- 16-20 medium-sized lemons
- White granulated sugar
- Filtered or spring water (avoid tap water)
- Grain alcohol or vodka based on preference
- Microplane Zester (this is absolutely the best for this purpose)
- 1 Flat Bottom Permanent Coffee Filter
- Disposable Flat Bottom Coffee Filters
- 2 One-Gallon Glass Containers
- Funnel or strainer
Step 1: Zesting
This is by far the most important step. Everything that follows is based on this step. If you do not zest the lemons correctly then your final product will not have the proper taste, color or consistency.
The theme for this step is LESS IS MORE!
When "zesting" the lemons you want to remove only the bright yellow part of the lemon without any of the white pith. If any part of the pith goes into your batch the flavor will be too bitter, not to mention the color will be off.
When you zest the lemon, the remainder of the lemon should still look yellow, you should remove only a thin layer of the zest. This is why the Microplane Zester is invaluable.
To be on the safe side you should zest about 20 lemons. This will take a while, schedule about 2 hours. After you have done this a few times and get the hang of it you will be more proficient and in the future you will be able to accomplish the same quality results using about 16 lemons in about a quarter of the time.
Step 2: Steeping
In this step we want to combine the zest and alcohol.
Before we do this we want to make sure the container is clean and dry. Make sure there is no dust or residue from cleansers etc.
After I have cleaned and dried my container I turn it over and lightly blow into it to get any dust or lint from the towel out. And then as a last step I pour about 1/2 a cup of my alcohol into it and slosh it around to do a final sweep and clean before I pour the alcohol down the drain.
This step may be overkill but the Devil is n the details!
Once my container is clean at the zest to the bottom and then I add the alcohol.
If you are using grain alcohol you will need to add 1500 ml.
However, if you are using Vodka make sure it is 100-Proof and use the same quantity (1500 ml) but be prepared to add Vodka later if the end product is not up to snuff.
Once the alcohol and zest are together take a large spoon and stir the mixture. You will instantly see the clear alcohol take on a beautiful bright yellow glow.
You can seal the container now.
My preference is to seal the container with two sheets of plastic wrap. This works well with a glass container to make an airtight seal and it is easy to unwrap and reuse.
Whatever you use for the seal please make sure it is airtight!
Step 3: Label
All too often we forget the small things.
Make sure you put some kind of label on your container, use a small piece of tape or a tag that you tie to your container.
Whatever you choose to use make sure you write the following:
- # of Lemons Zested
- Alcohol Quantity & Type
These things will become important down the road when you try your next batch and you wish to make changes for improvements.
Step 4: In Plain Sight
For two weeks keep your nectar someplace where you will see it a lot.
I have a spot on my kitchen counter next to a fruit plate, its in the corner and out of the way but I see it all the time.
During these two weeks I want to stir the mix at least once a day, twice would be best but if that can't be done try to make sure you stir it up at least once a day.
You will see the nectar getting a thicker yellow glow, more of the zest is being drawn out.
The zest is what contains all of the oils, aroma, color and taste that will give your limoncello its flavor and characteristics.
Step 5: Hurry Up & Wait
After your two weeks of stirring and devotion its time to send the batch on a vacation.
Make sure the plastic wrap is sealed nice and tight and bring the container to a dark storage place.
I'm not sure if light does anything to the mix but I haven't tried. All I know is that my basement has a room that is not often visited and so it makes the perfect place for storage and it happens to be dark most of the time.
What we need to do now is simply let the mix sit and do its thing for a while.
Let it sit for at least 20 days, try for 40 days. The difference is subtle but only you know who will be enjoying the final product.
Just remember you can't add time to your batch after you have filtered out the zest, so a little patience could pay off big.
Step 6: All Grownsup!
Its been at least 20 days (Hopefully 40) and your batch is back from vacation. Now its time to filter.
There will be about 3 filtration's.
These steps are tedious but make a big difference. As a suggestion to save time you can start on your simple syrup. It will need to cool down during which time you can be filtering.
- Bring 5 cups of water to boil
- Remove heat
- Add 3.5 cups of sugar
- Stir the sugar until completely dissolved
- Let cool
While your simple syrup is cooling down you need to filter your batch. In the beginning I listed 2 one-gallon containers now you know why.
