The Two Best Ways to Make Limoncello at Home

The Two Best Ways to Make Limoncello at Home
Photo: Danilova Janna, Shutterstock

When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade, but that only takes care of the fruit’s flesh. Lemonade does nothing to mitigate a barrage of lemon peels, but the solution is once again a beverage: Limoncello.

Limoncello — or limoncino if you’re from the north of Italy — is an Italian lemon liqueur produced mostly in southern Italy. I had my first limoncello at the Amalfi coast at the tender age of 19 and remember feeling very refined and fancy. It’s a vibrant, heady, sweet and fragrant beverage, best sipped while ice cold at the end of a meal. It’s also good in soda water or splashed into a tall glass of regular lemonade. Just beware: It’s candy-like flavour makes it very easy to forget that limoncello is, in fact, alcoholic.

Determine your ideal limoncello strength

There are two ways to make limoncello: quick and slow. The quick way requires a sous-vide immersion circulator, but other than that the procedures are pretty similar: Put lemon peels in a container with a neutral spirit that has an ABV of at least 40%, and let it infuse for at least five days. Dilute and sweeten with simple syrup. You’re done.

The spirit you start with and the amount of simple syrup you add will determine your ABV. This recipe from Food52 has you add 1 cup of syrup to 750 milliliters of infused vodka. Using our handy dilution equation, we see this gives us a final ABV of around 30%, which is where most limoncelli hang out. If you haven’t used the dilution equation since high school, don’t worry, it’s very easy.

Dilution equation: c₁V₁=c₂V₂, where:

  • c1 = initial concentration or molarity
  • V1 = initial volume
  • c2 = final concentration or molarity
  • V2 = final volume

To find your final ABV, rearrange the equation to solve for V₂:

c₁V₁/V₂=c2,

(40%)(750 mL)/987 mL=30%

If you want it stronger than that, use a flavourless grain spirit with a higher ABV, like Everclear. If you want it weaker, add more syrup or water. An ABV of 30% is a pretty good starting point, however.

How to make limoncello (slowly)

As mentioned earlier, limoncello is made with bright yellow lemon peels. For a 750-millilitre bottle of spirit, you’ll need 9-12 lemon’s worth of peels, depending on their size. (Wash in hot water to remove any wax.) You can either peel them all at once, and use the juice for something else, or peel individual lemons as you use them (just make sure to peel before slicing, cutting, or juicing so you don’t have to struggle with floppy, spent rinds). Store the peels in the freezer until you have enough. (Use a y-peeler to get super thin, pith-less strips of peel.)

Place your peels in a big glass jar, pour the vodka on top, and give it a little stir. Let it sit in a cool, dark spot for at least five days and up to a month. You’ll know it’s done when you open the jar and are instantly transported to a lemon orchard.

Add 1 cup of sugar to 1 cup of water in a sauce pan and heat, stirring occasionally until all of the sugar dissolves (you do not need to bring it to a full boil). Let the syrup cool completely.

While the syrup is cooling, strain your infused spirit into a bottle or two, using a fine mesh sieve. (Keep in mind the original spirit bottle will not have enough room to accommodate the spirit plus the syrup.) Press the peels with to get all those delicious oils. Add the cooled syrup to the strained booze, shake, and chill completely before serving in cute little glasses.

How to make limoncello (quickly)

The procedure for making quick limoncello is very similar to the procedure for making slow limoncello, you just have to get an immersion circulator involved. Instead of adding the spirit and peels to a jar, you add it to a freezer bag, then set the bag in a sous-vide bath set to 135℉ for two hours. Then make the syrup and add it to the infusion as described above.

Variation on the theme

Just like with an oleo saccharum, you can use any citrus peels you desire. You can also add herbs and whole spices, like peppercorns (which is what Food52 uses in their recipe), lavender, bay leaves, or anything else you think would be at home alongside sweet lemony goodness. (I’m a bit of a purist, but I must admit a juniper grapefruit-cello sounds pretty dope, if a little bit gin-like.

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