This post will deviate slightly from the general vibe of this blog, as I’ll talk about a non-alcoholic mixed drink (*woo-hoo* party for all my non-drinking friends). It’s summer and that means that it is perfect time to learn a couple of tricks in the craft of lemon squeezing. I personally tend to make lemonade during any season, and one could observe me “stress brewing” copious amounts of lemonade in the middle of March (in Chicago it’s still cold in March). However, summer is an especially good season to make fresh lemonade and kick back on a patio after a day of work, or start your productive morning with an extra sour lemon-lime drink. Yes, this is the first aside I’m going to make, I call an entire family of different drinks by a simple name of lemonade, and I will continue to do so throughout this post.
In general, whenever I’m making lemonade I always want to know an answer to two questions before I start mixing. First, whether I’m making an individual portion or a batch. Second, whether I want my drink to be on the soothing sweeter and watery side or on a more “in your face” sour and fresh side. Both answers have a big effect on the recipes, and the resulting products. Thus it might be worthwhile for you to think for a bit about what taste and size you want to tackle at this particular point in time. From this point this post can be read non-linearly and to simplify navigation matters I provide these clickable links: batch recipe, individual recipe. A bit of foreword and clarification on what topics I cover in each subsection and recipe. In batch recipe I’ll talk a bit about using citrus peel to add extra flavor to your lemonade, and I’ll also discuss usage of less sour citrus juices. In the individual recipe subsection I’ll focus on sourness degrees, and make an aside about usage of mint and other “per serving” styling and flavor options.
Going with the batch option allows us to play with stronger and/or more arcane flavors and ideas, since administering small amounts of potent aromas and flavors while properly mixing and embedding them into the drink is less trivial than it might seem. In addition to that making a batch allows the use of certain kitchenware directly for mixing, rather than through multiple repackaging of the ingredients. Before you start making the lemonade, let me babble on a bit about proportions. Depending on how ripe and fresh your lemons and limes are, their juice will be more or less acidic. Thus, tasting a bit of pure freshly squeezed juice before making any further calls is strongly advised. I find the next proportion to be the “rule of thumb” in making a balanced lemonade: 1 part sugar, 2 parts juice, 5 parts water. In general, this ends up being somewhere in between lemon-flavored water and H2SO4 in terms of acidity, i.e. I would put into medium-to-sour part of the spectrum. Below, you’ll find this recipe scaled for a gallon of the final product.
2 cups of sugar
3 cups of fresh lemon juice
1 cup of fresh lime juice
10 cups of water
Mix 2 cups of sugar with approximately half of the water and heat up to dissolve the sugar. Add the rest of water, if possible use cold water to cool the entire mix. Finally add the juice and mix thoroughly.
This recipe doesn’t fail in most scenarios, and the end product turns out to be a wonderful refreshing summer beverage. However, I would not be satisfied unless I can somehow fancy it up from here. A rather simple idea is to boost the citrus flavors by adding peels of the respective citruses into the mix. In this case, I usually peel 3-5 lemons and 5-6 limes, and put the peels into the same pot that will be used for making the syrup base. Now, instead of twisting or otherwise squeezing the oils from the peels into the pot, I just add the sugar into the pot, and gently stir for about a minute. Note, at this point we haven’t added water yet or turned on the fire. However, for the second, I guess there is a possibility to make a caramel flavored lemonade, by just barely turning the fire on before adding water. After I add water I continue stirring to aid sugar dissolution, as well as, to allow flavors released from the peels to be embedded into the mixture. Finally, the peels are filtered out at the bottling stage of this process.
