Lemon Kefir Ice Cream Recipe

This has been the strangest July ever. Maxence and I are having our bathroom renovated, and it is far more disruptive than I had — perhaps naively — imagined it would be. The dust, debris, and general lack of showering implement have made our apartment rather inhospitable, and my poor little kitchen is all tarped up, to protect her (of course it’s a she) from the ambient grime.

As you might infer, there has been little cooking going on around here lately — rubble cake, anyone? — but, by a stroke of involuntary foresight, just before the workers came in to bash the walls, I had prepared the ideal antidote: a simple lemon kefir ice cream, made with fermented milk.

It is, without a doubt, the best lemon ice cream I’ve ever tasted.

The culinary fairy behind this recipe is my good friend Estérelle, who writes for ELLE and has a truly staggering knowledge of all things food and cosmetics. In the original version posted on her blog, she makes it with lait ribot, a fermented milk from Brittany. I *heart* lait ribot, but I have difficulty finding it in my neighborhood, so I used kefir instead; it is readily available in the fresh milk aisle of my grocery store.

The acidulated creaminess of the fermented milk is a rare complement to the acidity of the lemon, and the result is a snow-like, tangy concoction that works wonders on one’s dust-parched throat and construction-weary soul.

It is, without a doubt, the best lemon ice cream I’ve ever tasted.

The recipe can be easily adapted to use other types of fermented milk and sweeteners, and even other kinds of citrus. Lime would be perfect (with a splash of rum or cachaça rather than limoncello), as would orange, grapefruit, and, if you want to dazzle your friends with your culinary exotica, yuzu or cumbava.

But I must say that, like Estérelle herself, I am so smitten with this lemon kefir ice cream that I’m unlikely to try it any other way.

Have you tried this? Share your pics on Instagram!

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Lemon Kefir Ice Cream Recipe

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour, 10 minutes

Makes about 1/2 liter (1/2 quart).

Lemon Kefir Ice Cream Recipe


  • 400 ml (1 2/3 cups) kefir (or other fermented milk, or buttermilk, or plain yogurt)
  • the zest from a large organic lemon, microplaned or very finely chopped (a Meyer lemon would be just the thing)
  • 60 ml (1/4 cup) lemon juice (the large lemon listed above should yield that amount, but get a second one just in case)
  • 130 grams (1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons) rice syrup (or the liquid sweetener of your choice — maple syrup, barley syrup, honey...)
  • a good splash of limoncello (or rum, or cachaça) (optional)


  1. Combine all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and whisk until blended.
  2. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour until well chilled.
  3. Churn in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  4. Serve with thin butter cookies, a handful of berries, and/or candied violets.


Don't have an ice cream maker (yet)? You can still make this recipe on a day when you're home most of the time. Prepare the mixture in the morning. Pour it into a freezer-safe container and place in the freezer. An hour later, remove the container from the freezer, draw the sides in with a fork (the ice cream will set from the sides in), stir vigorously, and return to the freezer. Repeat every hour. The ice cream will be ready by dinnertime.

  • This sounds scrumptious Clotilde. I love the limoncello touch, so summery!

  • This sounds very refreshing…if I use plain yogurt, would I need to adjust the amount of sweetener?

  • That sounds really refreshing. What a great idea to put Kefir in ice-cream… This recipe looks really easy as well. Merci.

  • This looks just amazing. A beautiful photo too.

  • A Meyer lemon? Can you find those in France?

  • Robin

    I was so excited to see that you were kind enough to include instructions for those of us who do not have an ice cream maker. Too often I must skip wonderful sounding recipes. There is just no room for even one more appliance in my kitchen! My husband adores ice cream and this sounds fabulous.

    Thank you so much!

  • Ooh! This sounds lovely and I bet my local cheese shop could help me track down the lait ribot.

    It sounds like it would taste a little like yogurt, which I love.

  • Hi Clotilde – I’ve been enjoying your blog for some time now and really want to thank you for introducing me to my new favorite thing ever – Pistachio Gelato… I am smitten. I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve posted a link to your page on my own blog. It’s just too delicious to keep to myself!

  • That looks like the perfect end to a dinner party I am planning for next week. I love the little violet on top.

