Saturday, March 3, 2012

Lemon Zest at Its Best – March 3, 2012

John, my husband, and I love to make gift baskets over the holidays.  They are always more fun when you can include homemade items.  I contribute homemade mounds and stained glass ornaments.  His specialties are chocolate covered toffee and mixed cds.  But there is one thing we always make together – limoncello.  I first tasted limoncello when in Italy, but it was the cheap bottled kind sold to tourists and had an acidic aftertaste I didn’t care for.  But on a trip to Chicago, my husband and I saw that an Italian restaurant had limoncello made in house so we had it as an aperitif and it was delicious. We went home and searched for recipes to see how hard it would be and started experimenting.

I am happy to say that limoncello is very easy to make, but it takes a long time (minimum of 80 days), so you have to plan ahead.  It is also best when served very cold on a summer night, so March is a great time to start for a summer batch.  Limoncello also uses the zest only from the lemons, so it is best to start when you are ready to make a big batch of fresh lemonaid or lemon curd which I’ll talk about in my next post.


15 thick skinned organic lemons
2 750 ml bottles of 100 proof vodka (or you can use one vodka and one pure grain alcohol for a smoother taste but it is higher in alcohol content)
4 cups sugar
5 cups water

Wash lemons well and dry.  Peel the zest from lemons avoiding the pith.  Soak the zest in a large pickle jar (or other large glass jar) in one bottle of the vodka for 40 days.  The jar should be covered and left at room temperature in a dark place.  After the 40 days have passed, combine the sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to boil thickening about 5 minutes.  Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.  Add to the limoncello mixture along with the other bottle of vodka.  Cover and return to the dark spot for another 40 days.  After at least 40 more days, strain and bottle.  Store in cupboard or freezer.

**We tried Tito's handmade vodka from Austin this year which is smoother than many large production vodkas but not as expensive as most small batch versions.  The smoothest limoncello is made with just pure grain alcohol, but it is so high in alcohol you really have to be careful about drinking.  We also tried making our last batch with natural sugar.  The taste was very nice, but it gave the limoncello an orange coloring and requires you to shake before serving because the sugar settles in the bottle.

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