I first made limoncello a few years ago. An old friend gave me a subscription to Imbibe magazine, and there was a recipe for limoncello. It sounded so yummy that I wanted to try it. I’ve never had limoncello before, but I love vodka and lemons, as well as lemon drop martinis; so I thought this would be a winner. Well, it wasn’t. I peeled the lemons too close to the pith, and the limoncello was very bitter. Eight years later, I’m cleaning off my book shelf, and come across my old copy of Imbibe with the recipe. I decided to try it again.
I bought a large bottle of vodka from Costco (the Kirkland brand is surprisingly good), and a bag of lemons. I had two pretty wine bottles that I saved from the beginning of summer when I was drinking a lot of rosé. This time, I was going to be very careful with zesting the lemons. I let the batch sit in a glass container, and shook it diligently every day for about three weeks. In the meantime, I had to figure out what to do with all of the left over lemons. I made lemon cookies, lemon pound cake, and froze the rest of the lemon juice in an ice cube tray to add them to cocktails!
Now this was only step one. Once the lemon zest steeps in the vodka, you make a simple syrup, add more vodka, and let it sit for another couple of weeks. It seemed like forever, but finally tasting day arrived. I had every intention of buying a bottle of limoncello to sample and compare, but never got around to it. My homemade version was pretty good. Actually, I thought it was a bit sweet and thick. The recipe called for 100 proof vodka and I only had 80 proof, so I let it sit a bit longer, thinking it would bring out more of the lemon flavor. I put my two bottles in the fridge expecting that I would have them at least until fall, or perhaps winter. Nope! Boy, did the limoncello grow on me. The bf and I tore through the bottles, well, quickly. It turned out to be very refreshing. I did have a few friends who’ve tried limoncello before sample to let me know if I was on the right track. They all confirmed that it was a little sweet, but tasty! I will definitely make this again, hopefully with 100 proof vodka, and I will let it steep even longer.
for the limoncello:
- 2 750- milliliter bottles of 100-proof vodka
- 2 cups water
- 2 cups sugar
- 12 medium lemons with bright fragrant skins
- Microplane grater or serrated vegetable peeler
- A one-gallon glass jar for infusing
- Large bowl or jar for mixing
- Resealable bottles for the finished product
Gently wash and dry the lemons. Remove the lemons’ yellow zest, taking care to avoid the bitter white pith. This is best accomplished with a Microplane grater made especially for zesting citrus, but you can also use a sharp, serrated vegetable peeler. If necessary, use a paring knife to shave any remaining pith from the strips of yellow peel. Save the zested lemons for another use.
Place the zest in the glass jar and add one bottle of vodka. Seal tightly and let the mixture steep—shaking it daily—until the peels lose their color and the liquid turns bright yellow and very aromatic, at least two weeks.
Strain the infusion through a double layer of moistened cheesecloth into the clean jar or bowl, being sure to squeeze the last drops of intensely flavored liquid from the peel. Add the second bottle of vodka.
Combine the sugar and water in a saucepan over medium heat and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved and the syrup just comes to a boil. Remove from heat and let cool.
Add the syrup to the infused vodka. For cloudy limoncello, add the syrup while still slightly warm.
Using the funnel, pour the liqueur into sterilized bottles, seal tightly and let rest at least one week. Additional aging will result in a smoother marriage of flavors.