Limoncello is a traditional digestif of southern Italy, where the lemon trees give an abundance of bright, yellow fruit. This drink concentrates the flavor of those fresh golden fruits, making it the perfect palate cleanser after a rich meal.
It is especially refreshing in the summer months, where a bottle of homemade limoncello stored in the freezer, frosted with ice, beckons with cool, lemony whispers.
Here we offer two variations on the original recipe; one is the traditional Italian version, clear and sweet, while the other, with the addition of lemon juice, becomes something else, related, but clearly distinct from the original, with a sour edge and a cloudy appearance.
Whichever you choose, the steps are simple, creating something greater than the sum of it’s parts.
Adapted from the recipe found in Brew it Yourself: Make Your Own Wine, Beer, and Other Concoctions, by Nick Moyle and Richard Hood, it’s a sweet gift to give in the winter months, evoking as it does the long, hot, lemony days of summer.
This recipe makes 20-24 oz.
Wash the lemons well before beginning. If using store-bought lemons, scrub them under hot water to remove any traces of the waxes or oils that commercially grown fruit is often treated with.
Zest or pare the peel of the lemons, taking care to leave behind the white pith.
Put the zest in the jar and pour the spirits over it.
Although it is not traditional, you have the option at this time of adding the juice of the lemons to the mixture, as well. This will make the finished beverage more cloudy, while at the same time adding a sour note to the sweet, boozy lemon liqueur. The more juice you add, the more sour the finished liquid will become. We couldn’t decide which method we liked better—so we did both!
Seal the jar, and set it aside to infuse for 2-4 weeks.
After the initial infusing time, make a simple syrup ( In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup of white sugar with 1 cup of water. Heat gently until the sugar dissolves.)
If you want a clear limoncello, wait until the syrup has cooled completely before adding the sugar mixture to the vodka-lemon infusion. If, however, you have added the lemon juice, or if the clarity of the finished beverage is not of great import to you, then you may add the sugar syrup when it is still warm.
Strain the limoncello through a butter muslin or paper coffee filter, into a large, clean jar or measuring cup, to gauge the volume. You should have about 24 oz of liquid, about a pint and a half, or a little more, depending on how much lemon juice you may have added. If you need to, you may add a little bit of vodka or lemon juice to the jar at this time, to make the portion sizes work for the jars you are using.
Funnel the finished limoncello into airtight jars, and seal them well. Allow the finished limoncello to rest for a week, or longer, if you can stand it; up to 4 weeks is ideal. After this time, the liqueur may be stored at room temp in a dark place, though it is traditional for it to be served frosted from the freezer. Keeps indefinitely.
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