Perfect Lemonade

Perfect Lemonade
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Just in time for summer: our Perfect Lemonade recipe. It’s a bit more trouble to make than just stirring together lemon juice, sugar, and water, but, trust us, it’s worth the extra effort to make perfect lemonade. Oh, and just so you know, this recipe might be based on reading a lemon juice bottle years ago; the only thing we remembered was that lemonade has equal parts lemon juice and sugar.

You might think that no one needs a lemonade recipe, but, as we’ve learned over the years, there are some lemonades that should have gone unmade. The biggest mistake we see is people mixing the sugar right into the lemonade. The downside to just mixing sugar with lemon juice and water is that some of the sugar might not dissolve, leaving lemonade with gritty sludge on the bottom (ugh). But, that’s simple enough to fix: simply make simple syrup. Simple, see?

Perfect Lemonade

Yield: 2 servings


  • 1/3 cup (67 g) sugar
  • 1/3 cup (80 g) water
  • 8 basil leaves, divided
  • 1/3 cup (80g) freshly squeezed lemon juice -- from about 3 lemons
  • 1 cup (240 g) carbonated water, chilled

Abbreviated Instructions

Place the sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar completely.

Remove from heat, add 2-4 basil leaves, and let steep 1 hour. Remove basil and discard, then stir the syrup into the lemon juice. Refrigerate lemon syrup until completely chilled.

Meanwhile, place two glasses in the freezer to chill.

To serve, place 2 ice cubes in each glass, divide lemon syrup between glasses, and top with carbonated water. Garnish with remaining basil leaves.

Ingredient discussion:

lemon juice
We measure the amount of lemon juice first, so we can figure out the amounts of the other ingredients.

If you can, use Meyer lemons, as they have a more interesting flavor. Or, use a mix of lemon and a bit of lime juice. Or maybe a little orange juice — just something to make your lemonade something more than plain lemon. That’s the same reason we included basil, to add interest and flavor. Other herbs would be good, too: mint, a bit of culinary lavender, rosemary, or something else. We used carbonated water to give the lemonade a slight fizz, and to give it a slight bitter undertone, but water will work fine, too.

Finally, note the ratios for lemonade: 1 part lemon juice, 1 part sugar, 4 parts water (one part in the simple syrup, the other three parts are the carbonated water).

Procedure in detail:

making simple syrup
Simple syrup is just sugar and water, but it is key to avoiding undissolved sugar in drinks. Bars go through gallons of the stuff.

Make simple syrup. This is the key part of making lemonade. By using simple syrup instead of sugar, you’ll know that the sugar is completely dissolved, and simple syrup is much easier to stir into the lemon juice than sugar. What we do is squeeze the lemons, measure out how much juice we have — in this case, 1/3 of a cup — and put the same amount of sugar into a saucepan, followed by an equal amount of water (we measure with a scale, converting the volumes to weights measured in grams). Place the pan over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar completely. Done: simple syrup, the best choice for sweetening drinks.

adding basil leaves
A few basil leaves to add just a hint of herb flavor.

Steep. Once the syrup is simmering, remove it from the heat and add the basil leaves — we used two — to the hot syrup. If you wish, you can crush them slightly with the back of a spoon to release more flavor. Let the syrup steep and cool for about an hour.

making lemon syrup
Pour the simple syrup into the lemon juice and chill completely.

Make lemon syrup. Remove and discard the basil leaves in the now-cool syrup. Stir the syrup into the lemon juice, making lemon-flavored syrup. You can taste it now if you want.

Chill. Place the lemon syrup in the refrigerator until completely chilled. You didn’t know that it took so long to make lemonade, did you? Well, it does, if you want it perfect, which we do.

Freeze glasses. While the lemon syrup is chilling, place a couple of glasses in the freezer to get ice-cold. Nothing like an ice-cold, frosty glass to hold your lemonade, right? We thought so.

making perfect lemonade
Top each glass with some carbonated water, garnish, and serve.

Serve. Finally, the time has come to prove to yourself that this is perfect lemonade. Remove the glasses from the freezer, place two large ice cubes in each one and divide the lemon syrup, followed by the carbonated water. Finish by garnishing with a few leaves of basil.

We know what you’re thinking: “Is it really worth all this to make a glass of lemonade?” Absolutely, if you want it to be perfect! The perfect amount of sour, the perfect amount of sweet, not too strong, plus slightly fizzy. And, with a hint of basil (or other herb of your choosing). An easy five stars.


Worth the trouble?

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