When the weather gets hot and humid outside, you want to cool down with an Italian lemon-flavored liqueur. But not just any liqueur will do. You need limoncello! This simple recipe is as easy as it sounds: peel lemons, add sugar and water, and wait a few weeks before bottling.
Once you've got your bottle of limoncello, try it over ice cream or in cocktails like a vodka lemon drop or a spritz (plus one more expert tip).
What is Limoncello?
Limoncello is a popular Italian liqueur typically served chilled as an after-dinner drink or added to ice cream or cakes for dessert. The most common way to drink limoncello is chilled and neat. It has a bright lemon flavor and is often enjoyed neat or on the rocks. So if you see a sale on lemons, are lucky enough to have a lemon tree, or are looking for an easy handmade gift, this is the recipe for you!
If you are into making homemade liqueurs, you'll love this rhubarb liquor, blackberry liqueur, and even some basil vodka.
Limoncello is a lemon-flavored liqueur that dates back to the late 1800s. It originated in Sorrento, Italy, and was made by monks in the monastery of Santo Spirito. The recipe was kept secret for years but was revealed by a monk who left the monastery and started his limoncello business.
Today you can make this delicious liqueur at home using this easy recipe!
Get Good Lemons
Traditionally Italians use Sorrento lemons or lemoni that grow in the Sorrento region of Italy. Sorrento lemons have a deep yellow peel with very little pith, which makes them ideal for making limoncello.
Since Sorrento lemons may be hard to find across the US or outside Italy, use any variety of lemon with a thin, smooth peel. Some good options include Meyer lemons, Eureka lemons, and Lisbon lemons. Lemons with thick, bumpy peels may impart a bitter flavor.
This recipe requires a lot of lemons, so getting the best ones is important. Look for organic lemons with bright yellow skin, firm flesh, and no soft spots or mold. If the fruit seems heavy for its size, it will probably have high juice content (and therefore be juicier). Make sure your lemons are free from blemishes before buying them!
- Lemons: Look for firm lemons that feel heavy and have a bright yellow hue. They should also have a robust and fresh lemon scent. Avoid lemons that have softs, bruises, or signs of mold.
- Grain alcohol: I use 190-proof alcohol (Everclear or Graves brands) or will use vodka in a pitch.
Here's how to make homemade lemon liqueur
Wash the lemons thoroughly and dry them. Remove the citrus zest from the lemons in wide strips using a hand peeler or a small paring knife, carefully avoiding the white pith underneath.
Place the lemon zest in a sealable container. Add vodka to the lemon zest, then shake well. Let stand for 1 month at room temperature, shaking every day if possible.
In a medium saucepan, combine sugar and water in a pan and heat slowly over medium heat until all the sugar dissolves completely-this will take about 10 minutes. Be careful not to let it boil! Let the syrup cool to room temperature.
Strain the alcohol through a fine-mesh sieve to remove the lemon zest. Discard the zest and transfer the alcohol to a clean jar or bottle.
The zest should be strained through cheesecloth before being added to the alcohol mixture so that only tiny pieces of peel remain in the final product (although these bits will add flavor). You'll also need some bottles with airtight caps for storing your limoncello after it has been bottled up; plastic soda bottles work great!
Add the syrup to the alcohol and stir to combine. Transfer the limoncello to bottles or glasses and serve it chilled, straight, or over ice.
Limoncello is a versatile ingredient that can be used in many different ways. Here are some of my favorites:
There are many ways to use limoncello in cocktails and other drinks. Here are a few ideas:
- Mix limoncello with sparkling water or club soda for a refreshing spritzer. This Limoncello Spritz is peak summer sipping.
- Combine limoncello with vodka and lemon juice for a lemon drop martini.
- Use limoncello in place of triple sec in a classic margarita.
- Mix limoncello with pineapple juice and coconut rum for a tropical twist on a pina colada.
- Limoncello to make a great simple syrup over a fruit salad or ice cream.
- Add a splash of limoncello to a cup of hot tea for a warm and citrusy beverage.
- Limoncello works great in cakes and cookies! Try our homemade lemon cake with limoncello frosting recipe for inspiration to incorporate this Italian liqueur into your baking repertoire.
Many people who have tried limoncello have asked the question: How long does it last? The answer is simple but more complex than you might think.
Limoncello can be stored in three different ways:
- In the freezer--this preserves its flavor best.
- In the fridge--this will also keep it fresh for longer than leaving it out at room temperature, but not as long as freezing does. It's fine to store it here if you don't have room for more than one bottle at a time in your freezer or pantry; otherwise, stick with freezing instead!
- On shelves or tables where temperatures remain fairly constant throughout day/night cycles (around 65 degrees F), such as pantries and kitchen cupboards--if this isn't possible, then try placing some blankets over them so they're still protected from heat loss during winter months when temperatures drop below freezing levels outside.
- Use high-quality spirits. The better the vodka, the better your limoncello will taste.
- Choose the best lemons you can find--not necessarily organic or non-GMO, but make sure they're not moldy or bruised.
- Use a glass bottle with a flip top (and if you're feeling fancy, try for one with an airtight lid).
- 8 to 10 lemons: Look for firm lemons that feel heavy and have a bright yellow hue. They should also have a robust and fresh lemon scent. Avoid lemons that have softs, bruises, or signs of mold.
- 750 ml of grain alcohol: I use 190-proof alcohol, Everclear or Graves brands or will use vodka in a pitch.
- 3 cups of water
- 2 ½ cups of sugar
- Wash the lemons thoroughly and dry them. Remove the zest from the lemons in wide strips using a vegetable peeler or a small paring knife, carefully avoiding the white pith underneath.
- Put the lemon zest and alcohol in a large jar or bottle and seal it tightly. Let it steep for at least three days, or up to one week, in a cool, dark place.
- In a medium saucepan, boil the water and sugar over high heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Let the syrup cool to room temperature.
- Strain the alcohol through a fine-mesh sieve to remove the lemon zest. Discard the zest and transfer the alcohol to a clean jar or bottle.
- Add the syrup to the alcohol and stir to combine. Transfer the limoncello to bottles or glasses and serve it chilled, straight, or over ice.
Limoncello can also be used in cooking.
- Drizzle limoncello over fruit salad or berries for a sweet and tangy dressing.
- Use limoncello to make a glaze for grilled or roasted chicken or fish.
- Mix limoncello into whipped cream or yogurt for a lemony-tangy topping on desserts.
- Use limoncello to make a simple syrup for flavoring cakes, cookies, or other baked goods.
- Add a splash of limoncello to lemon curd or other citrus-flavored desserts for a deeper lemon flavor.
Serving Size:1 grams
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 51Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 1mgCarbohydrates: 8gFiber: 0gSugar: 7gProtein: 0g