Limoncello: Sunshine–Anytime, Anywhere

IMG_6178When winter gets to be just too much, a trip to a sunny, tropical place is in order.

The bright yellow warmth of the sun, the smell of citrus, the taste of fresh fruit on the tongue . . . ahhhhhh.

You can’t get away? Are obligations keeping you home? Is winter driving you to drink?

The answer, my friend, is limoncello.

We just got back from Florida. It was wonderful to go and we had a lovely, restorative trip BUT the downside was we had to return to winter! The day we left, we got almost two feet of snow that we’ve had to deal with and more snow is falling right now . . . ugh.

But our return to winter was tempered by a lovely glow from our kitchen closet. In there, among the light bulbs and vacuum cleaner bags, was a tightly sealed container of liquid sunshine.

We came back to our homemade limoncello, ready for drinking after about 6 weeks of steeping.

It is the color of early morning sun, a sun that promises full-blown heat later in the day but now just warms your skin.

It smells like lemons off the tree, warmed by the sun, tangy but not sour, intoxicating.

It tastes . . . well, it tastes like lemonade’s grown-up sister, sassy and kind of naughty, but lots of fun.

If this all sounds good to you, you have choices to make. You can head out to the liquor store and buy a bottle of limoncello and have it today. Or you can make your own, in true loving-hands-at-home fashion, and have it ready in about 6 weeks. Or  (and this is my favorite), you can do both, allowing you to have your limoncello and drink it, too.

Limoncello takes just a few ingredients and a little work. Mostly, it takes patience.

There are many recipes for limoncello on the Internet. We chose this one because the bag of lemons we bought contained 15 lemons and the recipe called for 15 lemons. It seemed like a sign.

Limoncello Recipe

15 lemons (zest from peels only)

One 750-ml bottle of Everclear (190-proof) alcohol OR two 750-ml bottles (100-proof) vodka

4 cups granulated sugar

5 cups water (filtered tap water or distilled water)

Prepare the lemons

The only semi-difficult part of making limoncello is zesting the lemons. You want to get just the yellow of the peel, with none of the white pith. The pith will make your limoncello bitter.

Wash the lemons in warm water.

We found that a sharp vegetable peeler worked best. We cut off the ends of the lemons and peeled from top to bottom. With some pieces of peel, I needed to scrape a little pith off, too.

You use only the peels for the limoncello. Use the lemon juice for lemonade or other purposes.

Place lemon peel in a large glass jar with a lid.* Add your choice of Everclear grain alcohol or vodka.

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Pour it on!

Cover the jar and put it somewhere cool and dark. Let it rest at room temperature for at least ten days. You can let it sit longer, up to 40 days, and that supposedly improves the final taste. I wouldn’t know.

Add the simple syrup

After 10 (or more) days of allowing the lemon oils to release into the alcohol, you will make a simple syrup of sugar and water.

Place 4 cups of white, granulated sugar in a large saucepan with 5 cups of water. Stir well as you bring the mixture to a gentle boil. Allow to boil for 5 to 7 minutes, then remove from heat and let the syrup cool.

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Simple syrup–simple to make!

Once cool, add the simple syrup to the lemon peel and alcohol jar. Give it a good stir and put it back in the cool, dark space to sit for another period of 10 to 40 days. This will bedifficult—it smells so good!

Strain and use

The last step is straining the limoncello and bottling it.

We used coffee filters to strain the mixture. Place a coffee filter into a metal strainer and carefully pour in some of the mixture.

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Strain through coffee filters or cheesecloth

It strains slowly, I think because of the oils you are removing from the mix. We replaced the coffee filter frequently.

Pour the strained, and beautiful, liquid into a pretty bottle.

Seal the bottle tightly and store in the freezer—it won’t freeze with all that alcohol in it and it tastes great when it is super cold.

You’ll end up with a generous amount of this lovely drink so use your imagination about ways to enjoy it. Obviously, you can also drink it straight out of the freezer (but preferably not straight out of the bottle!)—it’s a perfect after-dinner drink because it’s so light and fresh-tasting.

I like my limoncello over crushed ice, like a grown-up slushie, or you can mix it with tonic water for a lighter treat. It’s also lovely mixed with champagne and can be used as an ingredient in other cocktails.

But limoncello is not just for drinking! Pour a little over fresh fruit salad or berries or try drizzling it over lemon sherbet. I’m thinking it would be perfect in a traditional trifle, layered with pound cake, fruit, and custard. Or you could make a boozy pound cake—when the cake comes out of the oven, use a skewer to poke holes in it and drizzle the limoncello over. Do I have good ideas or what?

Whatever you do with your limoncello, save some for the next cold, nasty day, that day when you feel that winter will never end, and you long for a warm breeze and your toes in the sand. Put your limoncello in a small, pretty glass, close your eyes and sip. You’ll be transported.

I think I need some right now!

* We learned the hard way why glass is important. We used a plastic container and found that the oils from the lemons adhered to the plastic in what seems to be a permanent way.