Baking with lemon means baking with the actual fruit, right? Not so fast. There are many ways to bake with lemon, ranging from using all parts of the fruit — juice, zest, and rind — to adding ingredients like lemon oil and emulsion, which deliver a bold hit of citrusy essence.
With so many options for adding lemon flavor, how can you know when is the best time to use each one? Here are our favorite ways to use the broad range of lemony ingredients.
1) For aromatic lemon flavor, use the zest.
If you have fresh lemons, wash each lemon and use a zester to grate the rind before cutting them into them for the juice. Use gentle strokes to remove only the exterior layer of rind, where the flavorful oils are found, and not the bitter white pith beneath.
What to do with all that sunshine-colored zest? Add up to a few teaspoons of zest to your baked goods to provide background flavor notes. It can be used to boost the overall lemon profile of your bake or accent additional flavors, similar to vanilla extract.
Add the zest to your recipe when called for or when adding the fat (butter, oil, etc.) since fat helps carry flavor.
If your recipe doesn’t call for creaming butter and sugar but you want to extract as much flavor as possible, infuse your sugar with lemon zest before adding it to your recipe. Use your fingertips to massage the zest into the sugar, and then add as directed.
Zest can also be used to help balance the flavor of baked goods that aren’t strictly lemon-flavored, like our Filled Wool Roll, a beautiful bread filled with sweetened cream cheese. The filling is predominantly flavored with raspberries, but the zest of two medium lemons is added to make the flavors pop. You can add zest to recipes that don’t call for it without making the flavor overly lemony; it’ll simply make your baked goods taste fresh and bright.
Baker’s tip: If you end up with extra citrus zest, store it in a zip-top bag in the freezer until needed; it’ll keep for several months.
2) For tart, acidic citrus flavor, use fresh lemon juice.
If you’re looking for strong, acidic lemon flavor, choose recipes that call for a generous quantity of lemon juice. Our Lemon Bliss Cake, for instance, takes advantage of freshly squeezed lemons by incorporating the juice into a glaze that’s brushed onto the baked cake. Using lemon juice in recipes where it doesn’t get baked — like glazes, icings, and soaks — ensures a strong, tart flavor.
Another way to embrace the pure flavor of lemon juice is to make lemon curd. Whether you cook it on the stovetop or use our microwave-friendly version, our lemon curd recipes start with 1 full cup (227g) of lemon juice.
Once you have thick, buttery, and tart lemon curd, use it to make sandwich cookies, spread between cake layers, and fill sweet breads.
Baker’s tip: Freeze extra lemon juice in ice cube trays to help keep it fresh for longer; thaw the number of cubes you need when you’re ready to use it. A cube added to a pitcher of water on a summer day adds some pleasant zing.
3) When you’re looking to use the whole fruit, candy it.
If you want to use the entire lemon and finish your baked goods with an elegant flourish, make candied lemon slices. These glossy, sugar-coated pieces of fruit are ideal for topping cakes or garnishing tarts. Check out the baker’s tips at the bottom of the Easy Vegan Lemon Cake recipe for detailed instructions on making candied lemons.
If you want to candy just the rind (as opposed to full wheels of lemon), follow the details in our blog, How to make candied citrus peel.
Baker’s tip: For a shortcut, use candied lemon peel that’s ready to use in your recipes. Chop it up and fold it into batters and dough for chewy pockets of sweet-tart citrus flavor. (Heads up: At King Arthur, we only recommend the ingredients that we, as bakers, truly love. When you buy through external links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.)
4) If you’re out of fresh lemons and looking for well-rounded flavor, use lemon paste.
Lemon paste is the citrus equivalent of vanilla bean paste: It delivers robust lemon flavor in the form of a viscous syrup. It’s made from the oil of California lemons with just a touch of cane sugar for sweetness. It’s ideal in recipes where you don’t want to thin out the consistency too much by adding a lot of liquid, or when you don’t have fresh citrus on hand.