The process is straightforward: you want to transfer the liquid from one container to the other while being passed through a filter.
Set-up. Use the funnel or strainer to support your filter, make sure this is secure over the new container.
***You want to make sure this container is clean and dry***
Place the permanent filter into the funnel. Slowly, one ladle full at a time, transfer the mix. This filtration is done to remove all the large pieces of zest and will move along pretty quickly.
Clean the first container out and once again make sure there is nothing left behind that could influence the end product, you could do an alcohol rinse if you like or filtered water, your choice but make sure the container is clean, it doesn't have to be dry.
Rinse out the permanent filter.
Now repeat the filtering process but this time add a disposable filter inside the permanent filter. This process will take a while because the disposable filter will collect more of the small impurities that we don't want, which in turn will make the liquid move slowly through the filter. If you want to speed this up a bit you can refresh the filters, you can keep the permanent filter in place and change out the disposable filter. You will notice right away that the flow rate will improve. Your end goal right now is to make sure the entire batch has passed through a disposable filter.
Once you have done this you will do it again! Basically repeat the above filtration again, effectively doing a double disposable filtration.
To Summarize the Filtration's:
- Just the permanent coffee filter
- Permanent Plus Disposable
- Repeat Permanent Plus Disposable
At this point use your judgement, look at the liquid and decide if you need to filter it again. Hopefully it has a nice clear yellow consistency. You don't want to see any cloudiness or debris.
Step 7: The Sweetness
Your batch has been triple filtered and now it is ready to be get sweet!
Make sure your simple syrup has cooled off, if you can dip your finger in it its good to go.
Notice: Don't dip your finger in hot simple syrup, you could get burned! Use your judgement to make sure the syrup has cooled down. Usually 5 cups of boiling water that has been removed from the heat should be cooled to the touch within 45 minutes.
Pour the cooled simple syrup into your mix, stir it in so that everything mixes evenly.
Step 8: Insurance
Before you bottle this up for gifts or consumption you will need to wait a little longer.
But before you do this you may want to buy some insurance.
What I like to do is pour some into a small bottle that I can use to keep an eye on. What I'm looking for is residue that settles to the bottom. You might see a little film of yellow residue that settles to the bottom, when you shake the bottle a little a small "cloud" might kick up and swirl around.
Basically this means you need another filtration. It's not the end of the world and some people are fine with this, but what it means is that your product will have this settle to the bottom and it could affect the taste and looks.
If you have the time you can pass the mix through permanent and disposable coffee filter again, the simple syrup will not make this a problem.
Once you have a nice consistent batch, with as little residue as possible you should wait at least 10 more days.
In plain sight or in the basement, let the mix sit for 10 more days before you bottle it up.
Step 9: Choose Your Bottles
Give yourself a pat on the back. Its been a long journey but its almost over. Your ready to bottle.
Select a bottle that is you, something that you would like to receive.
Pick something that is functional and appropriate. By appropriate I mean size/volume. If you are giving this as a gift you may choose something small for some friends and maybe a larger bottle for someone special. This is all up to you.
Whatever bottle you choose please make sure it is clear. I have seen some limoncello that is bottled in frosty glass but I always feel like they are trying to hide something from me. I want to see the color, that's the first impression!
So don't hide it, display the color you worked so hard for.
Step 10: Batch to Bottle
From batch to bottle there are two things you must do.
- TASTE IT! This may seem obvious but it is critical. Taste your end product. If it is too harsh then cut it! Add some filtered water or some more simple syrup. Adjust it so that it tastes the way you intended it to taste. Use some examples of commercial products that you like. But remember that Limoncello is a strong spirit, don't water it down too much. Try to keep in mind that Limoncello usually goes in the freezer, the alcohol must remain high so it doesn't freeze. Whatever changes you make, take notes for next time. You can add the extra water to the simple syrup recipe.
- When you transfer from your large container to bottles avoid the bottom! There may still be some residue left, but if you avoid the bottom and gently ladle out what you want you will ensure that the limoncello you are bottling is the best part of your batch.
When you have covered these last two steps you can bottle it with pride.
Step 11: Cin Cin!
Make sure you put a bottle aside for yourself, place it in the freezer and break it out after a nice dinner.
Pour some into two nice cordial glasses, raise it up and make a toast, touch your glasses, "Cin Cin" and enjoy.