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!)
The final verdict is far from final. Despite having a good gallon of limoncello in the freezer of varying degrees of drinkability, there is still room for improvement. The ultimate goal, of course, is a perfectly smooth and lemony apertif. And this is darn close, though not quite as good as Princess’ version. Being the perfectionist I am, I can’t help but wonder what else can be done to improve it.
In my experimentation, I learned a few things about making homemade limoncello.
– Using Everclear will result in a stronger final product (obviously), pulling out more of the lemon’s essential oils in a shorter amount of time. Of course, you’ll likely need more water and sugar to compensate for the higher alcohol content, so taste and adjust accordingly.
– Everclear also produced a cloudy limoncello (as you can see in the bottled photos above), while the high-proof vodka batch (that I didn’t photograph) was clear. Baffling. I don’t know if the higher alcohol caused this difference, but I’ve also read that adding warm sugar syrup to the strained lemon liquor will produce a cloudy limoncello, while a cooled sugar syrup will remain clear. Not sure how accurate this is, however, as I cooled my sugar syrup completely for both batches.
– Obviously, steeping the lemons for longer resulted in a more pronounced lemon flavor. Although it wasn’t as big of a difference as you might expect, and the 1 week version was still plenty lemony.
– I used Meyer lemons for both of my test batches, typically preferring the slightly orangey flavor to standard lemons. But you can certainly use regular lemons too, just be sure that whatever you use, they are organic and untreated (and if you don’t know, assume they’ve been sprayed or at the very least, waxed). I know, that doesn’t make it easy, but it’s so so so important to the final product.
– Oddly enough, my 4 week vodka batch is frozen solid in the freezer right now, so it never got properly taste-tested. Maybe I effed up my proportions or something. We may never know…
– Regardless of other factors, there is no denying that limoncello improves with time. Even my initial ‘vampire’ version is actually palatable now, nearly 6 months later. The harsh burn of the alcohol fades with time, allowing the pleasant lemon flavor to shine through. In short, patience is key. Don’t rush the ‘cello.
Another important factor in making limoncello is removing the peel with as little pith as possible. For me that meant shaving off strips of lemon peel with a vegetable peeler, them coming back in with a pairing knife and delicately shaving off what little of the white inner pith remained. Less pith = less bitterness in the final product.
In her version, Brenda actually zested her lemons with a microplane, which takes off just the outermost layer of zest and would be a perfect solution if your knife skills are less than precise (or your patience was wearing thin). Zested lemon also needs less stepping time due to the total surface area exposed to the alcohol and stuff (oh hey, high school math, nice to see you again).
The other factor affecting the final product is the ratio of lemon liquor to sugar syrup, and even water to sugar within the sugar syrup. Much of that depends on personal taste, whether you like your limoncello on the sweeter side or not, so adjust as necessary, remembering that the limoncello will mellow over time.
I’m most definitely planning to continue refining my process and recipe come Meyer lemon season next year. In the meantime, I’ve got a slew of limoncello stashed in the freezer. Other than sip it, and make jam with it, I’d love to hear your ideas for unique ways to creatively use up my stash!
- 12 organic lemons
- 1000 mL Everclear or 100-proof vodka
- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- Peel or zest the lemons, taking care to just zest the outermost yellow peel and none of the white pith inside. If necessary, carefully cut off any residual pith with a small pairing knife.
- Place lemon in a large glass mason jar or other glass container than can be sealed airtight. Cover with everclear or vodka. Secure lid and place in a cool, dark location for at least 1 week and up to 4 weeks.
- When liquor is yellow in color and peel begins to turn white and easily snaps in two pieces when bent, limoncello is done. The longer it steeps the stronger the lemon flavor will be.
- Strain limoncello into a clean class jar, discarding lemon peels. If desired, strain the lemon liquor again through a fine mesh sieve lined with a coffee filter. This will remove even more residual solids and result in a smoother final product.
- Combine sugar and 3 cups filtered or bottled water in a saucepan set over medium high heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally until sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool, then pour into jar with lemon liquor. Secure lid and return to your cool, dark location to mellow, at least 2 weeks or more. The longer you let it mellow, the better your final limoncello will be.
- Once limoncello has mellowed, use a funnel to divide limoncello among three half-liter glass bottles or equivalent. Chill in the freezer for at least 24 hours before serving.
*Once zested, don’t waste the rest of the lemons! Instead, juice them and make some lemon curd or a giant batch of lemonade, or freeze the juice for later use.
Did you make this recipe?
Let us know what you think!
Leave a Comment below or share a photo and tag me on Instagram with the hashtag #loveandoliveoil.
Homemade limoncello makes a great gift, and if you start, like, right now (assuming you can find usable lemons, of course) you still have time to steep and mellow a batch just in time for the holidays.
