This post comes to us courtesy of food writer and editor James Schend, blogger at Dairy Freed.
First created on the island of Capri, this smooth, refreshing and deceptively strong liqueur was quickly adopted by Sicily and other citrus-growing regions of Italy a little over a century ago. Limoncello is often served chilled as an after-dinner digestivo, but is quickly becoming popular with bartenders and mixologists around the world as an ingredient in cocktails.
I’ll admit, there are many recipes for limoncello that are faster to make, and trust me, I’ve tried a lot of them. What I’ve learned from a lot of testing is that time and patience will give you an extremely refined and smooth liqueur. In fact, I have had a couple of bottles tucked away for over a year now that just seem to get better and better.
Since limoncello is made solely from the skin of the lemons, the end result is surprisingly sweet with a strong lemon flavor. Traditionally made with lemons, you’ll find almost any citrus fruit will work. My personal favorite is pink grapefruit, but oranges, tangerines and especially blood oranges make exceptional variations. When I tried a lime version I found it a little too bitter on its own but fantastic when added to cocktails, like mojitos or vodka tonics.
151 proof alcohol is sometimes difficult to find, but ask your local liquor store owner. The two stores in my neighborhood carry it but don’t have it out on the shelves. The first time I asked for it I was questioned why I wanted something so strong. In order to buy it I ended up promising a sample when it was done. Three months later I got the seal of approval from the shop owner.
18 large organic lemons
1 (750 ml) bottle 151 proof alcohol, such as Everclear
1 (750 ml) bottle 80 proof vodka
4 cups sugar
3 cups water
Wash and dry the lemons. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the yellow skin, taking care to not include any white pith, as this will make it bitter. Place lemon skins in a glass gallon-size jar and add the 151 proof alcohol and vodka. Cover tightly and place in a cool, dark place. Gently stir every 7 days. After 5 weeks remove one of the peels and bend it; if it snaps in two then proceed with the recipe. If it still bends without breaking, continue aging for a week or more until the peel does snap in two.
In a large saucepan, combine sugar and water and cook over medium-high heat just until the sugar dissolves. Do not allow mixture to boil. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
Gently remove the peels from the alcohol with a slotted spoon or a pair of tongs, trying to keep pieces intact; discard peels. Pour mixture through three layers of cheesecloth into a clean bowl. Then strain mixture through coffee filters. This will take a fair amount of time to strain the entire mixture and you’ll need a number of filters.
After straining, combine the alcohol and sugar solution and stir to combine. Cover and place mixture in a cool, dark location for at least 6 weeks.
Filter mixture once more through fine-textured coffee filters before pouring into smaller bottles. Seal completely and continue to store in a cool, dark place until ready to serve.
About the author: A graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, James Schend’s culinary career began when he won his first cooking contest at 8 years old. He’s gone on to write and develop recipes for national magazines and culinary websites. His own blog Dairy Freed focuses on the challenges of dairy-free cooking.