Ice Cream/Frozen Desserts

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

June 27, 2018

Every week in Genius Recipes—often with your help—Food52 Creative Director and lifelong Genius-hunter Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that will change the way you cook.

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).

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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.

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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?”

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? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]—thank you to Food52er Peggy Dunagan and ceramicist-editor Marian Bull for these two!

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The Genius Desserts cookbook is here! With more than 100 of the most beloved and talked-about desserts of our time (and the hidden gems soon to join their ranks) this book will make you a local legend, and a smarter baker to boot.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • YMS
  • MJPeed
  • mary
  • Ann
  • Janis
I'm an ex-economist, ex-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007. 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."


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.
Author Comment
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.
mary July 2, 2018
This recipe was so easy and delicious. Perfect for a hot summer evening dessert with little effort
Author Comment
Kristen M. July 2, 2018
Ann July 1, 2018
Sounds perfect. How far in advance can I make this without sacrificing flavor? Thanks.
Author Comment
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.
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.
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: