A cake, muffin, bar or other baked morsel drizzled with a sweet, zesty lemon glaze is a truly delightful treat. Painterly strokes of sugary white glaze across the tops of confections lend them a dainty appeal, seeming far less indulgent than heaps of frosting or a densely iced exterior. In this regard, a lemon glaze is a somewhat healthier topping too, adding a smaller (but still substantial) dose of sugar to an already-decadent dessert. Plus, making a lemon glaze is as easy as can be, calling for as few as two ingredients and requiring no cooking.
Gather the Ingredients
The main ingredients of a standard lemon glaze are confectioner's sugar and fresh lemon juice. Don't be tempted to substitute other kinds of sugar, or the glaze will end up with a gritty consistency. You can, however, grind granulated sugar or granulated sugar-free sweeteners in a food processor or blender until they have a powdery consistency. Add 1 tablespoon of cornstarch per cup of sugar and you have DIY confectioner's sugar (or confectioner's sweetener).
Avoid concentrated lemon juice from a bottle, which is inferior to freshly squeezed juice. To make the glaze extra lemony, include lemon zest. Use a very fine grater to zest your lemons before juicing them. A pinch of salt is also needed to balance the glaze's sweetness. Some recipes call for a little melted butter to enrich the glaze, and others add a touch of vanilla extract. An alternative, creamy version of lemon glaze includes milk (dairy, coconut or nut milks all work well) along with the lemon juice.
Make the Lemon Glaze
The amounts of each ingredient in a lemon glaze don't need to be exact, and you can choose to adjust them after tasting for a perfect flavor. Start with 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice (approximately the amount you'll get out of one lemon) to every cup of confectioner's sugar. If you're including lemon zest, add about 1/2 teaspoon at first. One teaspoon of butter per cup of sugar is suitable, as is a dash or two of vanilla extract. If you're making a creamy lemon glaze, use approximately 2 parts milk to 1 part lemon juice.
Add all the ingredients to a mixing bowl and whisk them together until they're blended. The glaze should have a pourable consistency. Taste the glaze and add more lemon juice or zest if you think it needs to be more lemony. If it's too lemony, add more sugar. When you're using sweetener instead of real sugar, expect to experiment a bit to get the sweet-sour balance right.
Engage With Your Glaze
To use your lemon glaze, take a teaspoon of glaze at a time and flick the spoon quickly over the surface of a room-temperature cake or other baked item. You can also opt to coat the cake with the glaze by pouring it over the cake and spreading it evenly with a palette knife or spatula. The glaze should set in about 20 minutes at room temperature or more quickly in the refrigerator.
Lemon glaze is a perfect topping for home-baked goods, but it's also a great way to spruce up store-bought baked goods. Obvious candidates for a lemon glaze are lemon-flavored cakes, cupcakes and cookies, but vanilla-flavored and berry-packed treats are ideal as well. Try it over blueberry muffins, raspberry scones, coffee cake, pound cake or angel food cake. Dip the ends of shortbread into lemon glaze, drizzle it over homemade granola bars or use it in place of plain icing for cinnamon rolls. You might enjoy a little lemon glaze on pancakes or crepes or for turning plain pretzels into a sweet-and-salty snack.
Joanne Thomas has worked as a writer and editor for print and online publications since 2004. As a specialist in all things food and drink, she has penned pieces for Livestrong, Robert Mondavi and Modern Mom, among other names. She found her first jobs in a series of kitchens before moving on to celebrate food via the written word. Thomas resides in California and holds a bachelor’s degree in politics from the University of Bristol, U.K.