Recipes

lemon sorbet

I realize that in a week where the most public spaces part sludge, part abyss, you might not have frozen desserts on your mind, but I cannot hide what we are: year-round ice cream people. Maybe it’s just the peculiarity of a steam-heated apartment, keeping it a balmy 78 degrees in here all winter, but snow on the ground has never kept us from cold treats, especially lemon sorbet, which tastes the way beams of sunlight feel on your skin.


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Ever since I made the impulsiest impulse purchase* in the early lockdown days of a fancy ice cream maker, we’ve been making it fairly regularly, tweaking the recipe from David Lebovitz’s perfect Perfect Scoop [Amazon, Bookshop, More] until it’s exactly as full-bodied and robustly tart-sweet as we like it. What sets it apart from other recipes is infusing the simple syrup with zest, giving it a bigger flavor. I strain both the zest and the lemon juice pulp out, ensuring that there are no papery flecks in the final sorbet. I have shoved bowls of this into several friend’s hands over the last couple weeks and I love seeing the surprise on faces from just how explosive the flavor is. Think of it like wintery lemonade.

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* Let me make it abundantly clear that a fancy ice cream maker sits squarely on the want side of the need-want continuum. We love ours but hardly think it’s a Top 10 kitchen item. Ice cream makers fall into two categories, well, three if you consider those old-school hand-cranked salt-chilled things, but I’m going to focus on the electric machines here. The first have bowls that you have to freeze for 1 to 2 days before using. The ice cream still needs to finish freezing in the freeze after it has churned. You can use them once and then they have to chill again for a couple days before you make another batch. I had a standalone one from Cuisinart at one point, and later the Kitchen Aid attachment. They work fine but the fancier (also bigger and much heavier) kind I impulse-bought comes with a compressor, so it fully freezes into ice cream in the machine in 30 to 45 minutes and also requires no advance planning to use, or use again. [Amazon, Bed, Bath & Beyond, Williams-Sonoma, More]

Previously

6 months ago: Deviled Eggs
1 year ago: Plush Confetti Cupcakes
2 years ago: Roasted Squash with Ginger and Tofu
3 years ago: Baked Buffalo Wings
4 years ago: Banana-Oat Weeknday Pancakes
5 years ago: An Easier Way To Make Cookies
6 years ago: Leek, Ham, Cheese and Egg Bake and Spaghetti Pie with Pecorino and Black Pepper
7 years ago: Fried Egg Salad and Caramelized Onion and Gruyere Biscuits
8 years ago: Homemade Dulce de Leche and Cheese Blintz
9 years ago: Intensely Chocolate Sables and Pasta with White Beans and Garlic-Rosemary Oil
10 years ago: Potato Chip Cookies
11 years ago: Chocolate Peanut Spread (Peanutella)
12 years ago: Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onions and Ricotta Muffins
13 years ago: Bittersweet Chocolate and Pear Cake and Chicken Milanese + An Escarole Salad
14 years ago: Leek and Swiss Chard Tart and Key Lime Cheesecake
15 years ago: Icebox Cake

Lemon Sorbet

David Lebovitz’s original recipe calls for 1 cup granulated sugar and up to 1 1/4, if you like it sweeter. I use less but make sure you taste it before churning to make sure it’s not too tart for you. Freezing mutes flavors so you’ll want it to taste slightly sweeter than you’d like the final sorbet to taste. If you need advice on making ice cream without a machine, David also has you covered.

  • 2 1/2 cups (590 grams) cold water, divided
  • 14 tablespoons (175 grams) granulated sugar
  • Finely grated zest and juice from about 6 lemons

In a small saucepan, combine 1/2 cup of the water, all of the sugar, and the finely grated zest of your lemons. Heat, stirring, until the sugar has completely dissolved, usually right before it begins to simmer. Add remaining 2 cups cold water and chill this mixture completely. [I hasten this along by planting the pot unceremoniously in this snow on our terrace. It’s pretty quick!]

