Saturday, August 9, 2014

How to Make Limoncello

Years ago, I purchased a dwarf Meyer lemon tree at Costco on a whim--I didn't even have access to a backyard, but the tree was calling my name on the way to checkout. After three moves and five years of time together, it produced its first lemon crop this past February: Fifty-three lemons! With our wedding coming up and a love of all things Meyer lemon, a limoncello cocktail with homemade Meyer lemon limoncello was in order.

At first, limoncello might seem like a daunting project, but in reality it's quite simple and economical, especially if you plan on drinking gobs of limoncello.

At the most basic level, you soak lemon skins in a high proof alcohol--I decided on everclear but other have found success with vodka--and add simple syrup to taste. 

How long to soak: You can soak anywhere from four days and up to a month; most of the flavor will come out of the lemon peels in the first few days. In the picture above, the lemon peels in the jars have been soaking for 0 days, 1 day, and 2 days from left to right--by the end of the month, the color wasn't much richer than the jar on the right. Still, I wanted to make sure every last ounce of delicious Meyer Lemon flavor from our very own tree was sucked out of those skins. 

To peel or to zest your lemons: Before I started the project, I read a lot on the ways people peeled or zested the lemons to soak them. You do want to avoid too much pith (the white stuff on the inside of the peel, which has a bitter flavor) but you can do that by carefully using a vegetable peeler rather than zesting all your lemons. In the final product, I noticed no bitterness due to the little bit of pith that snuck onto my peels. For a lot of saved time and no detectable bitterness, I'd say peel over zest. 

After the lemons have soaked, it's time to add the simple syrup; we found a slighter less sweet simple syrup (ie 1 cup sugar to 2 cups water) created the sweetness, lemon flavor we wanted. I would recommend doing this step to your taste, but we used about a 1:1 ratio of simple syrup to limoncello/Everclear mixture. 

Recipe: Meyer Lemon Limoncello

Makes one bottle

10 Meyer lemons (washed and dried)
750 ml bottle of Everclear

Peeler (you can also use a zester)
Quart sized Mason jar
2 bottles (we use Ikea Korken)

  1. Peel your lemons using the peeler, avoiding the pith as much as possible. Making smaller slivers will help. 
  2. Add the lemon peels to your mason jar and cover with Everclear. Close the jar and shake around. Leave for one day and shake again. You can leave the lemon peels soaking for as little as four days and up to a month. I would recommend shaking every now and again if you're leaving for a month. 
  3. After you've soaking your peels for your desired time, strain out the peel remains by placing the strainer above the bowl. Discard the lemon peels. 
  4. Place the funnel above one of the bottles and pour the lemon/Everclear mixture. 
  5. In a pot, add one cup sugar and one cup water. Bring the pot to a simmer and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Let cool. 
  6. Add the sugar water to the bottle and taste. We found this mixture was far too alcoholic and not quite sweet enough yet so we added additional simple syrup at about a 2:1 water to sugar ratio in equal parts (repeating step 5) to the lemon/Everclear mixture. After you've found the proper proportions to your taste, enjoy in your favorite, refreshing cocktail! Ours, from our wedding, is below. 

Bonus Recipe: Limoncello Gin Cocktail 

Serves 1 (adapted from and served at our wedding)

1 ounce Limoncello
1 ounce gin
4 ounces club soda
Lemon peel for garnish

  1. Fill a tall glass with ice and add the Limoncello and gin.
  2. Top with the club soda and stir. Add straw, lemon peel, and enjoy.
Photo by Anna Louise Weddings.

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