- 10 large lemons*
- 1 (750ml) bottle 100-proof vodka**
- 3 cups (575g) granulated sugar
- 4 cups water
WASH & DRY THE LEMONS: You want to make sure there is no residue on them since you’ll be using the peel. (Tip: I think it’s easier to remove the zest when the lemons are cold, so store in the refrigerator until ready to use or pop them in the freezer for 5 minutes or so. Set a timer so you don’t forget them in the freezer!)
PREPARE THE INFUSED MIXTURE: Use a vegetable peeler to peel the lemons. I find a sharp peeler works far better than a zester here, but you may use the latter if preferred. Note that you only want the top yellow layer. If the white pith comes off, scrape away the bigger pieces with the tip of a paring knife. You will be fine, however, if there’s a little pith here and there.
Place the peels in a 1-quart (or larger) jar or lidded container, preferably glass. Pour in the entire 750ml bottle of vodka, making sure to completely submerge the peels. Put the lid on the jar and let the mixture steep for 10 days to 3 weeks. A coolish, dark place is good for this. (I place the jar in my pantry and give the jar a gentle shake a couple times each week – although shaking is not mandatory.) Over time, the vodka will take on the bright yellow color of the lemon zest.
MAKE THE SIMPLE SYRUP: At the end of the allotted steeping time, place the sugar and water in a pot, bring to a simmer and cook just until the sugar is completely dissolved and the liquid is clear. Remove the pot from the heat and cool to room temperature.
STRAIN THE LEMON PEELS: Line a fine mesh strainer with cheesecloth or a paper coffee filter and place over a bowl. Pour the lemon mixture into the strainer to remove the peels, pressing against them with the back of a large spoon to extract the excess liquid. Discard the peels.
ADD SYRUP AND BOTTLE IT: Stir the cooled simple syrup into the strained lemon vodka, and then transfer to bottles or jars for storage. (A funnel is helpful when transferring to a narrow-necked bottle.) Screw on the lids and allow the limoncello to rest in cool dark place for 1 week or longer. The flavor will mellow and become smoother with age (although it’s pretty tasty now, too!).
HOW TO SERVE: Limoncello is best served icy cold; it can be stored in the refrigerator or freezer. (The alcohol content will prevent it from freezing solid.) Serve it in small cordial or shot glasses straight from the bottle or use as a mixer. When serving straight up in small glasses, I like to first place the glasses in the freezer to make them frosty. (See accompanying recipes for more ideas.)
STORAGE: Store the limoncello in a cool, dark place for 3 to 6 months. For longer storage, refrigeration will extend the shelf life to a year or more.
*If your lemons aren’t particularly large, use an extra 2 or 3. When in doubt, you’re better off with more zest than less. For those with a kitchen scale, I aim for about 130 grams of zest. Because the skins are the main flavoring agent, I like to use organic lemons when possible.
**Some limoncello recipes call for 150-proof Everclear (also known as grain alcohol) instead of 100-proof vodka. I have made this recipe with both, and while the harshness of Everclear does temper over time, I think the end result is smoother and more desirable when using vodka.
What to do with the leftover peeled lemons? They can be juiced for lemonade, or the juice may be frozen in small portions for future use.