Genius Recipes

No-Cook, No-Sweat, No-Churn Lemon Ice Cream From a Southern Cooking Legend

The genius of Dori Sanders’ Country Cooking.

June 18, 2019

With Genius Recipes correspondent Kristen off for a few months trying to raise a genius newborn, we’re revisiting the column’s Greatest Hits with brand-new videos—and hearing from a few special surprise guests. Wish her luck! (And keep sending those tips.)

No matter how sticky-hot it is—or how slim the supplies in your kitchen happen to be—if you have a working freezer, you can make sweet-tart, bracing lemon ice cream all the same.

Because this no-churn recipe only asks you to juice, zest, and stir. It comes from Dori Sanders, a now 84-year-old peach farmer, novelist, and cookbook author—if you want to chat with her about it, she’ll be selling peaches at her family’s farm stand in Filbert, South Carolina every Friday and Saturday till Labor Day. Here's a peek:

At big family reunions when Sanders was growing up, the adults spun lemon ice cream in a hand-cranked wooden ice cream churn (then all the kids drew straws to see who'd get to lick the dasher).

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I used heavy cream and half-and-half for this. Additionally, I boiled the half and half and stepped some thyme in it. I chilled the thyme-scented half-and-half before adding to the recipe as directed. I can't wait to try a berry add-in. Has anyone had any luck swirling in berry puree or compote after the first freeze/stir?”

But in the 1990s as she worked on recipes for her cookbook Dori Sanders’ Country Cooking, she stumbled upon a churn-free method. “I tried to go back and recreate it the very way I remember we made it," she told me over the phone. “I tried it in one of those electric churns and it didn’t work—something was amiss.”

The answer she found turned out to be so much simpler. As you stir together a handful of ingredients, the acid in lemon juice magically thickens the cream, without whipping or churning. Sugar both balances out the pucker of the lemon and keeps the ice cream from freezing too hard.

What all this means is Sanders’ recipe might be both the easiest no-churn ice cream yet, and also one of the smoothest and creamiest. “On a hot, hot, hot, hot summer day, it is the most refreshing ice cream,” Sanders says. “Anyone can make it.”

As we were shooting Sanders' lemon ice cream for our forthcoming Genius Desserts cookbook (which is out September 4th—you can call dibs on a signed copy here), we found an especially wonderful buddy for it in these Candied Sesame Seeds from Estela restaurant in Manhattan.

The two recipes aren't only soulmates in a crunchy-on-smooth, tangy-on-sweet, finishing-each-others'-sentences sense, but also in how gloriously simple they are. (When you don’t need an ice cream machine, it’s also handy that you don’t need a candy thermometer.)

Candying sesame seeds is one of the more rewarding ways you can spend ten minutes: As you stir the seeds in a bubbling simple syrup, suddenly the water disappears and a dry crystalline layer of sugar pops to the surface.

Though you can make either recipe quite literally anytime and anywhere, I couldn’t share one with you without inviting the other to tag along. I recommend bookmarking them both, and making them all summer long.

Photos by Mark Weinberg.

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Perhaps something perfect for beginners? Please send it Kristen’s way (and tell her what’s so smart about it) at [email protected]. Thank you to Food52er Peggy Dunagan and ceramicist-editor Marian Bull for these two!
Listen & Subscribe

From our new podcast network, The Genius Recipe Tapes is lifelong Genius hunter Kristen Miglore’s 10-year-strong column in audio form, featuring all the uncut gems from the weekly column and video series. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts so you don’t miss out.

Listen & Subscribe

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Jen Delker
    Jen Delker
  • justjanejones
  • neighome
  • Smaug
  • Dondrill Glover Moustafa
    Dondrill Glover Moustafa
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


