I’ve been working on this recipe since March.
It’s quite hard when you’re working with a seasonal ingredient, and trying to test a recipe that requires long rest periods between steps (and I don’t mean hours, I mean weeks and even months).
The first batch of limoncello I made was less than stellar, with a bit too much of a bitter burn to be palatable. While it was plenty sweet, it had bite. And not just a little nibble either… this stuff had serious fangs.
I almost gave up.
But after our Alaskan cruise this spring aboard the Ruby Princess, I was inspired to try again. One night, our friendly and incredibly animated waiter, Peres, served us glasses of their special house-made (er, ship-made?) limoncello. It blew my mind, smooth and perfectly sweet with a luscious lemon flavor and none of the alcoholic burn that my version had. Brenda and I grilled him afterwords as to how it was made, since it was leaps and bounds better than my first attempt. He was more than willing to share their process, which seemed to involve little more than lemons, vodka, and sugar. He didn’t have specifics, of course, but I stored the information in the back of my mind, determined to give it another go once I got back home.
My mom had sent me the lemons for my first batch (Meyer lemons having a very short season of availability here), but she didn’t have any more ripe ones. And I wanted to be sure I got organic, unsprayed lemons, as any spray or residue on the lemons themselves can impart a bitter flavor to the limoncello, and that was one variable we didn’t want to test. So that pretty much rules out your plain old grocery store lemons. I called up my aunt in California who happens to have a prolific tree in her yard (color me jealous). I tell you, family members with fruit trees are invaluable when you’re a food blogger.
A week or so later a huge box of lemons arrived, “as organic as they get, spiders and all” said the note.
That’s what I call one big box of happy, right there. Well, minus the spiders of course.
I quickly set about zesting and de-pithing and steeping the lemons, dividing up what I had to test as many different variables as I could.
I made some with pure 120-proof grain alcohol (Everclear) and some with 100-proof vodka (slightly higher than the standard 80 proof). I divided each into smaller batches and let them steep for 1, 2, and 4 weeks, respectively, to see how much the flavor would change with time. Each batch got mixed with sugar syrup and then stashed away to mellow for at least 2 weeks before we tasted it (see why this post has been so long in the making?)
I even tried this unusual lemon-hammock method from the New York Times, which—spoiler alert—failed miserably. The only ‘flavor’ that came out of the lemon was absorbed by the cheesecloth, leaving nothing but clear alcohol with no noticeable lemon flavor behind. What a waste.
(Click through to read the rest of my trials in tribulations into the fantastic world of limoncello, and download the FREE printable gift tags while you’re at it!)