Remember when I started my limoncello? I’ve fallen head over heels for this Italian lemon-infused liqueur because it is unbelievably smooth and delicious when done well. My friends Jay and Rachel served me some amazing limoncello at the beginning of the summer. I’m using Jay’s recipe (with his blessing) to make my own batch. It’s not difficult, but it is a rather lengthy process, requiring 80 days from beginning to end.
The numerous limoncello recipe variations I’ve found all include 3 basic steps:
- Combine vodka or other colorless, odorless alcohol with lemon zest and steep.
- Filter the mixture.
- Add simple syrup (a sugar/water combination heated until the sugar dissolves.)
Jay's recipe requires 2 steeping periods of 40 days each, longer than most limoncello recipes, and calls for filtering the lemon/alcohol mixture 3 times, instead of once or twice as is more common. I’m not the most patient person, but I'm determined to see this through without cheating on the timing or the filtering. I’d like to believe that patience is rewarded and if my limoncello is anywhere as wonderful as Jay's batch, I’ll consider it a great success.
This afternoon, I lined up my 3 filters:
- First, a medium gauge strainer that fits came with, and neatly into, a measuring pitcher
- Second, a finer gauge metal coffee filter from a coffee pot I can no longer find, and
- Third, a paper coffee filter. The one pictured is white, but I did go out and get an unbleached one, feeling guilty for even considering using one that is made of bleached paper after using organic lemons.
When I reread the simple syrup part of the recipe, I was a bit dubious. In my experience, simple syrup recipes use a 1:1 ratio of sugar to water. By contrast, this recipe uses 3 cups of sugar to 4 cups of water. Could that really be right? (Thank goodness for Google and the thousands of people who appear to be obsessed by limoncello and by simple syrup for that and many other purposes.) Research unearthed an interesting divergence – for other purposes, simple syrup is usually 1:1 or even 2:1, but for limoncello, many people swear by simple syrup that is less sugary. So I left my doubt behind and went on with the recipe.
Here’s the process:
Make the simple syrup before filtering the lemon/alcohol mixture, so that the syrup has a chance to can cool while you move on to filtering the mixture.
If your simple syrup isn't room temperature by the time you want to use it, you can cool it quickly by immersing the pot in a larger container with ice and water. Just be careful not to let the ice or water get into the cooling syrup.
I’m not the neatest cook and did spill a bit of my limoncello, but got most of it through the 3 filters without major incident. The triple filtration did take out some very small particles and the triple-filtered mixture (alcohol and lemon essence, minus the peels) was quite clear. The peels were much less vivid in color than when I put them in the vodka 40 days ago. It helps if you made the peels as long as possible when you put them in the mixture; it's much easier to pull a few long peels out of the container than to chase after lots of shorter ones.
Once I added the simple syrup, the mixture became a bit cloudy. I’ll be interested to see if it gets clearer again as it sits for another 40 days.
For the bottling and the taste test, tune in at the end of September. Until then, I’ll be gently shaking the jar every day and looking longingly at my jar of limoncello as I do my countdown.