There are several other common ideas that can make your batch lemonade to stand out. You can add peels and zest of different citruses, not necessarily limes and lemons. My favorite citrus is grapefruit, so whenever I get a chance I drop in a bit of grapefruit peel here and there in my drinks. On the other hand, you can always experiment with the sugar side of the drink. Try replacing regular cane sugar with Demerara sugar or brown sugar. Alternatively, you can try caramelizing both your sugar and peels, and making your lemonade with those. Finally, a concluding remark on usage of the juice of other citruses in lemonades. Lemons, limes, key limes, anything sour is perfectly fine as long as you enjoy the flavor, but beware of oranges, clementines and even grapefruits. Citruses that have more sugary juices should not be used to replace more acidic juice in a 1-to-1 fashion. Every time you want to add a cup of blood orange juice for the color and taste, take some caution and estimate your sugar and acid budget, it might be necessary to cut down the amount of added sugar in this case, to maintain the fresh sour flavor of the lemonade.
I would argue that per every 5 regular lemonade consumers, there exist at least 8 recipes of “one serving” of lemonade. Thus, in order to not get lost in this plethora of choices and options, I’ll start by composing a set of questions that you might want to consider before making lemonade.
- Sweet, sour or in the middle?
- Ice or no ice? (If yes to ice: What kind of ice?)
- No additional flavor or flavored?
We will return to the first question several times, but to have a relative metric of sourness I’m proposing the following standard: 1.5oz of lime juice per 12oz water will be our middle ground, 2.5oz per 12oz will be sour, and finally 0.75oz per 12 will be mild. These are for the reference purposes only, and they in no way reflect some absolute standard. I happen to know people who would drink freshly squeezed lemon and lime juice without any water and sugar added, and I also know people who add 0.25oz of lime juice to 16oz of water for a light aroma and flavor. Both are perfectly fine, and in this particular case, both are not really lemonades, but to each their own.
Now, let’s move onto the question of using ice. First of all, we can shake our lemonade with ice while mixing it, and then serve it without ice. This is a great option if you want something cold, but don’t want to have the dilution happening over time. On the other hand, if your main goal is to keep this drink as cold as possible, you might opt to add ice into your serving glass. To the question of what kind of ice shall be used, I’ll say that solid 1 inch cubes are a safe bet in most cases. I can’t see any benefit to using crushed ice, except for possible aesthetic reasons. In general, I find that having my lemonade ice cold is less important for me than having it at the same level of taste and fresh-to-sweet ratio, so I usually would go for a no ice option.
Finally, the great debate of dying your lemonade pink and flavoring it with Starbucks-patented-unicorn-marshmallows-and-Oreo flavor… Yeah, you can guess, I’m not a fan of this. In my opinion lemonade is a simple drink, something you can fix in a matter of seconds when you’re dying from either summer heat or a terrible hangover. Spending nights in the lab trying to tinker out some intense and sophisticated flavor to make your lemonade unique is not fancy, it’s pretentious (just like 95% of the content of this blog). However, adding a couple of mint leaves, or a mint spring for garnish, and maybe using some lime bitters are definitely very reasonable options. Another rather simple and worthy way of adding different flavors to your lemonade, would be making flavored syrups. Since I’m assuming that syrup is made earlier, and is simply available at the time of mixing, you can spend a bit more time once or twice a week to craft an interesting and flavorful syrup.
Well, the rant is over, and I can finally do something useful! Below you’ll find my latest lemonade recipe that hits the perfect medium on the scale of sourness and is an easy fix for all the coming summer days.
1 medium/large lime
1oz of simple syrup
Cut up the lime into eighths, similarly to what is usually done for Caipirinha. Muddle the lime thoroughly in the glass to squeeze out the juice. Add simple syrup and cold water and stir with a spoon until evenly mixed.
First of all, what is a medium to large lime? Well, I’d say a lime that can yield approx 1.25oz of juice. Why exactly 1oz of simple syrup? No clue, I usually eyeball it anyway, so 1oz is my best guess. Finally, what about ice? Well, I keep a water filter (one of those plastic jugs that probably don’t really filter water) in the fridge, as well as, my simple syrup, so the resulting temperature is usually cold enough for me. Also most of the time, I drink the entire glass rather fast, so I don’t have to worry about it warming up. Note: we are talking a pint glass here, so something around 16oz. Here are some photos of the lemonade in making, and in its final form.