Monday, March 14, 2011

Homemade Limoncello: Part 1

Before getting started on this post, I have an announcement that I am thrilled about.

I have been asked to contribute to a new online magazine called Honest Cooking.  I gladly accepted and am very excited about this opportunity to be a part of this community headed by Kalle Bergman.  The site launched today.  I think the look and content is fabulous.  Go check it out and decide for yourself!

Now onto more fun stuff:

Part 1:  Infusing the vodka with lemon zest.

I love making liqueurs.  Lemon seems like the perfect way to bring in the beginning of spring.  Anything citrus works for me this time of year.  I have jumped into the cyber world of Limoncello recipes.  There are serious opinions about how to make this liqueur.  My first shocker that it was highly recommended to use Everclear which is very unavailable, as in illegal to sell, in Pennsylvania. In PA, our alcohol use must be governed because we the people cannot make responsible choices.

The second shock was that people use this stuff as a cleaner.  Wow, all this time I thought it was for spiking punch, so the spiker could watch the spikees hurl their grits at the end of the night and laugh their loser butts off.  Funny stuff.  Yeah, right!  Oh well, that was the good old days when we were immature and immortal.

Note 1:  If anyone knows of a good recipe book for liqueurs I would love to hear about it because I am having a hard time finding one.

Note 2:  If anyone is interested in making Limoncello along with me, I would love that and to hear your comments along the way.  And if you have made it before I would love to hear what you have got to say about your experience and results.  Thanks.

Back to the topic at hand:  Homemade Limoncello.  As I was researching all the different recipes and opinions on making this liqueur, I knew that I did not want a cloyingly sweet drink.  The only time I have had Limoncello was at an Italian fair.  It was too sweet to experience the vibrant fresh taste of lemon and in fact, it was hard to drink.  The question arises why I actually want to make this after not enjoying my first taste of Limoncello?  Because I have heard nothing but good things about homemade Limoncello and I can control the sugar and other ingredients.  And of course, I think this is fun.

Vodka and the labels peel off so they can double 
as my Limoncello bottles.  Love that!

It is recommended by many to use Everclear because it does not impart any flavor to the liqueur.  The second choice was 100 proof vodka.  I chose 100% vodka, Smirnoff because that was the best I could do at the state store.  When I asked about Everclear they started talking about moonshine and knew then I was on my own.  I mentioned to them I was from the south and had a clue about moonshine (and yes I know what it tastes like.  I do not want my Limoncello to taste like gasoline).  Then I was on the hunt for organic lemons.  I ran into problems here too because the east coast is quite a distance from where lemons are grown.  The organic lemons looked really bad and were quite expensive.  This is a "first time try" recipe so I don't want to do a serious road trip or break the bank for the ingredients.  So I found a couple of bags of lovely lemons that looked worthy of zesting.

 I washed the lemons by putting them in a bowl of hot water for about a minute and then gently scrubbed them under hot running water to remove the wax and any pesticides or other contaminants.  When I was happy they were "clean" then I dried them off and started to zest.  Some recommended a vegetable peeler but I find that hard to do without having to remove the pith later which is time consuming.  It is really important not to put pith in the infusing stage or it will be bitter or what I like to call "pithy" tasting.  I used a zester tool and a microplane.  The reason why I used two different different tools is because it was easier on my hands.  I was happy with the zest from both.
My microplane, zester tool and a gallon jar.

 Lemon zest in a bowl.
I zested over a bowl to try and catch as much of the volatile oils from the zest as possible.  (You know those tiny sprays that you can see when you are zesting and smell fabulous.  If you haven't noticed this before hold it up to a window or light and you will see and then smell it.  Lovely.)  I placed the zest into an immaculately clean jar, poured both bottles of vodka in and it is now stored down in my basement in a cool dark place.  (Save the vodka bottles for later storage of the Limoncello.)
 Lemon zest is in infusing jar.
 Adding the vodka.

To stir or not to stir is the next question.  I am going to swirl the contents a couple of times but I can't see a good reason to do it everyday.  30 days is my target time for infusing the vodka.  Recipes say from 10 to 40 days.  Many are seriously adamant about 40 days, not a day longer or shorter.  Some recipes say add sugar syrup and drink and then some say 40 more days in the storage tank!  Who is right or wrong?  Maybe no one but I intend to find out for myself because I am totally intrigued with fresh fruit liqueurs.
Ready for a dark, cool place, in the basement.

So this is part 1 of my first homemade Limoncello making experience.  Part 2 will be adding the sugar syrup (and tasting it) and returning it to the cellar.  If it tastes good at this point, I will put some in the freezer because I am impatient and will return the rest to the maturation process.  Part 3 will be the final result.  I would love it anyone would go along with this process and comment.  It would be interesting to compare results.

