Lemon Gelato Recipe photo by Taste of Home
Total Time
Prep: 30 min. Process: 20 min./batch + freezing

Updated: May 29, 2024

When I crave a frozen treat that’s not super sweet, this is the recipe I turn to. In fact, this lemon gelato recipe has the perfect combo of tangy sweetness and a creamy-cold texture that has my lemon-loving friends requesting it a lot!

Gelato is a slightly lighter version of ice cream due to the use of milk and cream. Although some gelatos don’t include egg yolks, this recipe for lemon gelato calls for it. The yolks give it the classic rich, creamy gelato texture. Gelato is also similar to ice cream because you make a simple custard base before churning it in an ice cream maker.

The flavor in this recipe for lemon gelato is incredibly fresh. We’ll be making it with five fresh lemons plus lemon zest. A scoop of this treat reminds me of key lime pie in gelato form but with more of a lemon tang. Dress it up by topping it with fresh raspberries or blueberries.

Lemon Gelato Ingredients 

  • Whole milk: It’s responsible for the creaminess of the gelato, but also keeps it from melting too quickly. Full-fat coconut milk is a good substitute, as well as oat milk.
  • Sugar: You need sugar’s sweetness to tone down the tang of the lemon juice and zest. Just as importantly, the sugar keeps the gelato from freezing solid.
  • Egg yolks: The extra fat content in egg yolks makes this gelato rich and creamy.
  • Lemon zest and juice: Combining the zest with the juice in lemon gelato maximizes the lemon flavor.
  • Heavy whipping cream: Its high-fat content boosts flavor and creaminess. Heavy whipping cream has slightly less fat than heavy cream, but either works in this lemon gelato.

Directions

Step 1: Make the custard

Heat milk to 175°F in a small heavy saucepan and stir in the sugar until it is dissolved. Separate the egg yolks into a small bowl, then whisk a small amount of the hot mixture into the egg yolks and return the mixture to the pan. Continue whisking constantly. Add the lemon zest and cook over low heat, while stirring constantly, until the mixture coats a metal spoon and a thermometer reads at least 160°. Don’t let the mixture come to a boil.

Step 2: Add the remaining ingredients

Take the pan off the heat and stir in the lemon juice and cream. Pour the mixture into a bowl. Press plastic wrap onto the custard’s surface. Put the bowl in your fridge for several hours or overnight.

Fill the cylinder of your ice cream maker 2/3 full. Freeze according to the manufacturer’s directions. (If there is extra custard, refrigerate it until the first batch is finished freezing.) Put the finished gelato in freezer containers, allowing space for expansion. Freeze for two to four hours or until firm. Repeat with the remaining custard.

Lemon Gelato Variations

  • Go blue: Grind 1/4 cup freeze-dried blueberries into a fine powder using a food processor. Stir it into the mixture when you stir in the lemon juice and cream. The powder adds a blue hue and a delicate blueberry flavor to your lemon gelato. Yum!
  • Experiment with orange: Replace half the lemon juice with fresh-squeezed orange juice for a lemon-orange twist. Or go for a lemon-lime option by replacing some lemon juice with lime juice.
  • Top with fresh berries: Just before serving, top your gelato with raspberries for a happy pop of color and a flavor that pairs well with lemon. Blueberries and blackberries are fun options, too.

How to Store Lemon Gelato

You definitely want to pop this in the freezer after making it. The gelato might expand slightly as it freezes so put it in freezer containers large enough to allow room for expansion. The gelato takes at least two hours to freeze until firm. Gelato will keep in the freezer for two to three months.

Lemon Gelato Tips

What if you don’t have an ice cream maker?

You can make gelato without an ice cream maker, but it will take longer. Instead of putting the mixture in an ice cream maker, pour it into a freezer-safe container. I’ve discovered that a 13×9-inch Pyrex pan works best. Put the pan in your freezer. Every 20 to 30 minutes, check the pan. When the edges start to freeze, take the gelato out of the freezer and use a hand mixture to beat it in the pan until creamy. Then put it back in the freezer and repeat the process every 30 minutes for four or five times, until the gelato is nearly solid. Keep at it until the lemon gelato is super thick and creamy.

How do you make gelato creamy and not icy?

Homemade gelato gets its creamy texture from the high milk fat content in the recipe. Low-fat milk should be avoided if you want to keep ice crystals from forming. Instead, use heavy cream, whipping cream, and whole milk.

Is it possible to make gelato without sugar?

We’ve had some success using agave nectar in place of sugar. King Arthur Baking Company has a baking sugar alternative that works in frozen treats, too. Or you might try stevia. Check the package directions to determine how much of the substitute is needed to replace the amount of sugar called for in our recipe for lemon gelato.

Lemon Gelato

Prep Time 30 min
Cook Time 20 min
Yield 1-1/2 quarts

Ingredients

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 5 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
  • 3 tablespoons grated lemon zest
  • 3/4 cup fresh lemon juice (about 5 lemons)
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream

Directions

  1. In a small heavy saucepan, heat milk to 175°; stir in sugar until dissolved. Whisk a small amount of hot mixture into egg yolks. Return all to the pan, whisking constantly. Add lemon zest. Cook over low heat until mixture is just thick enough to coat a metal spoon and a thermometer reads at least 160°, stirring constantly. Do not allow to boil.
  2. Remove immediately from heat; stir in lemon juice and cream. Place in a bowl. Press plastic wrap onto surface of custard; refrigerate several hours or overnight.
  3. Fill cylinder of ice cream maker two-thirds full; freeze according to the manufacturer’s directions. (Refrigerate remaining mixture until ready to freeze.) Transfer ice cream to freezer containers, allowing headspace for expansion. Freeze 2-4 hours or until firm. Repeat with remaining mixture.

Nutrition Facts

2/3 cup: 361 calories, 26g fat (15g saturated fat), 213mg cholesterol, 40mg sodium, 31g carbohydrate (27g sugars, 0 fiber), 4g protein.

On a recent trip to Italy, I became addicted to gelato. My favorite choice was lemon because Italian lemons have an intense flavor. This recipe brings back memories of our vacation. —Gail Wang, Troy, Michigan
Recipe Creator