Is there any fruit that feels more like a sunbeam, than a lemon? Limoncello, the happy yellow essence of perfect lemons, is one of those universally welcome gifts. It’s equally good as a digestif after long summer meals with friends, or as a cheer-me-up in the depths of winter gloom. I find it’s one of the things I’m most likely to reach for when I’m invited out and want to take something good along.
I don’t know that there’s any really bad way to make limoncello, because putting a neutral white spirit, some lemon zest and some sugar together in a jar is pretty much never going to turn out awful. But there are lots of different ways to do it, and some are too sweet, too astringent, or just take way too long.
Impatient to have good limoncello in my glass, I’ve mucked about a lot and taken one leaf from the old school ‘let it steep in alcohol’ camp and one leaf from cocktail makers, who use sugar to draw out flavour in an oleo-saccharum. Together that makes for a recipe that is ready in just a few days. Combining one steep in vodka with another in sugar will quickly pull out all the best aroma and flavour compounds from the zest – without harsh bits that need to age out.
Since the outer part of the fruit is used, do get yourself some fresh, organic lemons, and wash them well.
Ingredients for 700ml
- 3 good lemons
- 2 cups (500ml) vodka (40%)
- ½ cup (125ml) water
- 175g sugar
Zest the lemons, removing any trace of the bitter white pith. I like to do this by taking wide strips from the fruit with a paring knife, then turning them over and running the knife back over the pith; several of my testers preferred to use their microplanes and said their results were just great.
Put the zest and vodka in a clean jar and leave in a dark place for at least 3 days or up to 10. It’s ready when the vodka is an enchanting yellow colour and smells more strongly of lemons than alcohol; the zest will be paler than when it went in. Strain the zest away from the vodka, reserving both.
Bring the zest, sugar and water to a simmer together, stirring to dissolve the sugar, then turn off the heat. Let this cool completely, strain it, and add it with the vodka to your clean bottle. It’s ready straight away, though age improves it. Put in the freezer before drinking: it’s best ice cold.
Make it yours
This recipe is great with any citrus variety you fancy—limes, oranges, grapefruit, mandarins, or any combination. Some people like their limoncello extra tangy; if this sounds good to you, add a couple of lemon leaves and the zest of one lime to your jar. For limoncello cream, omit the water, and simmer 2 cups (500ml) of full cream milk together with the zest and 200g sugar; add half a teaspoon of vanilla essence to a one litre bottle. Keep this version in the fridge or freezer at all times.
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