In addition to zest, the Whipped Lemon Shortbread recipe includes the option of 1 teaspoon lemon paste. Without it, the cookies are only lightly lemon flavored, but with the paste, the lemon flavor is hard to miss.
Baker’s tip: Substitute 1 tablespoon lemon paste for 1 teaspoon lemon extract for a slightly sweeter and more lemony finish.
5) When you want all the tartness of lemon but none of the liquid, use lemon juice powder.
Sometimes a drizzle of lemon juice just isn’t going to work in your recipe — bakes like shortbread or scones, for instance, can’t accommodate a lot of liquid, and a small amount of juice isn’t going to add enough lemon flavor. This is where lemon juice powder comes in.
Lemon juice powder delivers highly concentrated flavor from real lemons in the form of lemon solids (basically ground-up dehydrated lemons), a bit of sugar, and a touch of lemon oil. The resulting powder is so tart, it’s guaranteed to make you pucker if you taste it plain.
Lemon Snowball Cookies showcase what lemon juice powder does best. The lemon-scented cookies are baked then rolled in a combination of confectioner’s sugar and lemon juice powder. They’re re-rolled a second time to complete the tart coating.
Baker’s tip: To substitute lemon juice powder for 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, briskly stir 1 teaspoon powder into 2 tablespoons water. To add extra lemon flavor to baked goods, use 1 tablespoon lemon juice powder for each cup of flour. For lemon glaze, use 1 to 2 teaspoons per cup of confections' sugar.
6) For when you want a bakery-quality lemon flavor that lasts, use lemon emulsion.
Emulsions are often used in professional bakery settings because they deliver long-lasting flavor even when baked. Lemon extract, on the other hand, can disappear during baking if you use too little. If you use too much though, it can impart a slightly artificial taste. Lemon emulsion solves those problems.
We put lemon emulsion to use in our Easy Vegan Lemon Cake, where bakers are given the choice of using either the zest of a lemon or 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon emulsion. For bakers who are looking for a robust lemon flavor that stays that way long after baking, or who simply find themselves without fresh lemons, emulsion is the way to go.
Baker’s tip: Substitute 1/2 teaspoon lemon emulsion for the zest of 1 medium lemon in your recipes.
7) For concentrated lemon flavor, use lemon oil.
A little bit of lemon oil goes a long way. Recipes typically call for it in drops or up to 1/2 teaspoon because of its potent flavor. It’s made from the oil of real lemon rind — there’s no other type of oil added — so it’s an excellent substitute for zest.
Don’t get lemon oil and lemon extract confused: Lemon oil is more concentrated in flavor. Some tasters pick up on a slightly artificial flavor in lemon extract, which is why we prefer lemon oil for its real lemon flavor.
Lemon oil can be used to balance sweetness, like in our Honey Lemon Cake. It’s also the supporting ingredient in our Lemon Pancakes, Blueberry Coffee Cake with Lemon Streusel, and Lemon Cheesecake to maximize lemon flavor.
Baker’s tip: Substitute 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of lemon oil for 1 tablespoon of zest, depending on how strong you’d like the lemon flavor to be.
8) When you want pockets of sweet citrusy flavor, use lemon crumbles.
Lemon-lovers, listen up. Lemon crumbles are the ingredient your pantry has been missing. Similar to lemon chips, lemon crumbles are little morsels of sweet-tart lemony flavor. They have a bit of crunch but eventually melt in your mouth, similar to how chocolate melts on your tongue.
You can mix them into batters and doughs for extra texture and flavor, or even sprinkle them on top for a flavorful garnish: Add them to your favorite Lemon Cookies recipe, for instance, or to Lemon Scones.
For even more citrusy bakes, check out our collection of best lemon recipes.
Cover photo (Easy Vegan Lemon Cake) by Rick Holbrook; styling by Kaitlin Wayne.