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This cool and creamy Fresh Lemon Ice Cream is homemade with real lemon juice and zest for a burst of sweet, citrus flavor!
We melt for lemon desserts! Some of our other favorites are Double Lemon Glazed Cookies (seriously, try these!), No-Bake Sour Cream Lemon Pie, Lemon Cupcakes, and Lemon Icebox Cake!
My husband always complains about lemon desserts, which is ridiculous because he actually loves my lemon cookies. When I told him I was going to make lemon ice cream, he quipped “hey, you know what you should do when life gives you lemons? Throw them in the trash.”
I did not appreciate his sense of humor. And I went ahead with my plan anyway because his aunt had shared some lemons with me from her tree and his cousin had mentioned this frozen lemon custard recipe to me as one of her favorites.
So even though he is a self-avowed lemon dessert hater, my husband fulfilled his role as my number 1 taste-tester and agreed to try a scoop of this lemon ice cream on a sugar cone.
I wish I had been taking a video because his reaction was perfect. His eyes went wide with surprise and he was practically at a loss for words. “This is SO good!” was the first thing he finally managed to admit.
Make lemon ice cream with real lemon juice instead of lemon extract
Seriously, it’s better than good. This lemon ice cream is incredible. All of us LOVED it and it was such a light, refreshing change with it’s punchy citrus notes.
The mouth-puckering tartness of the lemon juice is balanced well with the cream and sugar of the ice cream base. And the texture is just heavenly. So soft and creamy, the acidic lemon juice keeps the ice cream from getting quite as hard in the freezer as other flavors so it’s very much like an authentic gelato texture, if you have ever tried the real deal in Italy.
When I was researching lemon ice cream recipes, I noticed that a lot of people complain about the zest in the ice cream, but I personally loved the textural element it adds. But I also like pulp in my orange juice, so maybe I’m in the minority. If the zest bothers you, it’s easy to remove it but pouring the ice cream through a fine mesh strainer before churning.
Ingredients in lemon ice cream
- Heavy cream
- Egg yolks
- Lemon juice
- Lemon zest
How to make lemon ice cream
This ice cream recipe is custard based, which means it’s extra creamy and easily scoopable. Start by combining heavy cream, milk, sugar, salt, and lemon zest in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Always zest your lemons before squeezing them for juice because it’s so hard to zest them otherwise! Set the lemon juice aside for later.
Heat, stirring occasionally, just until you start to notice bubbles forming around the edges of the saucepan.
Tempering egg yolks
Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks in a medium bowl for 2-3 minutes until light. When the milk mixture is hot, gradually pour about 1 cup of this hot liquid into the whisked egg yolks, whisking the entire time to gently raise their temperature. This process is known as “tempering” the yolks and it prevents them from scrambling when you add them to the rest of the liquid in the pan.
Add the egg yolk mixture back to the saucepan. Continue to cook and stir over medium-low heat until the mixture reaches 170-175 degrees F on a thermometer. It doesn’t take more than a minute or two. If you don’t have a thermometer, the mixture should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
Most ice cream recipes recommend pouring the base through a fine mesh sieve to remove any bits of scrambled egg. But of the hundreds of batches of ice cream I have made I have never bothered with that step. And I have never personally experienced “eggy” ice cream. The only reason I would consider doing it here is to remove the lemon zest from the ice cream.
Chill the ice cream thoroughly
Chill the base completely before churning. The ice cream base should be as cold as possible before adding churning to get the best quality result. I’m always impatient for ice cream, so I like to use an ice bath to cool the custard base faster.
Just fill a very large bowl with ice and cold water for an ice bath. Transfer your ice cream base to a heavy-duty gallon-size ziploc bag and place it in the ice bath. The base will chill pretty quickly actually and is usually ready to churn within about 30 minutes to an hour using this method.
Or transfer the mixture to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and stick it in the fridge overnight. Once the ice cream base is thoroughly chilled, pour the fresh lemon juice in just before churning.
How to churn ice cream
All you have to do to churn ice cream if you have an electric ice cream maker is to pour the base into the bowl, insert the paddle, start the mixer, and let it run for 10-20 minutes until it looks like soft-serve.
I have a KitchenAid ice cream bowl attachment and a Cuisinart ice cream maker. The Cuisinart is my favorite, but both work well. They make it SO much easier to churn ice cream at home than the old-fashioned hand-cranked ice cream maker that my grandparent’s had where the tub had to be packed in rock salt and ice to and we took turns rotating the crank until the ice cream was done!
The biggest downside to many modern ice cream makers is that they only do small amounts of ice cream at a time. This recipe makes about 1.5 quarts, which is just right for a small ice cream machine like the ones I mentioned. You can double or triple this recipe if using a larger ice cream churn.
You will know the ice cream is done when it starts looking like soft-serve. If you want to add mix-ins, do that during the last minute of churning so they can distribute evenly throughout the ice cream.
“Cure” or harden the ice cream in the freezer. Transfer the soft ice cream to a bread pan or other freezer-safe container. Stick it in the freezer for 4 hours to “cure” or harden all the way.
Lemon ice cream mix-ins and variations
This is such a great ice cream base that can be used as a jumping off point for other ice cream creations. Consider trying some of the following variations for a totally new lemon ice cream experience!
- Add 1 to 1 ½ cups of broken up cookies during the last minute of churning. Any vanilla cream sandwich cookie like Golden Oreos or Snackwells would be good. Classic shortbread or even iced oatmeal cookies would also be great!
- Break up a graham cracker crust or use the crumble from my roasted rhubarb crumble ice cream and mix in to the ice cream for extra texture and crunch.
- Do a lemon raspberry ripple with the raspberry sauce from my white chocolate raspberry truffle ice cream.
- Pour half of the churned ice cream into a container, then spoon ⅔ cup of blueberry or cherry pie filling of it. Top with the rest of the ice cream and another ⅔ cup of pie filling, then swirl with a knife a few times.
More ice cream recipes
- Burnt Almond Ice Cream
- Homemade Strawberry Ice Cream
- Fresh Peach Ice Cream
- Coconut Macadamia Nut Ice Cream
- Blackberry Swirl Ice Cream
- Cherry Vanilla Ice Cream
- Graham Canyon Ice Cream
- White Chocolate Raspberry Truffle Ice Cream
- Huckleberry Ice Cream
Adapted from Allrecipes.com by way of Our Best Bites. Shared with me by my husband’s cousin Heather.