With that in mind, I’ve designed some bold and graphic gift tags to adorn your homemade limoncello. To use, simply print out the PDF file onto some thick white cardstock, cut out the tag shapes, punch a hole in the top, and tie them on to your glass corked bottles (I used the half liter, 375mL size) with some nice black hemp twine. If you can, I recommend having the tags laminated (or at least cover them with a layer of clear packaging tape) so the colors won’t bleed from the condensation off the bottle. You could also print the same label file on weatherproof label paper and adhere them directly to the bottles.
Disclosure: We sailed to Alaska as a guest of Princess Cruises. As always, all opinions written are purely our own. We’re incredibly grateful for opportunities like these that allow us to continue sharing experiences like this with you, so thank you for supporting us and the brands we love.
I have been using your recipe since 2018. It is the best!!!!
This is the real deal
Hi Everyone! I just got done making my first batch of limoncello and arancello (oranges). I used everclear 120 proof. I have seen many people say that after adding the sweetener, the limoncello needs to “mellow” but I’ve yet to come by any explanation as to what is actually going on during the “mellowing” period. Does anyone actually know what’s going on? I took a sip today after it was sitting for about a month and it tastes good but there is a bit of a bite. It seems like people say the “bite” lessens as it “mellows” but how is that possible (i.e. what’s going on to make that happen)?
I have made limoncello many times. When the drink has aged and I am ready to bottle, I add one vanilla bean to each bottle. It makes the taste very smooth.
I make it every year for the holidays and I use 195 proof everclear 😬
Most of my family enjoy the extra strength. Comes out bottles as limoncello about 80 proof
Hi… just curious – I ended up using this recipe – and will bottling this weekend – after washing the bottles with soap and water – do i have to sterize them in boiling water at all?
Wash them well with soap and hot water, but the sugar and alcohol content is high enough here that you don’t have to fully sterilize.
I made this recipe using Everclear. Right at first it was very attention getting, with a bite.. As it was stored in the freezer I noticed that the flavor became more mellow with each passing week. The general consensus of my family is that this recipe is excellent! If fact I have started a second batch.
Have you tried steeping whole lemons in the alcohol? I struggle with getting the peel off without any pith and I wonder if using a whole lemon would work, or would the pith flavor leach out?
I have not tried it with whole lemons (other than the aforementioned ‘sling’ method which didn’t work for me). The alcohol does permeate the peel pretty deeply though, so you may get some bitterness from the pith.
We make limoncello as Christmas gifts and to use in our Limoncello bundt cake! That recipe uses a boxed Betty Crocker lemon cake mix, small box of lemon pudding, 5 eggs, & equal parts veg oil and limoncello mixed for about 5 min before pouring into the floured bundt pan. It is amazing. SO GOOD. Just don’t overbake – dry is no good. It should have super moist bottom (which becomes top when out of pan) but golden brown edges. Invert into pretty plate and dust with powder sugar before serving. I can’t believe I just gave your our secret recipe!! ACK!
FYI, I made a big batch of limoncello a few years ago. I processed what I needed for Christmas gifts, but had several bottles of Everclear stuffed with lemon peel left over. I sat in the back of a dark closet for 2 years. I finally processed it and it was the best, the smoothest limoncello EVER. My gift recipients were totally blown away. So, my advice is to make extra and leave it be for at least one year, better for 2 years.
In step 2, do you mean to say place lemon zest in the container, or just the zested lemons?
Just the peel!
Are you placing lemons or lemon peel/zest in mason container?
‘Place lemons in a large glass mason jar or other glass container than can be sealed airtight. Cover with everclear or vodka. Secure lid and place in a cool, dark location for at least 1 week and up to 4 weeks’
It’s the ouzo effect that makes it cloudy! I had the same thing when using 80 proof vodka vs 192 proof vodka. Got really confused about the cloudiness in the higher proof and totally clear in lower proof
Never. Never. Throw away the peels. They’re perfect for candied lemon 🍋 rinds. Some ppl boil them 2-3 times to get the alcohol out of them. Why I give a quick strain and start the candying process.
I bought beautiful giant lemons, overlooking if they were organic. So, I really scrubbed the lemons – hopefully to remove any waxing or surface reside. Hope this works.
I have had great success with adding 15-20 basil leaves to the vodka and zest. It seems to soften the final product, and adds great aromatics.