Set a fine mesh strainer over a large bowl (or a 4-cup measuring cup) and juice the lemons over it until you have 1 cup pulp-free juice. Chill this, too, until the syrup is cold. Pour the chilled syrup through the strainer, removing the zest while adding it to the lemon juice.

Freeze mixture in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

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46 comments on lemon sorbet

  1. araminty

    I love cold desserts in winter. I stayed with some Dutch friends in their apartment above an ice cream store, and we went every night. We don’t have any kind of ice cream maker at all, but maybe we should…

      1. Jessica Dee

        Agree. I used 2 Meyer lemons for zest and (3/4cup juice) and one regular lemon (1/4cup) and it was divine. I followed David’s recipe tho so I used 1cup sugar. I didn’t find it overly sweet.

  2. Amelia

    I learned from NYT to bloom and dissolve a half-teaspoon of gelatin in my sorbets/sherbets and it was absolutely game changing. Gelatin doesn’t freeze! Something about proteins? so it holds the texture of the sorbet in the frozen-but-perfectly-scoopable realm. HIGHLY RECOMMEND. Also, more controversially, corn syrup for half the sweetener. Judicious use of invert sugar just can’t be beat sometimes.

  3. Heather

    Lime sorbet will always have my heart, but lemon is a close second. I use a tablespoon of vodka or gin in order to make the finished product a bit smoother.

  4. Mary

    Just a note to Amelia’s comment. If you use gelatin, this will not be vegetarian. Gelatin is made from cow or horse’s hooves.

      1. Esvee

        Lydia’s right – gelatin is from skin and/or ligaments, bones and tendons, not their hooves.

        But I am totally making this since there is nothing like citrus to beat the winter blues!! Thanks so much for linking to David Lebowitz’s tips for those without ice cream makers, Deb!

  5. Annelise Ho

    Perfect timing on this! My grandparents just gave me a giant bag of lemons from they’re tree and I’m looking to use them and this is perfect. I don’t have any snow to chill it in quickly since I’m in Cali, but I’m sure this’ll be great.

  6. Mickey

    We have a Cuisinart ice cream maker, I keep the bowl in the freezer, not a big deal. I just can’t justify the space or cost for one with a compressor.

    This looks great, for July. Too cold for me. Back to my hot tea!

    1. deb

      You can make sorbet with any fruit but the amount of juice you want vs. water to have the right concentration and the amount of sugar that makes it taste best will vary depending on the fruit.

  7. Sadhbh

    Rubbing the lemon zest into the sugar before you make the syrup is also a good move – not only does it seem to make it taste even more lemony, the smell is life-enhancing. Works for anything where you are using citrus zest and sugar.

  8. Jessica dee

    I got the same ice-cream maker for Christmas because I was dreaming Of David Lebovitz’s chocolate sorbet and literally just made this lemon one last week. Everyone I have foisted my lemon and of course chocolate sorbet upon has been very seriously considering buying the ice-cream maker. Too funny.

    1. deb

      I think homemade sorbets are my favorite part. There are better-than-ever ones in stores these days, but nothing tastes like homemade. I’ve also made a passionfruit one and even mango, which provided a great dessert for a vegan guest.

  9. Jane

    I don’t understand “removing the zest while adding it to the syrup”. Do you mean discard the zest? I love lemon sorbet so need to know! Thanks.

    1. deb

      It makes a simple syrup. When making an ice cream without thickener, i.e. custard, no cream cheese, a simple syrup makes can really improve the final texture — more smooth, less crunch. I also use a simple syrup in many popsicle recipes on the site, like this one.

  10. A cook

    Related: I’ve been wanting to try lemon curd ice cream. Also have a ginger-lemon ice cream recipe that’s tempting me. First need to make space in the freezer and try tangerine sorbet, though.

  11. I’m in Citrus Heaven San Jose, California. There’s so many fruits available for free! I’ll gladly send you some. I have 2 lemon trees bursting with fruit.

    My daughter lives in NYC, I pack up pounds of lemons when I visit. Slurp. I’m going to make this recipe over the weekend.

  12. Bentley

    I just made an orange sorbet last weekend to celebrate the end of January (with champagne, January really stresses me out!) but I have not seen the zest syrup trick so this is totally on my list for this weekend, probably with a glug of limoncello. Layers of sunshine!

