This easy lemon simple syrup recipe requires nothing more than a sharp knife and common ingredients. Use it for making lemon drop martinis, moistening cake, or for flavoring iced tea.
Should I Use Juice or Zest?
Since the goal of simple syrup is to be sweet, avoiding too much lemon juice is the best option. It will only make the syrup zesty and suspend pulp in the mixture.
Instead, focus on pulling the delightful oils out of the peel for flavor.
To do this, use a sharp knife or a special citrus peeler to remove the peel. Just be careful, you want to avoid getting any of the white part (known as the pith) because it makes the lemon syrup bitter.
How Much Lemon Do I Need?
For every cup of simple syrup you make, you need the zest and juice of two to four lemons. (Depending on size.)
You’ll use half in the heating process and the other half as it cools. This brings two different flavors of lemon to the syrup. Plus, the first one adds the depth and color that makes the lemon syrup yellow
For the first round simmer the water, sugar, lemon juice, and zest together in a small saucepan. After it comes to a boil, turn off the heat and add the additional lemon zest and juice. Let it sit in the lemon simple syrup while it cools completely.
Alternatively, you can use the ends of the lemons like I have shown in my pictures. Because you’re not simmering it into the syrup, the potential for bitterness from the pith is much lower. Especially if you aim the cut side up and out of the mixture.
Once cooled, use a fine mesh strainer to strain the lemon syrup into a glass container. (Don’t use a julep strainer or you’ll get too much pulp.) I like to add an additional garnish of lemon into the container for a little flair.
How To Remove the Lemon Zest
If you choose a knife, the simplest way it to shave with smooth movements using the sharpest part of the blade. If you use your knife often and haven’t sharpened it in a while, this may be the tip.
Try to avoid sawing the knife back and forth because this will likely remove too much of the pith and cut too deep. Try to keep even small movements
If you would like to use a zester, PLEASE opt for a bartender’s channel zester. This is the tool that they use to make those beautiful citrus swirls for garnish on a cocktail. Start at the top of the lemon and follow the shape of it to remove one long piece.
If you try to use a citrus zester like a microplane, you’ll end up with teeny tiny pieces of zest that are almost impossible to strain out of the simple syrup. It can give a pretty appearance, but not the greateast mouthfeel.
Lemon Simple Syrup Uses
Lemon syrup is a great way to sweeten all sorts of things. Some of my favorites are:
- Moistening the cake layers of lemon cake
- Making a glaze for pound cake
- Coating a summer fruit salad
- Glaze to go on top of a fruit tart
- In iced tea, cocktails, or a secret ingredient to better homemade lemonade.
There are so many great options, so really the sky is the limit. If you really want to mix it up and get another fun flavor, try grilling the lemon slices before removing the zest.
Lemon Syrup Recipe
Scale this recipe to use as much or as little lemon simple syrup as you need. Remember that one lemon, depending on size, makes 2-3 tablespoons of juice, so four lemons per cup equals roughly 1/2 cup of juice.
The lemon syrup will last for three to four week in the refrigerator. You can also freeze the simple syrup for up to one year, but I recommend storing it in a flattened zipped bag to prevent accidentally breaking the glass during freezing.
Lemon Simple Syrup
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup water
- 2-4 lemons, depending on size
- a pinch of salt
- Using a sharp knife or a channel knife, remove the zest from all the lemons. Split in half and set aside then cut the lemons open and juice the lemons. Split the juice in half and set aside.
- In a small saucepan over medium low heat, add in the sugar, water, one half of the lemon zest and one half of the lemon juice*. Bring to a simmer, let simmer for five minutes then turn it off.
- Add in the second half of the zest and juice and a pinch of salt. Allow to set until the simple syrup is completely cooled. Use a fine mesh strainer to strain out the pulp and zest from the syrup then store for up to a month in the refrigerator.