It is hard to give credit to who's recipe this is because there are many similiar recipes out there in cyber recipe land.  I did not make this up (just a little tweeking, maybe) and was adapted from the many recipes I found on the net.

Here is the recipe I am using:

Homemade Limoncello
adapted from the endless resource we call the internet

2 litres (750 ml) of 100 proof vodka or Everclear
15 to 17 lemons, preferably organic with thick skin (juice is not important for this recipe)
3 to 4 parts sugar to 4 to 5 parts water, respectively (use filtered tap water)

1 gallon sized gallon jar

Wash and scrub lemons gently with hot water, especially if not organic.  Zest all of them and place in a gallon sized, clean glass jar.  Pour vodka over the top of the zest and cover.  Save the bottles for storage later.  Place in cool, dark place for 10 to 40 days.

Make the sugar syrup buy putting sugar and water together and allow to boil for about 5 minutes creating a sugar syrup.  I think I am going to remove the zest at this point, but I am not sure.

Storage of the Limoncello for the last stage of maturation for 10 to 40 days.

OK folks.  I'm stoked.

Today is a good day!

 Tune in later for part 2!


  1. I have never heard of this drink, though I have tried lemon after drinking vodka (bit like tequila) and thats nice:)

  2. I have a bottle (not homemade) sitting in my freezer right now. I'll go pour myself a drink and enjoy watching you make your batch. PA may be crappy with alcohol laws but you've got Yuengling! This is the ONLY beer I can drink. My guy and I only get to enjoy it two weeks out of the year when we come from Texas to PA for Christmas vacation.

  3. I am currently making my first batch of Lemoncello. I had some for the first time a few months ago. It was homemade by an older gentleman from Italy. It was delicious. However, I couldn't fine anything comparable in the store. They were all to syrupy. So I talked him into sharing his recipe with me. It is basically the same as yours, but he adds milk to the simple syrup mixture. It gives it a subtle creaminess, that goes well with the lemon flavors. I am 20 days into the process and my Everclear has turned a nice shade of yellow!!!

  4. Pretend - Enjoy the ride. I love Yuengling too but there are so many microbrews up here with fabulous beer. I wish I could share a few with you. When we were in Austin our few choices were bud (yuk!), Shiner Bock, Ziegenbock and Celis (closed). Now you have many!

    Ben - I wish I could taste some homemade Limoncello done in Italy. I would love to have that kind of comparison. How great for you! Milk? never saw that anywhere but sounds intriguing. How much? I don't think I will do that first time but I really want to know how yours turns out. Thanks for the feedback - I love and appreciate that.

  5. Ben - Oh yeah, I am definitely using Everclear in the future. I hear over and over it is the best base.

  6. I am making my first batch of Lemoncello here in Maine! I infused the zest of 50 lemons into three 1.7 litres of vodka for 3 weeks. the yellow from the lemons faded off and the vodka is now yellow! I took all the peels out tonite and now I'm cooling off the sugar water to add to the infused vodka. I'm so excited! I can't wait to taste it! I am also saving some infused vodka aside so I can make sugar free lemoncello for a couple of diabetic friends :)
    I've made some kahlua lately too - I love making liquors! I even have labels to label my HOOCH and am giving bottles as Christmas gifts :)

  7. I have to date made two batches of Lemocello. I have a good recipe I believe.
    I take 1 pint of PGA and 1.75 liter bottle of gin. (A friend uses vodka, I prefer the gin, to each his own!)
    Using my brita pitcher and a special filter that I only use with the liquor, I filter all of the liquor until I get tired of filtering. Pour this into a large clear container with a nice lid.
    15-17 Large lemons.
    Using a sharp potatoe pealer, I carefully peal the lemons being careful not to get the pith on the underside of the peal. (the white stuff)
    (I chose to peal the lemons instead of zesting because it makes straining a lot easier,)
    Put the Lemon peels in with the filtered liquor. Place in a semi dark place and stir daily. Do this for at least 9 days.
    Using 2 liters water and 5 1/2 -6 3/4 cups sugar. Dissolve sugar in water and cook until water boils. Let this cool totally. Then I add two small packets of Vanillian. (I found it online, it is used in Italian coffee and pastries.)
    I use 360 vodka bottles with the flip wire tops, and the green beer bottles to store my lemocello.
    I store the bottle I'm drinking on in the freezer, sip it slowly. Yum yum

  8. An Italian friend of mine gave me his recipe for Limoncello. He likes Everclear (190 proof!) because he says it doen't get slurpy in the freezer. I have to say I made it with the Everclear and it just about took the top of my head off! I'll make it again with vodka! I think I'll drink this batch with tonic water.


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