  • Erin

    This sounds amazing and I just so happen to have everything on hand, thank you for including the substitutes for agave syrup and kefir. Homemade yogurt and honey should work great. :)

  • Oh, your ice cream fabulousness continues. my fig tree is in high-fruit and I’m making the fig ice cream this week. lemon-kefir is next!

  • gingerpale

    Not 2 weeks ago I made (nearly identical) Lemon-Buttermilk Sorbet (from the New York Times), & I agree that you’re not likely to improve on this. (Or get tired of it!)

  • Rubble Cake! I’m sure you could make even rubble cake photogenic and tasty – the texture might be a bit difficult, though :)

    This recipe looks fantastic! For an additional tip for those without an ice cream maker – I just posted a blog about hand-rolled ice cream, using two paint cans instead of an ice cream maker or the freezer method – and it will get the job done in 15 minutes.

    I’ll have to try this the next time I’m sitting outside in the sun!

  • I love the idea of a frozen kefir dessert. And with lemons? This sounds like a winner!

  • SAS

    Looks delightful. I will do it! Yesterday it was very hot here in Minneapolis — and we stopped at my favorite fast food chain CULVER’S — it is delicious though and had a frozen lemonade cooler!! Lemon is the thing one needs in this weather — CULVER’S or not!

  • Readers who can find kaffir lime (small, green, with incredibly knobbly skin)could use a couple of teaspoons of this instead of lemon zest, and substitute regular lime juice for lemon. Any good Thai supplier should have the kaffir lime (known in Thai as magrut). The heavenly fragrance of this lifts Clothilde’s already good recipe into the category of sublime.

  • I can easily buy kefir here, but hadn’t even thought about using it in an ice cream. Thank you for a great idea, Clotilde!!

  • Sue

    The lemon ice cream sounds delightful. Hope your bathroom project goes smooth for you.

  • Mary

    I wish I could make this, but I am unsure of where I could find kefir, and my sister, the only person who eats anything I make, hates citrus. Darn.

  • Yum- lemon anything is wonderful! I cannot wait to try this- I am going to go and get Kefir. Fresh raspberries are inseason around me so I will add those for the finishing touch. Thanks!

  • kaffir lime kefir ice cream? that’s a mouthful, but it would be a delicious one.

    Where I grew up on French Reunion Island, we pronounced it and spelled it “combava” not “cumbava”. I do love kaffir lime, and it’s easy to grow in a container as long as you can bring it in a frost-free (imperative!) sunroom, greenhouse or veranda. Somewhat heated to maybe 10 degree Celsius or 50 Fahrenheit would be even better – my combava tree was a little too cool last winter and as result it does not look like I am going to have any fruit – plenty of leaves though, which are also very useful in cookery. I posted more info and picture of combava – as well as a recipe.

    Thank you for the suggestion to use combava in ice-cream, Clotilde.

  • That sounds wonderful! What a nice use of fermented dairy. I’ll try it with honey, and maybe add a little lemon thyme or lemon verbena.

  • i’ve been meaning to try cafir.. perfect opportunity!!!!!

  • Yum! I must try this…who knew you could use kefir in ice cream. Nice one!

  • The way you describe the fermented milk makes me think of the tang of goat’s milk. Is there any similiarity in flavors?

  • AppetiteforChina – No, neither kefir nor lait ribot are sweetened, so you can substitute plain yogurt without adding any sweetener.

    Linda – A friend of mine used to grow Meyer lemons on his balcony, but otherwise, no, I can’t find them anywhere around me.

    Wendy – Yes, I’m sure kaffir lime (which is, in fact, the same citrus as the cumbava/combava I mentioned) would be great in this.

    Swirlingnotions – Fermented milk does have some taste similarities with goat’s milk, but it is thicker — halfway between milk and yogurt, like buttermilk. I wouldn’t suggest using goat’s milk here, but goat’s milk yogurt should be lovely.

  • This ice cream recipe sounds so delicious. And thank you so much for including a variation for those of us without an ice cream maker…I’m a poor student!

    (Sorry about your bathroom, I hope it finishes up soon)

  • Alex

    I just made this with Meyer lemons from my tree and it is truly divine. My only recommendation: double the recipe!

  • Lait ribot et Kefir, voilà deux ingrédients que je trouve facilement sur Munich alors je ne vais pas manquer de tester les deux versions!

