5 Fresh Ways to Love Lemons

5 Fresh Ways to Love Lemons

Lemons have zest! Literally, of course, but also in the sense that they add zing to everything they touch.

When using lemons in the kitchen, a little goes a long way. In fact, a squeeze of fresh juice or a pinch of grated rind can brighten up some of your favorite recipes. “Lemons are one of the best ingredients to keep on hand,” says Tom Sadler, chef and Panera Bread® Food Team member. “Whether you use them in something sweet or savory, they’re a great flavor enhancer.”

As a source of vitamin C, lemons can also be a healthy addition to your summertime menu. The next time you drop in to your local Panera bakery-cafe, order our delicious Frozen Lemonade for a surefire summer cooler. Or pick up a bag of zesty fruit and try one of Tom’s ideas at home—you may be inspired to do more with lemons this season than ever before.

Homemade lemonade: Made from freshly squeezed lemons and simple syrup, this will make you forget you ever used a powdered mix. You can even blend fresh lemonade with ice in the blender to make your own version of the frozen drink served at Panera. At home, Tom adds a puree of fresh mint leaves, steeped green tea, or fresh carrot juice to lemonade for an extra kick of flavor.

Lemon sugar: Combine the finely grated rind of two lemons with 3 cups of sugar and store the mixture in an airtight container for two to three days before using. “The sugar will absorb the lemon aroma and flavor,” says Tom. Lemon sugar lasts about six months and can be used in place of regular sugar in baked goods or sprinkled on top of cookies and cakes before baking. It can also be used to sweeten fruit salads or to rim cocktail or iced-tea glasses.

Lemon extract: In a mason jar, add the grated peel of one lemon to a cup of vodka. Store the jar in a cool, dark place for two weeks, periodically shaking it to help infuse the flavors. After two weeks, strain the liquid and transfer it to a brown bottle; discard the peel. Use lemon extract in baking or, suggests Tom, add a small amount to pancake batter or even homemade vanilla ice cream.

Limoncello: A sweet, lemon-flavored Italian liqueur, limoncello is delicious served ice-cold on a warm day. But be patient! The homemade version of this brew takes days (sometimes weeks) to reach full flavor. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the zest from 10 lemons in long strips and trim any white pith that remains. Place the lemon peels in a 2-quart pitcher and cover them with a 750-milliliter bottle of vodka. Cover the top of the pitcher with plastic wrap. Steep the lemon peels in the vodka for four days at room temperature. On the fifth day, add a simple syrup (heat 3½ cups of water and 2½ cups of sugar in a saucepan; stir until sugar dissolves; let cool). Cover the mixture and let it stand at room temperature overnight. Strain the limoncello through a mesh strainer and transfer it to bottles. Seal them and refrigerate until the limoncello is cold, at least four hours and up to one month.

Lemon curd: A gently cooked mixture of fresh lemon juice, sugar, butter, and eggs, lemon curd makes a delicious filling for cakes and cookies, or topping for muffins and scones. Using an electric mixer, beat together 6 tablespoons of unsalted butter and 1 cup of sugar. Add two large eggs, two large egg yolks, and ⅔ cup fresh lemon juice. Transfer the mixture to a saucepan and cook over low heat until it becomes smooth and thickens, about 15 minutes. Remove the mixture to a bowl and stir in 1 teaspoon of freshly grated lemon zest. Cover the bowl tightly and store the lemon curd in the refrigerator for up to one week.