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Authentic Lemon Gelato

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Good gelato is a great ending to an Italian meal. Authentic lemon gelato might be even better. Light, fresh, and tangy. Just what you need if the main course is something like my Italian Meatballs in Tomato Sauce (Polpette al Sugo).

Authentic Lemon Gelato
Authentic Lemon Gelato

With the right equipment and some secrets, you can come pretty close to the Italian experience. After much research and much trial and error, I have developed some tips for successful gelato at home. The key to this is using simple syrup giving a smoother texture. This is supplemented by the best equipment your budget allows. Please check out this discussion and tips here.

Perfect lemons for gelato

What is great about lemon gelato is I took a helpful hint from the great Italian cookbook author Marcella Hazan. She suggests boiling the lemon rind in water and sugar to extract flavor. This is a great idea, a double bonus giving the benefit of the simple syrup.

Notes on Lemon Gelato Ingredients


Look for healthy lemon peels. The lemons should be soft, but not mushy and appear to be moist. Since you are going to be boiling the lemon peel to produce the syrup you will likely want to find organic lemons. In that case, there will be blemishes but if no signs of damage, they are fine.

Cream and Milk

Most of my gelatos call for half cream, and half milk making them lighter than ice cream. Because this recipe uses both a simple syrup and a good deal of lemon juice, that mixture is too thin. Therefore, this recipe calls for 3 parts cream to 1 part milk.

Gelato Bowls
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Simple Syrup

Simple syrup is an addition to most of my gelatos. The reasoning is discussed in greater detail in my overview of gelato, but simply it is replacing large molecules of sugar with smaller ones making for a less icy texture. There is an extra bonus here, with boiling the zest in the syrup for a deeper flavor.

Notes on Technique

Ice Cream Maker

The choice of an ice cream maker is key to making gelato. In particular, you want a maker with a gelato setting that will more slowly churn the mixture. This ensures there is less air in the final product producing the desired texture. Please see my discussion on equipment for making gelato.

A slow churning machine, like this one, is required for gelato.

Final Notes


Gelato is best when enjoyed fresh. It allows for the use of fresh fruit and other ingredients. Therefore, it is not intended for long-term storage. Furthermore, I have found that completely filling multiple pint containers (as opposed to one large container) improves storage time.

Even under the best of storage, after about 3 or 4 days, the gelato will become a slight bit icier. Still tasty yes, but not quite as good of texture.


Visit a gelateria in Italy and you will notice the servers, called “gelatai” Italian, using paddles to constantly move the gelato, stirring and smoothing — almost zen-like. It breaks down the ice crystals giving a smoother tastier gelato.

If you have a gelato paddle – great, a strong spatula or ice cream scoop – fine, or even a large spoon will do. Do your version of the gelatai performance before serving; you will find it helps smooth your gelato.

Recipe FAQ

Why do I boil the lemon in the sugar water?

Simple syrup is key to homemade gelato. The sugar molecules actually change when boiling, producing a smoother gelato without having to resort to additives. In this case, accomplish two things by adding the lemon to the process and fully extracting flavors.

Are ice cream makers with compressors better?

Generally yes. But at a high price. Perhaps worth it if you make a lot of gelato. If not, the separate freezing bowls work just fine.

Lemon Gelato seems to have a lot of cream for Gelato. Why?

A distinction of gelato is that it has more milk than ice cream. But Lemon Gelato has a larger than normal amount of cream because of the strong acidic lemon flavor.

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Lemon Gelato

Lemon Gelato

Yield: 12 Servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes

Fresh, smooth tangy. Sounds like the start of an interesting ad...


  • 1 ½ cup cream
  • ½ cup milk
  • Peel of 2 lemons (make sure not to include the white pith)
  • ⅔ cups lemon juice (the juice of about 6 or 7 medium size lemons)
  • ½ cup sugar (for syrup)
  • ½ cup water (for syrup)
  • ⅔ cup sugar


  1. Put the ½ cup sugar, water, and the lemon peel in a saucepan and bring to a slow simmer. Simmer for about 3 minutes. Remove the peels. (See note) Let cool to room temperature at least. If time allows, refrigerate to completely cool.
  2. When ready, add all ingredients (including the additional ⅔ cups sugar) to the mixer and freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions.
  3. The gelato will be soft. Spoon it into airtight containers and freeze for at least 3 hours before serving. Overnight is best.


Lemon Peel: After removing, if desired you can set the peel on a plate and allow it to dry for a couple of hours. You now have candied lemon peel as a bonus. Serve it with the gelato even, if you like.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 12 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 114Total Fat: 11gSaturated Fat: 7gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 3gCholesterol: 34mgSodium: 17mgCarbohydrates: 4gFiber: 0gSugar: 2gProtein: 1g

Calculated Nutrition is estimated.

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Sunday 9th of June 2024

Hey Jeff, thank you so much for this! It’s the best article I’ve found online that really breaks down gelato making. Love your deep dive into the simple syrup. I made this with the kitchen aid ice cream attachment and everyone loved it!

Jeff Zeanah

Sunday 9th of June 2024

You are welcome and thank you for your comments. I love gelato and love being able to make it at home.

Teresa B

Saturday 9th of March 2024

What happens to the lemon peel strips that are simmered in the simple syrup?

Jeff Zeanah

Saturday 9th of March 2024

Ah yes, they should be tossed. I will clarify the recipe.

Thanks for noticing.


Saturday 22nd of July 2023

This is an EXCELLENT recipe!!!! I used a $50 cuisinart maker and it turns out perfectly each and every time!


Saturday 22nd of July 2023

@Kit, Super. - I am glad we got the sugar bit straightened out. I too am very fond of this recipe.


Sunday 17th of October 2021

Recipe says (last item) "2/3 sugar" - Is that 2/3 cup (I guess?) . How and when do you add it ? to final mix? it will remain granulated... Pls be more specific - some of us are true beginners


Sunday 2nd of July 2023

@Jeff Zeanah, it’s still unclear to me: 1/2 c sugar for the simple syrup and then at the end add 2/3 c sugar ALONG WITH the simple syrup? Thank you!

Jeff Zeanah

Sunday 17th of October 2021

Thank you for catching my error. That is 2/3 cup. And yes, you add the syrup (after cooling) with the milk, cream, and lemon juice. All ingredients together into the mixer.

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