes
Love homemade ice cream and frozen desserts as much as I do? Be sure to check out my Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream, Baileys Ice Cream, and Key Lime Pie Popsicles!
Lemon Ice Cream
- 2 cups half-and-half (or 1 cup whole milk + 1 cup heavy cream)
- 6 large egg yolks
- 7 ounces granulated sugar (1 cup)
- 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest
- 1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice (about 4-5 lemons)
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- Optional: 1 tablespoon vodka, for easy scooping
- In a medium-sized saucepan, bring the half-and-half to a gentle simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally to prevent a skin from forming on top.
- Meanwhile, vigorously whisk together the yolks, sugar and salt for around 30 seconds, then whisk in the lemon juice and zest in a large bowl. Keep whisking until the yolks are creamy and thick, which means the sugar has dissolved.
- Once the cream reaches a gentle simmer, slowly pour or ladle it into the yolks while whisking. Turn the heat to low and return the mixture to the saucepan, scraping everything from the bowl with a spatula.
- Using a spatula or wood spoon, stir the mixture for several minutes in a figure 8 motion, until the liquid has thickened slightly, approximately 5 minutes. If you want to use a thermometer, the temperature should read 165 degrees F.
- Strain through a fine mesh strainer into a medium-sized bowl. Stir in the remaining 1/2 cup cream along with the vodka, if using. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing the plastic directly against the liquid to prevent a skin from forming.
- Chill thoroughly, and then prepare in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer instructions.
Please read my full post for additional recipe notes, tips, and serving suggestions!
For immediate help troubleshooting a recipe, please email me using the form on my contact page. I’ll try to respond to urgent questions as quickly as possible! For all general questions, please leave a comment here :)