Homemade Limoncello

Limoncello is an Italian lemon liqueur with the nice fresh taste of lemons. It is easy to make yourself, and in many trattorie in Italy it is customary to get a glass of ice cold homemade limoncello on the house when you get the check. As with many Italian recipes, the quality of the ingredients (in this case the lemons) is important, and the ingredients are not always simple to find (in this case 95% proof alcohol). 95% proof alcohol is difficult to find and expensive in the Netherlands, but in Italy it is sold by every supermarket. So I brought some home from my latest trip.

Since you will be infusing the liqueur with the zest of the lemons, they need to be ‘untreated’. Most lemons (and oranges) are treated with wax. Since you’d like to make a lemon liqueur rather than a wax liqueur, you need untreated lemons. The best lemons are those from the Sorrento peninsula, but you may be hard pressed to find those.

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Making limoncello is easy: you zest the lemons and mix them with alcohol. You let this steep for 3 weeks to a month. Then you add a simple syrup and allow the liqueur to age for weeks. In my case I followed a recipe from GialloZafferano and matured my limoncello for 6 weeks. I really liked the result, it had a well rounded full lemon flavor. The nice thing about making something from scratch that you can determine exactly how it will taste. If you use the amount of sugar in this recipe, the limoncello will be quite sweet. If you like it less sweet, simply reduce the sugar from 600 grams (3 cups) to 500 grams (2 1/2 cups).

Limoncello should be served ice cold and is usually stored in the freezer. Due to the alcohol content the limoncello won’t freeze, but it will become sluggishly thick. The leftover lemons can be juiced and used to make lemon sorbet.

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As mentioned in my previous post, we participated in the Amsterdam Gay Pride Canal Parade. And guess what? A photo of me in a pink tux singing on top of a pink grand piano was featured on the 8 o’clock news on national TV!

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Rather than on the road, the gay pride parade in Amsterdam is held on the water of the Prinsengracht, one of the famous canals. It was a lot of work to participate, but also a lot of fun! It has meant that I’ve been cooking and thus blogging less lately.

Anyway, this is a foodie blog, so on with the limoncello.

Ingredients

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Makes 1.5 litres (6 cups)

zest of 5 lemons

500 ml (2 cups) 95% proof alcohol

750 ml (3 cups) water

500-600 grams (2 1/2 to 3 cups) sugar

Preparation

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Wash the lemons carefully, scrubbing them clean.

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Zest the lemons thinly. You only want the yellow part, not the white bitter part.


If your peeler is not very sharp, you may need to remove the white part with a small but sharp knife.

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Chop the lemon zest.

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Put the chopped lemon zest in a non-reactive (e.g. glass) container that can hold about 1.7 litres (7 cups).

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Add 375 ml (1 1/2 cups) of the alcohol.

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There should be enough space left in the container to add the syrup and remaining alcohol later. (In my case, there was not, so I had to move to different containers in the next step.)

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Seal the container airtight and allow to steep for a month in a cool and dark place.

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After a month, prepare a simple syrup by combining water and sugar in a saucepan.

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Bring to a boil, stirring, and allow to boil for a minute.

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Allow to cool to room temperature. (You can speed up this process by submerging the saucepan in (ice) cold water.)

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Add the syrup to the alcohol and zest.

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Add the remaining 125 ml (1/2 cup) of alcohol as well. (This is where I realised I should have used a bigger container.)

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Seal airtight again and allow the limoncello to age for 6 weeks, again in a cool and dark place.

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After the six weeks, filter the limoncello to remove the bits of zest.

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The limoncello is now ready. Put it in the freezer for some hours to cool down sufficiently before trying it.

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30 thoughts on “Homemade Limoncello

  1. Amsterdam is such a beautiful city. I really need to go back. We stopped there for just three days before flying to Tanzania. Regarding the wax on the lemons, I never thought about that. Great tutorial on limoncello!

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  2. Stefan, your Homemade Limoncello looks absolutely refreshing. Especially during August. I always love to see the canal houses when I visit Amsterdam–like very old friends standing majestically and looking over me.

    Are there any small boats with an intimate setting that one can dine on while slinking on the canals?

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    1. That depends on for how long you aged the limoncello after adding the syrup. This was the first time I made it, so I do not have any experience of different recipes to share yet.

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  3. I love Amsterdam, having been there a number of times. I’ve visited for Queen’s Day but never for Pride. Maybe one day…
    Your limoncello recipe sounds great, Stefan, and the liqueur looks perfect. My batches are safe in storage, waiting for Christmas.

