Disclaimer: this ice cream is for serious lemon lovers only.
Which, I’ll admit, isn’t me.
I can do lightly lemon desserts. Sometimes. I like a hint of lemon tartness with my fruit, or a bit of lemon paired with plenty of rich, buttery pastry. But given the choice, I will always choose chocolate over lemon.
So no, this ice cream is not my favorite.
But that’s not to say it can’t be yours.
You have to admit, it’s really rather brilliant: lemon meringue pie in ice cream form. I wasn’t sure exactly what would happen, but the marshmallowy meringue gives the ice cream a light and airy cloud-like texture and super scoopability you won’t believe (seriously, you can scoop this right out of the freezer as if it were lemon mousse and not ice cream at all). That alone, despite my lemony-reservations, made this ice cream too interesting not to share.
Despite its deceivingly light texture, this ice cream packs an intense lemon flavor (hence the disclaimer). It’s surprising, really, how a mere 1/2 cup of lemon juice can be cooked and diluted and churned and swirled and still pack a puckering punch. If you’re the type who can eat lemon curd by the spoonful, this is your lemon-filled version of heaven.
Another reason why this ice cream is so brilliant?
No leftover egg whites.
Seriously, I’ve lost track of how many frozen egg whites I have stashed in my freezer from past batches of ice cream. I rarely have a use for them (one can only make so many macarons), and so they just sit there, frozen in their little baggies, until they get too old and I finally have to throw them out.
But this ice cream…. well, this ice cream utilizes the entire egg: the yolks are cooked into the rich and creamy custard base, while the whites are whipped up into a sweet and fluffy meringue, swirled into the frozen custard at the very end.
I used Meyer lemons here, which I find to have a more pleasant lemon flavor (normal lemons often taste metallic to me, even if they’ve never come in contact with a speck of metal in the entire cooking process). Go figure. Meyer lemon season is long gone, however, so unless you’ve stealthfully stashed some juice in your freezer, you can substitute regular lemons here instead (just use slightly less juice).
The meringue swirl is a bit tricky, as the meringue is thick and not exactly something you can easily drizzle or swirl. I found that transferring the meringue into a makeshift piping bag turned out to be the easiest way. Just spoon your meringue into a gallon-sized zipper bag, cut off about 1/2-inch of the tip, and then squeeze out tubes of meringue into your ice cream as it churns. Just at the very end though; remember you want swirls of meringue so it shouldn’t be mixed in entirely.
For Ice Cream Base:
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup Meyer lemon juice or 1/3 cup regular lemon juice
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- pinch salt
- 3 large eggs, separated
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- 3/4 cup whole milk
For Meringue Swirl:
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- pinch cream of tartar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Prepare an ice bath by placing a smaller bowl inside of a larger bowl filled with ice water. Set aside.
- Place sugar, lemon juice, butter, and salt in a medium saucepan. Slowly bring to a gentle boil over medium-low heat.
- In a bowl, whisk together egg yolks (reserve egg whites to make meringue later). Slowly ladle 1/4 cup at a time of warm lemon mixture into yolks, whisking vigorously, until about half of lemon mixture has been incorporated and yolk mixture is warm to the touch. Pour into saucepan with remaining lemon mixture, whisking to combine. Place over low heat and cook until thick enough to coat the back of the spoon, 2 to 3 minutes (mixture will read about 170-175 degrees on a instant-read thermometer). Remove from heat.
- Strain mixture through a fine mesh sieve to remove any bits of cooked egg, into bowl within ice bath. Stir in heavy cream and milk, and let sit, stirring occasionally, until cooled to room temperature. Cover bowl with a layer of plastic wrap, pressing plastic down onto surface of custard to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, at least 6 hours or overnight if possible.
- The next day, prepare the meringue. Place reserved 3 egg whites, sugar, and cream of tartar in the metal bowl of your stand mixer or other heat proof mixing bowl set over (but not touching) a pan of gently simmering water, whisking until mixture is frothy, warm to the touch, and sugar is completely dissolved (if you rub a bit between your fingers you should not feel any grains).
- Remove bowl from double boiler and dry bottom. Lock into stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, and turn on mixer to medium. After 1 minute, increase speed to medium high, then after another minute, increase to high speed. Whisk until meringue holds glossy peaks, and base of bowl is cool to the touch, about 10 minutes. Whisk in vanilla. Scoop meringue into a ziptop bag, pressing mixture into one corner and sealing well. Set aside.
- Prepare your ice cream maker and churn chilled ice cream base according to manufacturers instructions.
- When ice cream is almost done, trim off a 1/2-inch corner of the bag that holds the meringue. Depending on your ice cream setup you may have to briefly pause it, squeezing a portion of the meringue into the ice cream. Turn back on for a few seconds, then pause again to squeeze in more meringue. You are looking for a meringue ‘swirl’ here, don’t mix it in fully.
- Once all of meringue has been swirled, transfer ice cream to an airtight freezer safe container, then place in freezer until completely firm, at least 4 hours or overnight if possible.