Jen D. July 16, 2020
Just made this and it was wonderful. Mine came out smooth and creamy.
Jen D. July 16, 2020
Just made this and it was wonderful.
justjanejones July 26, 2019
hi! i’ve made it twice now, both times with half the amount of sugar (1/2 cup). it’s delicious, but freezes more on the icy side rather than creamy. what can i do to get it a little creamier?
Smaug August 15, 2019
Most of what goes into making an ice cream base is aimed at tying up the water so that it can't form large ice crystals; that's what all the emulsifiers and stabilizers are about. There are many ways your problem could be approached; this recipe depends on two things; the sugar binding with water, and the milk proteins, denatured by the lemon juice, doing the same. I had some success with this recipe by cutting the sugar and increasing the lemon juice- you might simply try that. Another approach would be with the sugar. Easiest thing would be to add a couple of Tbsp. light corn syrup, which is essentially glucose; this will bind the water much more effectively without increasing sweetness much. Another would be to make an invert sugar syrup; this splits the sucrose into glucose and fructose, keeping the same sweetness but doubling it's ability to bind water molecules. An easy recipe (it's hard to make this in really small quantities, though possible)- mix 2c. sugar, 1 c. water, 1 Tb. lemon juice in a small sauce pan; cook to a firm ball stage (248 degrees on a candy thermometer). You can substitute it 1/1 for the sugar in the recipe. Beyond this, you could use stabilizers such as corn starch (which will need to be cooked) or tapioca starch (which won't), or some more exotic types such as guar gum or commercial stabilizers, but I'd try the sugar syrup first.
neighome June 24, 2019
This wasn't super creamy for me. Sort of somewhere between lemon ice cream and lemon ice. But I love it anyway. It's very refreshing and so so so easy to make. I think next time I'll try to add a little lavender or basil. Thanks for the recipe!
Smaug June 22, 2019
This is a really good recipe- I used to make the Jean Hewitt recipe, which is nearly identical- years ago but had forgotten about it. The amount of sugar may seem a bit alarming (for contrast, I use the same amount of sugar with 1 1/2c. juice for lemonade), but between the cold and the total volume of the dessert it's actually not terribly sweet. The amount of juice and zest isn't critical, by the way- the Hewitt recipe uses 3 Tb. juice, and I've made it with twice that- I live in citrus country and generally like lemon desserts pretty strong. It doesn't affect the texture- which is surprisingly smooth- noticeably.
Dondrill G. June 19, 2019
Omg .. Looks delicious.. no churn “ amazing “ Oh I love lemon 🍋 and ice cream .. can’t wait to try this ..
mary June 19, 2019
Has anyone tried this with non-dairy alternatives?
cindy June 19, 2019
This is one of my 2 go to lemon deserts. It’s easy as pie. Pie is my second go to lemon deserts. Forget the meringue and use the entire lemon to make a quick lemon pie with just a crust and 5 ingredients I always have on hand. I’ve never submitted a recipe but would be happy to share it.
CAROLE June 19, 2019
Tori P. June 19, 2019
I want to know your 5 ingredient pie recipe!
Anja June 19, 2019
Please share it!
Cheryl June 19, 2019
Please share! I would love to try it.
cindy June 20, 2019
Quick lemon Pie
1 lemon thinly sliced and seeds removed
4 eggs
1 1/2 c sugar
1/2 c butter sliced
1/2 t vanilla

Place lemon in food processor and finely chop. Add other ingredients.
Place in unbanked pie shell
Bake at 350 for about 35 minutes. Protect edges of crust to prevent over browning. Bake until filling is set but not hard like
Pumpkin pie. Cool. Top with whipped cream.
Smaug June 20, 2019
Sounds like an adaptation of the classic Shaker lemon pie- thinly sliced whole lemons macerated in sugar; only other ingredient is eggs.
Anja June 20, 2019
Thank you! Sounds great!
But, why do you have to thinly slice it if it is just going in the food processor?
cindy June 21, 2019
If you don’t, the pith will give it a bitter taste. Plus, you want to be sure to get all the small seeds out.
Smaug June 21, 2019
How will slicing it thinly change the taste of the pith?
cindy June 21, 2019
I don’t know, but I’ve tried not doing it and it was butter. My assumption is this.
Smaug June 21, 2019
I guess it could be a simple matter of the sugar and pith being better mixed so that the tongue doesn't find unsweetened pieces of pith- the Shaker pie cuts the lemons very thin and gives them a long maceration with the sugar.
Anja June 21, 2019
Hmm. Interesting. It must be that if it is bitter when not sliced thinly. I suppose one could take off the peel in thin slices, and then cut off most of the pith, and then throw the peel and lemon into the food processor. Unless the pith is necessary in some way, like for thickening or something.
Cheryl June 21, 2019
Thank you so much for sharing!
cindy June 26, 2019
You could do that, but it would no longer be quick or easy. I can throw these ingredients together in 5 minutes. It’s also why I like the lemon ice cream. I can have a quick dessert and concentrate more time on dinner.
cindy July 16, 2020
Sorry. I hadn’t seen this.

Quick lemon pie

1 lemon thinly sliced, seeds removed
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup butter, sliced
1/2 tsp vanilla

Place lemon in food processor and finely chop. Add other ingredients and blend thoroughly.

Place in unbaked pie shell

Bake at 350 for about 35 minutes. Bake until filling is set, but not hard like pumpkin pie. If need be, cover edges of crust to prevent over browning.

Let cool. Top with whipped cream.
YMS July 22, 2018
This recipe is brilliant! The flavor is amazing and the texture for me was oh so creamy. I made 2 small changes which worked out wonderfully. I used heavy cream and half-and-half for this. Additionally, I boiled the half and half and stepped some thyme in it. I chilled the thyme-scented half-and-half before adding to the recipe as directed. I can't wait to try a berry add-in. Has anyone had any luck swirling in berry puree or compote after the first freeze/stir?
MJPeed July 5, 2018
Kristen - do you have the nutritional info for the lemonno churn ice cream - I have a diabetic guest.
Kristen M. July 7, 2018
Hi MJ, I'm sorry to say we don't have nutritional info. I'd recommend checking in with your guest to find out more about their dietary needs—my guess is that they may need you to use a sugar substitute, and they will know the best one to use.
CAROLE June 19, 2019
I suggest Monkfruit.
Gregg June 19, 2019
Have you tried is with any sugar substitute? I’m thinking monk fruit. You said sugar keeps it from getting too hard.
mary July 2, 2018
This recipe was so easy and delicious. Perfect for a hot summer evening dessert with little effort
Kristen M. July 2, 2018
Ann July 1, 2018
Sounds perfect. How far in advance can I make this without sacrificing flavor? Thanks.
Kristen M. July 2, 2018
Hi Ann—it depends a bit on how good your freezer is at holding a consistent freeze (the colder and more consistent the better, to keep it creamy and not icy), but if tightly sealed it will last about as well as any other ice cream does in your freezer.
FS June 19, 2019
Ice cream never gets a chance to go bad at our home, simply because it doesn't last long enough.
tucsonbabe June 19, 2019
I have kept it for a week . It was still delicious.
Janis June 28, 2018
The movie trailer is extraordinary. We are lucky to soon have access to these recipes for sure!
Lissa June 27, 2018
This is very similar to Jean Hewitt's lemon ice cream recipe which was published in the NYT in 1972. Maida Heatter included it in her book, "Maida Heatter's Book of Great Desserts", crediting Jean Hewitt. I have been making this for years.
Smaug June 19, 2019
She seems to have covered pretty much everything in her books- can't tell you how many times over the years I've read fabulous "new" recipes and realized that I made the same thing 20 years ago from one of her recipes. Unlike a lot of authors, she is conscientious in attributing collected recipes.
calendargirl June 27, 2018
Do not miss the film of Dori Sanders embedded in this article. I cannot wait to try her ice cream and will track down her cookbook. Thank you, Kristen.
calendargirl June 27, 2018
This has essentially the same profile as Merrill's Best Lime Ice Cream, a summer favorite of ours.

Anamaris Cousins Price: check it out to try with your limes! Here 'tis --
Anamaris C. June 27, 2018
Looks simply delicious! Wondering if it'll work with limes as well. They're plentiful here right now...
Audrey W. June 27, 2018
It will!
Merrill Stubbs' recipe for it:

tucsonbabe June 19, 2019
It is divine with limes.
Smaug June 20, 2019
Also, virtually any lemon recipe can benefit (to my taste) by the addition of a small amount of lime- maybe 10-20%. If tangerines were in season I'd try it with the addition of 1Tb. or so of juice, in addition to the lemon- it can add some really nice floral overtones mixed with lemon in small quaantities.