limoncello (lemon liqueur)
Five months ago, I put a ton of Meyer lemon peels in a bowl with some Everclear. Making homemade limoncello would be the perfect celebratory, boozy end to three years of law school. After all, Jay and I had taken a fabulous tour of Italy prior to law school, and book-ending the experience with a quintessentially Italian liqueur just seemed fitting.
Then, I read the rest of the recipes I had collected, including countless reviews, and realized that the peels would have to continue swimming in liquor for another four months to get that homemade Italian quality that two weeks’ soaking just doesn’t achieve. Damn. Not so immediately celebratory after all.
But I figured I had two months of booze-less studying for the bar exam ahead of me, so by the time the big brain cram was done, I’d already be three months into a four-month process. Fine. I had already peeled the lemons anyway, and I’m a sucker anytime someone pulls the “quality” card out. Homemade isn’t worth the effort if you’re to impatient to hold out for the delicious end result you’re seeking. Especially after you’ve peeled and de-pithed 12 lemons.
Three weeks ago, I strained the hardened lemon peels out of the Meyer-licious limoncello, boiled some sugar and water, and mixed the booze with the sweet syrup. Then I bottled it up, stored the bottles in the freezer, and went to Paris.
(Paris was fabulous, by the way. Thanks for asking. I’ve never eaten so much bread and so many pastries and candies and chocolates in my life. Monet’s gardens were pretty sweet too.)
This recipe is extremely simple, except for the somewhat laborious peeling of lemons (and removing any white pith that remains attached to the peel – no one wants a bitter liqueur!) … and the waiting part. I’d recommend having a lemon-peeling party, where each person peels a couple lemons and, in return, gets a bottle of limoncello a few months later.
The limoncello is incredibly flavorful, and can be enjoyed chilled, on the rocks (blasphemy to some because the liqueur is kept chilled), in some sparkling water (my favorite!), or drizzled over ice cream or a simple cake. But if you drink it straight up, pace yourself. It’s got some kick.
About Everclear: I know it’s not available everywhere; I had to order it through K&L. But it’s really the way to go for limoncello. Many people substitute vodka, which is more readily found in liquor stores, but the lower alcohol content translates to less extraction of the lemony flavor from the peels. Also, a limoncello made with vodka will turn into solid ice in the freezer, so if you do use vodka, make sure to store it in the refrigerator.
I’m sure there’s an “authentic” ratio of sugar and water, but I just adjusted this to my own taste. Giada recommended 3 1/2 c. water and 2 1/2 c. sugar; Jessica’s recipe said 5 c. water and 3 c. sugar; and Vino e Vittles said 4 c. of each. You don’t want to err on the sweet and watery side, especially if you wait 4 months like I did for the peels to infuse the liquor; so if you’re unsure, only add part of the simple syrup to the alcohol mixture, and then add more to taste.
750 ml bottle of grain alcohol (e.g., Everclear)
7 or 8 large Meyer lemons (I used 12 medium-small ones) (make sure they’re organic and not sprayed, you’re using the peel!)
4 c. water
2 1/2 c. sugar
Scrub lemons in hot water, using a vegetable wash. The peel will impart the flavor to this drink, so it’s important to clean the lemons thoroughly. I was able to find some unwaxed organic Meyer lemons, but if there is any wax on the lemon peel, make sure to remove as much as possible.
Remove peel from lemon, being careful not to include any of the bitter white pith. In a large bowl or airtight container, combine lemon peels and entire bottle of alcohol. If using a bowl, cover with plastic wrap to ensure it is airtight. Store in a dark, cool area for two weeks (for grocery store quality) or 4 months (for homemade Italian quality), swirling the mixture around every couple of days.
In a medium pot, bring sugar and water to a boil over medium-high heat, and continue boiling until sugar is entirely dissolved to make simple syrup.
Meanwhile strain the lemon peels and residue out of the alcohol mixture. Once strained, stir in simple syrup. Pour into glass bottles, and store in freezer for up to 6 months.