  13. Rachel

    This looks so delicious! And those lemons are gorgeous against the turquoise cutting board.

    I sadly do not have an ice cream maker, but have found that making a lemon posset but throwing in the lemon juice at the same time as everything else, then shoving it in the freezer (in yogurt containers, because I’m classy), yields unbelievably creamy lemon ice cream. The citrus must stop the ice crystals from forming or something. It’s pretty magical.

    Thanks for making Wednesdays brighter! Always excited to see what’s cooking here.

  14. Jay

    “Juice before zesting only if you enjoy being grumpy” from another one of your lemon recipes has become a favorite quote of yours in our household :-)

  15. We are celebrating International Ice Cream for Breakfast Day on Saturday! And that is really the only time I want to eat ice cream in cold weather, haha. But I will bookmark this for steamy summer because I do love intense lemon flavor

  16. Brittany

    I went on a big ice cream making kick last year and purchased that exact machine. I wanted to love it but we are big fans of ice cream with lots of chunks and the 1.5 quart capacity meant most of the recipes were overflowing out of the canister – plus I didn’t like the center agitator taking up as much space as it did. I went back to my regular frozen canister machine but I do miss ice cream making on demand! This one looks so good!

  17. Eliza

    I’m in search of an electric citrus juicer that works as well as the one my parents bought in the 1980s (and is still going strong). If yours is one you would recommend, would you share what kind it is, please? (I can’t see enough of it to make an educated guess). Thanks! (And we love David Lebovitz’s Perfect Scoop — everyone in our family has a favorite, or two or three)

    1. Suzanne

      Eliza – re: an electric citrus press – This summer we retired and moved to a house here in northern Cal. with a lot (!) of citrus trees – lemons, Meyer lemons, limes, oranges, mandarins. So this year I asked Santa for an electric juicer – got this Breville: https://www.breville.com/us/en/products/juicers/bcp600.html
      It’s big, takes room, and is sort of pricey, but I have been very happy with it. We use it every day. Fill ice cube trays with juices, make lots of citrus curds, marmalades, etc.

      Also I heartily recommend just freezing citrus whole – if you have the freezer space. Makes zesting/grating the peels unbelievably easy while the fruit is still frozen and then when it thaws (which it does quickly) it is very easy to juice – at least with the juicer I have. And I have absolutely no scientific explanation for this, but freezing our limes whole makes the juice taste somehow sweeter and less acidic than juice from our non-frozen limes. I’ve taken to drinking straight lime juice made from the frozen limes!

  18. Sara

    A tip: find a friend or neighbor that owns or would like to own an ice cream maker and propose joint custody of one. My best friend and I do this: we each own a freezer bowl, and then the other components travel back and forth between our houses. I’ll routinely make a few batches of ice cream over a few days (especially helpful since we don’t keep large quantities of milk or heavy cream), fill up our freezer with a few different flavors and send it back. And since K’s probably reading this comment now, HI K!!! lol love you let’s both make lemon sorbet this weekend

  19. Pamela Stohrer

    I made lemon curd the day before, and during the last 2 minutes of churning, I add it to the sorbet. I like the differences in texture, and there’s even more of a lemon pop.

  20. Lucy

    Any suggestions for getting this to have a better texture out of the freezer? I froze this in my Kitchenaid attachment until it was slushy and sorbet-textured, but after I put it in the freezer, the high water content made this into just ice (albeit delicious ice!). I added a few teaspoons of tequila in hopes of preventing it from freezing solid, but that didn’t seem to help.

    1. JP

      We had the same problem, but we have found if you put the lemon sorbet into the refrigerator for about an hour before scooping, it is much easier to scoop and has a texture like snow. Lemon snow! Delish!

  21. Abby Arnold

    I have a Meyer lemon tree in my backyard and make gobs of sorbet at this time of year just to use up the ripe lemons. Everyone else in the neighborhood has a lemon tree, too. The little Cuisinart ice cream maker is not expensive and does a good job.