Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Homemade limoncello

Here's what you need to know about this limoncello recipe: It takes a reallllly long time to 'finish' (like, months), and it's TOTALLY worth it. Plus, it totally makes me feel like a risque Ma Ingalls. Which, you know, is sort of my life's dream. Score!

Since the lemons in my backyard are just now ripening, I'm starting a batch tomorrow. Well, that...or going to Urgent Care to see if the elephant sitting on the bridge on my nose is actually a sinus infection instead. One of those. (I'm voting for limoncello; Baroy, who is no longer finding my sudden-onset snoring 'cute,' votes for the drugs. He may win. But I'll get to the limoncello sometime before I go back to work next week. It's my promise to myself.)

A little bit about this recipe's provenance: I got it (a couple of years ago) from Cindy at Figs, Lavender and Cheese, and then supplemented it a little bit with other versions of the recipe on the web. Truthfully, though, they all seem to have the same basic ingredients: lemons, alcohol, a simple syrup (or something much like it), and time.

For more info, keep reading.

20 lemons (approximately)
two bottles of vodka, 750 ml each (80 proof or higher)
4 cups sugar
5 cups water

1. For this first step, all you'll need are the lemons, one of the bottles of vodka, and a glass jar to put them in. This last bit was my biggest challenge; the jar I use (above), doesn't quite do it for me.

Here's what you do: Peel the lemons. This takes FOREVER, because you not only want to get as much of the skin as possible, but you also have to try to get as little of the pith (the white stuff underneath the yellow skin) as possible, too. I use a sharp peeler, and a paring knife to scrape off any pith I happen to peel along with the thin skin. Place the peels into the glass jar along with 750 ml of vodka. Cover tightly, and store in a cool, dry, dark place. For 40 days and 40 nights, as if it were an ark and you were Noah. Except, you know, you're not traveling a flooded earth with all the surviving wildlife; you're making lemony booze. Personally, I think that's a lot more fun.

You don't need to do anything to the mixture, though I tend to check on it every week or two, and swirl it around a little, to get the peels on the top further down into the vodka.

(An aside: After I peel the lemons, I juice them, then pour the juice into ice-cube trays until frozen. This way, I have lemon juice for cooking with throughout the year. I mean, if you're going to buy--or in my case, pick--20 or so lemons, you might as well get full use of them!)

2. A few days before you're ready for the next step, make the simple syrup. Every recipe seems to give a slightly different ratio of water to sugar; some do it like a "regular" simple syrup (1:1), but I find even the 4 cups sugar to 5 cups water to yield an extremely sweet liqueur, and am actually thinking of going to 4:6 for this next batch, so I wouldn't want to up the amount of sugar, personally.

To make the syrup, simply add the sugar to the water in a pot, then heat just to boiling, making sure all the sugar has dissolved. Let the mixture cool, then store in the fridge. (I wouldn't make it more than a week in advance; I usually do it the day before I'm ready to move on.)

3. Open the jar and add the syrup and the other 750 ml of vodka. Give it a quick stir to get everything mixed up, then put the jar back in its hidey-hole (mine's in my garage). Cindy's recipe suggests you leave it for another 40 days; some of the other recipes say you can pull it out after two to three weeks. I guess it all depends on how impatient you are for a taste! (What do I do? I generally strain one bottle full at a time--see next step--starting two weeks after I add the vodka and syrup, then let the rest sit for a few weeks until I'm ready to refill the bottle.)

4. When the waiting is over, strain the limoncello through cheesecloth to get rid of the peel. You can store the bottles in your pantry or cupboards, but keep one in the freezer, because this stuff is best when it's icy cold. (Not that I'm not perfectly happy drinking it lukewarm, mind you. But really. Icy cold is the best.)

Not only is it a great summertime apperitif (whatever that means), but it makes an awesome hostess gift. I brought bottles of it with me last September when we had to evacuate to two different friends' houses during the Station Fire, and everyone let us stay! I'm positive it was the booze that tipped the balance.

Do you have a homemade liqueur recipe? My friend John has one for amaretto (or is it kahlua? I think it might be kahlua) that I have to get my hands on and try. Let me know if you've got something to tempt me, too!


  1. YUM! A friend of mine makes limoncello and also a version with cranberry. Think Ocean Spray meets Stolichnaya. YUM again!

    I discovered some boozey receipes in my Nana's old recipe box yesterday. I'll have to post those with my next recipe...or just make them and pickle myself!

  2. I love Cindy's recipes and I remember when she posted about the limoncello. I should try this. It would be great for our summer in California. (Speaking, of which, why not make an extra batch to gift me while I'm there?)

  3. I made some bubblegum vodka not too long ago, but it wasn't as drawn out as this--just bazooka gum cut in half and put into a jar with the vodka for a couple of days. It was really pink.

  4. Wanna come stay at my house? ;)

  5. So, I am thinking of making this twice--once with vodka, and once with gin, because I really like gin (and I am not a fan of vodka.) I am making a bunch of other liqueurs this year, too--Tia Maria, mint liqueur, maple liqueur, garlic liqueur at least. These are more plans, but so far I have only started the maple liqueur. I have high hopes, though, that I will get to the rest of them, and maybe a few more! I bought some good organic lemons yesterday, so limoncello is next.