I’ve been making limoncello/orangecello for years. You can get results faster, but this is how I’ve settled on best results. A dozen lemons/oranges peeled with no pith put into a glass jar with rubber seal along with 1liter 100 proof vodka (decent stuff you’d drink). Put in a cool dark place for two months shaking gently every few days. After two months remove peels (these are excellent for drink garnishes, just freeze in ziplock) and strain remaining liquid through triple layers of cheesecloth into a clean bowl, then again through a coffee filter, changing filters as needed. This takes some time but results in much cleaner end product. Meanwhile lightly rinse the glass jar. Make a simple syrup with 2C water, 2C sugar over low heat until sugar dissolves but doesn’t boil. Allow to fully cool. Combine syrup and vodka back in glass jar for another two months to fully mellow. It’s a longer process then most call for but the result is worth it. If you taste at 30 days, then at 60 you’ll notice the difference. I’m a lemon person but have been surprised how much we enjoy the orange. Cara Cara oranges work really well for this.
Can I add lemon juice to the simple syrup for a lemony flavor?
The lemon flavor comes from steeping the lemon rinds in the alcohol. You don’t need any additional juice.
This was such an easy recipe. And so tasty! I can’t wait to try more from your blog.
I’ve made this a couple of times and I use 190 proof everclear. I find I had to bump the sugar to 1 ¾ cup sugar, otherwise it’s like jet fuel. A little more sugar was all I needed to make it smooth.
Italy is one of my favorite places to visit, and I always have a Limoncello after dinner when I’m there. I cannot wait to try making it at home! Thank you so much for sharing this recipe. :)
I have a meter lemon tree and I made some limoncello with Everclear and some with 100 proof vodka, before I read your recipe. I made sure to steep the lemon in clean glass containers but I also used distilled water when making my simple syrup. I did NOT want anything getting in the way of the flavor.
Today I mixed in the simple syrup so the jury is still out on which is better. I steeped them both for 25 days. The Vodka sat in my dark pantry and the Everclear sat in the fridge. The Everclear is a much brighter yellow color and the Vodka is a darker, slightly orangey color. Can’t wait to try them!
We followed the recipe and used 190 proof Everclear. How much more water and sugar should we add since your recipe used a weaker alcohol?
You asked for limoncello recipes – I just looked up a limoncello tiramisu recipe (Jamie Oliver). Sounds delicious, but am not going to try it until my homemade limoncello is ready. That is if it isn’t drunk from a glass before hand!.
Wow~~!! Thanks for sharing. By far, this has been the best recipe!.
Hi, I found your blog looking for squid ink pasta. So, I know a bit about making limoncello. The key is the %alcohol to water to sugar ratios (and assuming you are using good lemon zest). I found a recipe online many years ago from a guy handled “mike in malta”. It took some work to figure out the ratios since they have higher proof spirit there than I can get here in California and there was a mixture of imperial and metric units used.
You must account for the amount of water that is in the booze you are using for extraction.
Additionally, I wouldn’t use Meyer lemons to make Italian style Limoncello. The real thing is made with “sorrento” lemons which are most definitely lemons and not a citrus hybrid. That being said, i understand that you can make this liqueur with any citrus, but if you want limoncello as you might get it italy, use proper, sour lemons. Lemons from my mom’s tree in San Jose (I don’t know what variety it is- Eureka or Lisbon) makes excellent limoncello that is as good as anything we had in Italy.
BTW, i use a microplane to remove the zest so that I get no pith. I haven’t made any this year due to Covid and so I haven’t been down to get lemons but if there is interest i can dig out my notes and provide some proportional direction.
Where are you located. I’m in florida have a meyer lemon tree with lemons that grow almost as big as my head. They are falling right out of the tree rotting because i don’t get to them. :(
Are there any fixes for frozen limoncello? My batch turned out like yours frozen in the freezer – is there any way to fix this?
You mean cloudy? That’s actually more related to the sugar syrup I believe, and at what temperature it is added. But the limoncello tastes great whether it is clear or cloudy!
How long does this keep after putting in the simple sugar without freezing it?
Yes, we don’t freeze most of ours but keep it in the pantry. The only bottle we freeze is the one we’re going to be serving from but our most common use is for limoncello cake. I have never had a bottle go bad. I wouldn’t put it anywhere near a freezer unless it is done and you are chilling it to drink.
Hi, quick question. In the comments you said that the syrup was usually 1:1, but the recipe is 1 1/2 cups sugar to 3 cups water. I did think this was interesting as I’ve been comparing recipes for limoncello, and another recipe used wayyy more sugar than this. This was after I had googled to find out how many grams and ml a cup was as I’m in the UK. Is the recipe correct? Or is it a 1:1 ratio, so would be 3 cups sugar with 3 cups water? I hope you see this as I’m kinda late to the party!
Depends on your personal preference how sweet/strong you want it!