  • Y

    Sounds incredibly refreshing. Would love a spoonful of this even though it’s very cold outside :)

  • franko

    we’ve been remodeling our bathroom AND our kitchen since may, so i understand what you are going through. we had no idea how disruptive this was going to be. we knew it would be messy and bad, yes, but THIS messy and bad? i think it’s been one of the most stressful things we’ve ever done in our home. your ice cream sounds like the perfect antidote. we don’t have an ice cream maker, but i am going to try your alternate instructions. good luck on your bathroom!

  • Oh my goodness…that looks so gorgeous. Moving it to the top of my “must try” recipes.

  • delicious! Surviving a remodel definitely requires ice cream…thanks for the motivation to use kefir!

  • Erin

    I just made this the other night with whole fat yogurt instead of kefir. It is so easy and delicious! I put all of the ingredients in a metal bowl in the freezer and stirred from the outside in every 40 minutues or so and it was ready in 3 hours and wonderful! Thank you.

  • ralph

    Sometimes eggplant can be a bit strong tasting and I think they need to be “bled” of the offensive bitter juice. For that reason I like to not roast one before finishing, but rather prefer to slice and generously salt both sides of the slices to be set aside for a while during which time the salt draws out the offending bitterness, then the egg plant can be finished as a particular recipe requires. However, the slices must be rinsed well before proceeding with further preparation. Ralph

  • Anjana

    Ca va Clotidle?

    hope yr well and doing great

    C’est Anjana from India…although I aint as good a cook, such as you , I thoroughly enjoy reading your recipes. They’re written well and the language has a very refreshing touch to it..When im saddled with work and bored, I open your page and it puts me in great spirits…

    Thanks fr this one too, the limoncello rite…tis really amazing

  • Marcia Smith

    I live in Japan and am going to use ‘Total’ yogurt which we only got here last year and yuzu syrup to make this!

  • esther

    I just made this with plain yoghurt and demerara sugar, and it was great! The texture is completely sorbet-like which you wouldn’t expect with all that yoghurt, and the taste was nicely tangy and sooo aromatic. Loved it.

  • iris

    thank you for a great recipe. I made it with grapefruit and St Germain liquor — try it!

  • My favorite ice cream is from Joy of Cooking, their Lemon Milk Sherbet. It’s just milk, cream, sugar and lemon — easiest thing in the world to make, and the kids love it. However, I make yogurt at least once a week and am SO looking forward to trying your recipe out. Our lemons in Taiwan are green, never yellow, so it will look greenish with the zest, but should taste great.

    Do you think the alcohol helps with the texture? Last time I tried making frozen yogurt it was fairly grainy and not so popular with the kids.

    Thanks! And good luck with your remodel.

  • mujeresliebres

    Just a suggestion but it seems like you could easily make lait ribot.

    Two options, buy raw milk cream let it sour slightly and then make butter.

    Or buy a good quality cream, make butter and inoculate the buttermilk with a little store-bought buttermilk or yogurt.

    I made this the other day with buttermilk, ouzo, and used 2 parts honey to 1 part sucanat for the sweetener. Quite good.

  • Lisa C

    wow, this was fabulous! healthy and refreshing, so easy, loved it! it was fine with very low fat kefir and agave nectar. I will even make this without an ice cream machine.

  • Looks great – but do you have any idea what it would be called elsewhere – or alternatively, how to ferment it oneself?
    I live in Cape Town South Africa at the moment and whilst we have buttermilk here I cannot think what else it could be called. We find craime freche (obviously) but I slightly flummoxed now. Help!!!!!

  • Kathy – Because alcohol does not freeze in the freezer, it helps ice creams and sorbets remains soft and scoopable. I don’t know that you want to try that method if you’re going to serve it to kids, though — it amounts to very very little alcohol per serving, but still.

    Justfoodnow – Fermented milks go by different names depending on the style and ferment — you may be able to find something called lebneh if you have access to Middle-Eastern stores. But buttermilk or plain yogurt will be fine for this.

  • i loved the lemon recipe–but had half a bottle of plain kefir left! what to do? make more!

    this time, i juiced a cucumber and a few pieces of watermelon i had picked up from the market this week, and at the last minute threw in a bit of lime zest in place of the lemon. perfect for a hot day!

  • Jasmine

    This looks amazing. Do you have any recommendations for a good first ice cream maker? I’m looking to get one before the end of the summer and don’t have much to spend, but would still like it to work the way it’s supposed to. These are the ones I’m considering. Any suggestions would be much appreciated.