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    1. The pride is even better from a boat… We don’t participate every year, but if we do you are more than welcome to join in 🙂 Queen’s Day is too busy for me.

      I don’t think this batch of limoncello is going to last until Christmas…

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  4. Excellent! We love the photo- the tux is perfect. You now have your “15 minutes of fame”.

    Funny, we are also making limoncello with a similar recipe- you may see a post (and a cocktail) soon…

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  5. Great post, Stefan. Loved the photos of Pride. Great float!!!!! Baby Lady & I chuckled. It looks like a great time was had by all.
    As for the lemoncello, Baby Lady & I have been making lemoncello for several years now. We have also tried it with oranges and limes. Orangecello was so-so but the limecello was excellent, especially if you love lime as much as I do. Lemoncello, however, is the best no question about it. If you have some limes, you should try limecello. It’s fun, tasty and a different change of pace.
    Your recipe for lemoncello is significantly different from ours. Although both use 95% pure grain alcohol (we call it “Everclear”), you only use 500 ml; whereas, we use 1 qt (0.946353 – it’s a US thing, I know). You use 3:2-1/2 water to sugar; whereas, we use 4:3-1/2. The big difference is you use only 5 lemons; whereas, we use 25! We also let it sit in the alcohol in the fridge for 2 – 3 weeks, as opposed to 1 month. We have tried longer periods of time (up to 8 weeks) but have not been able to tell any difference in taste after 3 weeks. We also do not let it sit for 6 additional weeks after mixing with the simple syrup but we get roughly 2-1/2 qts of some very potent lemoncello which takes us about a year to drink so some of it ages considerably longer than others. Still, we cannot tell much difference, if any, with aging after mixing with the simple syrup.
    We like to serve it with inexpensive champagne over ice for a summer cooler but found the cheapest Verdi Spumante at $US 6.00 is the best combination. The only problem we have ever had with lemoncello it is goes down so remarkably smooth and tastes so darn good, you can have a little too much to drink very easily and not notice it until it’s too late. 😮

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    1. Thanks, Richard. It sure was a great time! Interesting how a float in a parade on the road is also called a float, as I find that term more appropriate for a parade on the water 😉

      Thanks for your thoughts on limoncello recipes. It looks like your batch is a bit larger than mine (yielding 8 cups or so?), but still it seems that it has more sugar, more lemons, and especially more alcohol than the Italian recipe I have used (as compared to the amount of water). So I’m not surprised it is very potent! I am also not surprised that you guys like it that way 😉 I will experiment a little with my next batch.

      I’ll have to make a batch of lemon sorbet and then make sgroppini. This is usually made with vodka, but I like the idea of using limoncello instead. The other ingredients are lemon sorbet or gelato, and prosecco/spumante.

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  6. Oi Stefan, good for you!!! I didn’t know you could sing too!!!
    I have to be honest and say outright that I don’t relish limoncello (although i wll of course drink it with glee whenever i am offered it) … but …your recipe looks amazing (am I surprised?not!).
    So … what did you sing?

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    1. Euphoria (Eurovision winner 2012)
      Titanium
      Karma Chameleon
      I Am What I Am
      I Will Survive
      Crazy Little Thing Called Love
      It’s A Beautiful Day
      Love Boat
      + Some Dutch stuff you wouldn’t know 😉

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  7. When we lived in Malta we used to often have lunch at a place right on the Med. Sea in a tiny fishing village and – once they go to know us – we were always given a small glass of limoncello after dinner. One time the waiter gave me three – and I ended up taking a nap in the car instead of going to the planned movie !!

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  8. Stefan, I did the limoncello exactly according your instructions. Thanks for the good description. Taste is fine, but now, that the filtered limoncello is for 3 months bottled, it starts to clear. I mean the beautiful milky yellow is getting clearer and clearer and the viscous texture becomes aqueous. Do you have an idea what the reason might be?

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    1. Hi Bernd,
      My limoncello has never lasted that long once word goes out that I have a bottle in my freezer 😉 So I have no personal experience keeping it for longer than 3 months.
      My best guess is that this is ‘aging’ process, similar to what happens with wine, where small particles that float in the limoncello (it is those particles that make it look cloudy or milky) stick together and sink to the bottom. Do you keep the limoncello in the freezer? That would probably help.

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