How to Make Lemon Sugar ~ this is an easy technique for infusing real lemon flavor into sugar for all your baking projects. If you’re a lemon lover you need to know about this trick! (Works with other citrus fruits like oranges and limes, too.)
Most of the time when we cook with lemons the majority of the flavor gets tossed in the trash!
I’ve been making lemon sugar for a few years now and so many of you have loved it that I thought it was time to feature the technique in a post. It started with my Scottish Lemon Sugar Shortbread, and I loved the result so much I almost immediately made a Lemon Sugar Crumb Cake. Now any time I’m baking something lemony that includes granulated sugar, I make lemon sugar. It takes no time at all and has such a big payoff. Once you try this you’ll never want to do without it.
What is lemon sugar?
Lemon sugar is plain granulated sugar that has been processed with the zest of fresh lemons, resulting in a flavor infused sugar that explodes with classic lemony flavor.
Most of the flavor in a lemon comes from the very outside of the peel, or the zest. If you look closely you’ll see little ‘pores’ all over the skin of a lemon. Each one of those contains a bit of incredibly aromatic, intense lemon oil, which is responsible for most of the flavor of the fruit.
My citrus sugar technique is a way of capturing that volatile flavor in sugar.
What is lemon infused sugar used for?
Lemon sugar can be used just like regular sugar in recipes, whenever citrus flavor is called for.
You’ll use lemon sugar in the same way and in the same amount you would use regular sugar in a recipe.
If you bake a lot you might know that it can be difficult to infuse lemon flavor into baked goods without resorting to artificial tasting flavorings or extracts, and this solves that problem.
Lemon sugar is used in my Buttermilk Lemon Bread, above, and my Lemon Layer Cake with Lemon Poppy Seed Buttercream, below, to give them a naturally vibrant lemony flavor throughout the cake.
You can use lemon sugar in any lemon flavored recipe that uses granulated sugar. Try it in iced tea or lemonade!
The difference between the zest and the peel of a lemon
There’s an important difference between the zest and the peel of citrus fruits.
The peel is the whole outer layer of the fruit. It can be thick, as on a grapefruit, or quite thin, as on a Meyer lemon. The peel includes the zest and the pith, which is white and bitter.
The zest is only the very outer colored layer of the peel. This is where the flavor oils are stored.
You can remove the zest with zesting tool, which peels off small thin bits of the zest, or you can use a vegetable peeler to remove larger pieces, which I do for this lemon sugar.
What you need to make lemon sugar
- fresh lemons, preferably organic, since you’ll be using the whole zest.
- granulated white sugar
- a vegetable peeler (a serrated peeler works best)
- a food processor or high speed blender. I prefer the processor, but if you use a blender like a Vitamix, be careful not to over process the sugar. (This is one time where a machine can be too powerful for a job.)
How to make lemon sugar
- Wash and dry your lemons
- Carefully remove the outer zest with a serrated peeler. Don’t include any of the bitter white part, you can see from the photo above that my peel is all bright yellow.
- For every cup of sugar your recipe calls for, use the zest of 1 lemon.
- You can play with the ratios: for instance you can halve that amount and use 1 lemon for 2 cups of sugar for a more subtle flavor.
- I don’t recommend exceeding one lemon to one cup of sugar because the flavor could be bitter.
- Put the sugar and peels into a food processor or blender and pulse/blend to combine. Process until the zest is completely incorporated into the sugar, this will take less than a minute. The sugar will become fragrant and pale yellow. If you see large pieces of zest in the sugar, process longer. Small bits are fine, as you can see in the photo below.
- The sugar should be aromatic, moist (like brown sugar) and pale yellow.
- Note: measure and use the amount of granulated sugar your recipe calls for, and then process with the lemon. The processing will alter the volume of the sugar somewhat and shouldn’t be measured after processing, only before.
- Plan to use lemon sugar shortly after you make it, while the flavor oils are fresh.
Can I make lemon sugar ahead?
- Lemon sugar should be made fresh for each recipe, using the amount of sugar the recipe calls for if you want the freshest flavor. The oils in zest dissipate easily.
- If you must store it for a short period, put the lemon sugar in a zip lock freezer bag, remove any excess air before zipping, and refrigerate.
- Cooks Illustrated says that you can freeze zest for up to 3 months, so you can do that if you like and make your sugar as needed.
To make infused sugar with other citrus fruits
- This method works well with oranges and thinner skinned tangerines.
- Meyer lemons are especially wonderful!
- Grapefruit and limes are more bitter and you may want to experiment with less of their zest.
How to Make Lemon Sugar
- food processor or blender
- Wash and dry the lemons. Carefully remove the zest from the lemons, using a serrated vegetable peeler. You want to remove only the bright yellow part, not the bitter white pith underneath.
- Put the sugar and the zest in a food processor and pulse to combine. Then process until the zest is fully incorporated into the sugar. This will take under a minute. Take a look, the sugar should be fragrant, moist, and pale yellow. If you see chunks of zest, process a little longer. Fine bits of zest are ok.
- Use your sugar in your recipe right away for freshest flavor, or store in a zip lock freezer bag in the refrigerator and use promptly.