Limoncello is the traditional Italian lemon-flavored liqueur made using lemon zest. You can sometimes get homemade limoncello in Italian restaurants and some liqour stores will carry one or two commercially bottled imports, I have found most of what you find in the stores to be expensive and not that good. Nothing compares to homemade.
There are different ways to make your own limoncello., When I made my first batch about 5 years ago I found lots of recipes on the internet and combined them and improvised to make my own.
There are faster ways to get to the end product, but in my opinion, the key to good limoncello is 1.) bunches of the best lemons with plump moist skins and 2.) patience. Living in California, I now have lots of the first and am still rather painfully short on the second. But with limoncello-making, patience in the process pays off, so don't rush it. And don't be a stickler for the details. Making this lovely liqueur is more of an art than a science.
Here's one version of the recipe I have used, but I make it just a little differently every time and mostly just wing it. I don't think there's a wrong way to do this actually, so don't stress on being too precise.
- 15-20 lemons - clean, unwaxed with nice plump skins. The skins should give off a lemon sent, don't get ones that don't smell heavenly. And try to get organic fresh lemons when you can.
- 2 (750-ml) bottles 80-proof vodka. The cheaper the better. Or for best results, I try to find Everclear and use one or two bottles of that because it's pure and doesn't have any sugar in it.
- 2 to 3 cups of water
- 2 to 4 cups sugar (a 1:1 ratio of sugar to water makes a classic simple syrup, but use more sugar if you want yours a little thicker or sweeter)
For this recipe you also need a large (2-3 litre) glass jar with a sealed lid. The jar should be washed and rinsed very well or sterilized. You don't want anything in your limoncello but what you put there.
For this recipe you also need a large (2-3 litre) glass jar with a sealed lid. The jar should be washed and rinsed very well or sterilized. You don't want anything in your limoncello but what you put there.I use some old-fashioned sun tea jars I bought at an estate sale just for this purpose.
You will also need the bottles you want to put the final brew in. I get mine at Cost Plus and I save nice glass bottles from other beverages I've purchased that have good reusable, sealable tops.
I use a three-step process.
Step 1: lemon in alcohol
- Wash and dry the lemons. Only use the ones without blemished peels or pare off any spots and the stems, ends.
- Remove the peel from the lemons with a sharp peeler or fine grater/zester, carefully avoiding the bitter white pith. If you choose to peel your lemons, please note that if any white pith remains on the back of a strip of peel, scrape it off. If you get any of the white part in the batch, the limoncello will be bitter and you don't want that!
Put the peels in a glass jar and add the vodka and/or Everclear, leaving at least two inches below the top rim. Seal tightly.
- Leave the lemons to steep in the jar in a cool, dark place until the peels lose their color, at least 2 weeks. I leave mine for at least 2-3 months. (That's why mine is extra yummy). Every couple of weeks I swirl the peels around in the jar to mix up the oils in the alcohol, plus I don't know if that helps, I just like to check in on it!
Step 2: make the simple syrup and add it.
- Put the water and sugar in a saucepan, stir and slowly heat until it turns clear and all the sugar is dissolved completely. Let the syrup cool.
- Put the cooled syrup in the jar with the lemons (you might have to divide the batch into two jars at this point, depending on the size of your jar).
- Put the jars back in the closet for at least two weeks. Longer is fine too.
Step 3: strain and bottle
- Strain out the lemon peels through a coffee filter or cheesecloth and pour the limoncello into another container. Press down to remove all the vodka and oils that you can from the peels before tossing them in the trash.
- Stir the liquid with a clean plastic or wooden spoon.
- Put the liqueur in clean bottles, seal tightly and leave the finished bottles for at least 1 week before using. I told you that I use making limoncello as an exercise in practicing patience!
For best flavor and drinking it straight, store the limoncello in your freezer. It shouldn't freeze because of how much alcohol is in it and it is simply lovely ice cold.
- The time consuming part is the peeling, but take your time and don't get any of the white underbelly of the skin in the batch. I use a very sharp paring knife or a potato peeler. Lately I've made a few batches using a lemon zester. It's sooooo much easier, but I don't think as much lemon flavor gets in as peeling. However, to compensate for that, I've been adding more lemons to Step #1
- Use organic lemons or at least ones you know where they came from. Now that I have more than one everbearing Meyer lemon tree in my backyard, I don't have to worry about chemicals anymore.
- Make a big batch at once. Especially if you're letting it steep as long as I do. Once you taste this or give it away to friends, it goes quickly and people will beg you for more. Better to have more on-hand that wait another few months!
- You can also make similar liqueurs using other citrus fruits, but I've never tried them myself. “Lime-cello” sounds great to me and could be terrific in cocktails and cooking. (Substitute the peel of limes for the lemon peel. Taste the liqueur for the degree of sweetness you want as you add the syrup.) An orange version might make an appealing alternative to triple sec.
Delicious Uses for Limoncello:
- straight up frozen in limoncello shot glasses (best if you put them in the freezer too)
- spiking a tall glass of cold lemonade or iced tea
- splashed in glasses of champagne
- over ice cream or angel food cake
- splashed on a fresh fruit mixture
- in cranberry juice
- in sparkling water, tonic or soda.