  • This looks wonderful, Clotilde! I have no idea where I’d get hold of kefir in my area, but it should be wonderful with buttermilk.

  • @Jasmine – I can’t comment on any of the models you link to, but the one I have is made by Krups (a model similar to this one) and I am very happy with it.

  • Rhona

    gingerpale — would love to find that NY Times recipe for lemon buttermilk sorbet. Is it in a cookbook? Can you post it? Can’t get it thru google. thx!

  • Cheska the Ice Cream Lover

    That sounds yummy. But personally, I have never tasted lemon ice cream before. I’ve only tasted strawberry, cookies and cream, cheese, mango, rocky road, purple yam, chocolate and chocolate marshmallow with brownies, BLAHBLAHBLAHBLAHBLAHBLAHBLAHBLAHBLAHBLAH “…and finally, worm-flavored sprinkled with snot and drizzled with earwax sauce!” *triumphantly*

  • Wow! I had no idea you could make ice cream out of kefir…nice and light on a hot, California afternoon. Beautiful photos. Thanks so much.

  • Just made a double recipe of this, with honey (reduced the amount slightly) as the sweetener. I also steeped muddled mint leaves in the kefir overnight. Absolutely fantastic! A double batch might not be enough. It’s like the lightest sherbet ever. The tang from the kefir sets off the lemon to perfection, and the warm flavor of honey keeps it from being too puckering. Thanks much for the recipe!

  • Beth – Thanks for reporting back, I’m really glad you liked the recipe!

  • laura

    I discovered this dish last summer and am loving it still! I wanted you to know I used one of your modifications with buttermilk, grapefruit and basil – delicious!

    • That does sound delicious, thanks for reporting back!

  • Emm

    Hi there, thanks for posting this (even though I’ve only just found out about it today, years later!!) A reader on my blog suggested I check out your recipe as I’ve just done a post on how to make your own Kefir (milk and water). It’s not a very common thing here in New Zealand, I think only one company makes it commercially. We’ve been making Kefir for about a year now, and I have often thought how nice it would be to make ice cream out of it! So thank you, come summer I will be trying this out for sure!!! Lactose-free kefir icecream, yum :-)

  • charlotte

    This sorbet is heavenly! I’ve made it a number of times and its just sublime and incredibly easy. I don’t own lemoncello but there is an old bottle of pear william I splash in at the end though I don’t know if this adds much flavour. I do put in extra lemon (maybe one more) plus a bit of extra lemon zest and flavour to make it more intense. Probably this isn’t needed if you have the lemoncello. But its wonderful.

  • christine

    have been making this for a couple of years now and FINALLY got around to making a version with orange. used peel and juice from one lemon and one valencia orange. it is fabulous and am now thinking i should have changed up the limoncello for cointreau. next time!

  • This is such a wonderful recipe! It’s the most refreshing ice cream/sorbet I know, and goes extremely well with berries and elderflower. It reminds me of a typically Danish dessert which is cold buttermilk soup (I might blog about that later), only this is even more refreshing. Thanks for sharing!

    • I’m so glad to hear it, Agnes, thank you for reporting back, and do let us know when you post about the buttermilk soup!

  • I added 1/4 tsp. cardamom to this already fantastic ice cream. Primo stuff! I actually have a kaffir lime tree, so I plan to do a little more experimenting with this recipe. And my neighbor has a Meyer lemon tree, so come January, I can give that a try, too.

    Thanks, Clotilde!


  • Laurel

    I just ran across this in a search and had to make it tonight. WONDERFUL! I used dairy milk kefir, a mix of honey/org. sugar, regular jarred lemon juice and zest from a fresh lemon. My 2 kids (8 and 11) liked/loved it respectively and my husband and I adore it! Can’t wait to make an adult version. Pinned it to my Pinterest board so others can find it. If I can figure out stevia measurements for the sugar, this can be our breakfast. Thank you!

  • dbizizme

    This was my first attempt at an iced dessert in my new ice cream maker – turned out delicious! And so simple. I love it! Thank you! I used agave nectar as the sweetener, and could have gone with a TOUCH less of it. It tastes delicious – I just prefer less sweet.

    • I’m so pleased, thank you! Agave nectar has a greater sweetening power than others for the same volume, so it’s true you would need to use a little less to obtain the same sweetness.

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