I love limoncello! I just made a limoncello cheesecake and what a success!!! I will also use it in any baking recipe that calls for lemon, I add just a teaspoon or tables to give the lemon zest and juice a bigger nudge! I do this with all my liqueurs in recipes. I’m just starting the process of making my own limoncello and have seen how I will tweak my recipe. Wish me luck and thanks for your insight’
This is a great site and very helpful with all the comments! I have been researching Limoncello as we have been making it, so may have put the cart before the horse, but wanting to take advance of a fresh crop of lemons her in Central CA. That being said, since we could not get Everclear, I used Vodka. Also, I read where others put the actual juice along with the alcohol and rinds to soak. That made it necessary to put in more sugar water to soften the tart taste, which affected the alcohol content in the limoncello. I think it is a complete fail, and want to start over again. It looks like I can find 120 proof Everclear, but not 190 proof. What is your opinion as to the difference between the two in the final product.
Thank you for this recipe! I have made it a few times and played with my preferences on the sugar ratio. I also do 1:1 for the simple syrup to make it less watery (and less likely to freeze). Have you found a good use for the leftover rinds?
I learned to make limoncello as a bartender here in northern California. We would steep the finely shaved peels for only a week, sometimes less, with everclear (available here up to 150 proof.) The mixture will remain clear….until you add the simple syrup. I found it very strange to watch the simple syrup color the mixture a lighter, cloudier yellow than what it started out being, and we used cool simple syrup. We would mix in an equal part simple syrup (so now that I am not in restaurants, 750ml is the standard size bottle of hooch, so I mix in 750ml of simple syrup.)
Limoncello is very easy to make and delicious. There are lemon trees all over my part of the world, and seemingly nobody picks them. Don’t bother with steeping for the ridiculous 40 to 80 days you read about on the internet. If you want to go crazy, let it sit for two weeks. Also, once mixed and chilled it can be used immediately.
Thanks for the article!
I made a big batch of limoncellp to bottle for hostess gifts at my daughters shower. With the virus going around, it was postponed to a later unknown date. My question is can I keep the Lemoncello in glass jars before bottling for a much longer time once I add the simple syrup. Or does it have to be refrigerated. I don’t have a lot of refrigerator space for storing. Thank you for your help
I make limoncello on occasion even orange-cello and lime and I’ve grown up always steeping my limoncello for over 5-6 weeks you want the alcohol to pull every bit of essential oil out of the citrus shell and if you have any white in it you are screwed it will give a bitter and nasty taste the best bet is to zest the citrus and place in jar along with alcohol ( I prefer the everclear) with air tight lid under sink for minimum 4 weeks
Lemon Meringue Martinis are my favourite! 1 Part amaretto, 2 parts Limoncello, 3 parts pineapple juice. Shake and devour! So yummie! Can’t wait to try this Limoncello recipe. Thank you.
Ok I made it but did not put the sugar in it yet. But cant wait to taste.
The recipe says to remove the pilth from the lemons. The pictures show the lemons peels immersed in the alcohol, but the recipe says to cover the lemons with the alcohol, but I didn’t see the meat of the lemons in the jar. I assume the you meant cover the lemon peels with Everclear or vodka. Is my assumption correct?
Correct, cover the lemon peels with alcohol. :)
Hello, been making limoncello for 20 years now. I use 15 lemons
to 1 liter of alcohol and infuse for 100 days using Everclear 120-150 proof (for me, there is no substitute). My water to sugar ratio to make simple syrup is 15 cups each as a base and then add more to suit your taste. I prefer the limoncello to be cloudy so I pour a very warm syrup unto the mixture. The result, a sweet, slow burn afterwards. I use a 5 gallon Coleman jug with spigot as I bottle this for Christmas.
I’m in the middle of making my first batches with many variables—types of sweeteners (sugar, agave, coconut sugar etc), plain lemon, lemon lime, lemon lavender buds, but I stumbled on a way to peel the lemons that was so easy, I just have to pass it on.
Freeze them! Yes! This made the process so easy! The rind comes right off with a vegetable peeler and the pith stays put!
That’s a great tip, I’ll definitely try that next time!
I was visiting a friend up in New York and she served us lemoncello and Orangecello.
Needless to say I had to get the recipe.
She steps it for 45 days, then strains it through number four coffee filters, and strains it four times.
It came out beautifully when I made it especially the orange cello. I had bought the oranges at Trader Joe’s organic and as I am resisting them I’m telling my husband look at the oil on my hands from these oranges, and it smelled like orange blossoms. Absolutely heavenly
So I’m sure that’s the reason the orange cello turned out exceptionally well.
My lemon cello was good but I think I need to find a better quality of lemons the more oil in the skin the better
Right now I have a batch of Keylimecello going and a batch of lavender lemoncello. They’ll be due in probably two weeks we’ll see how those turn out.
Do you think you could use the juice from the lemons in place of the water to make the sugar syrup?
I have a story…I actually combined 2 different methods because I think I misread one of them. I made 2 batches using 18 lemons each and 100 proof vodka. I had let it sit for 40 days (this is where I misread) and on the night I was going to do the second step (simple syrup) my house had burned down in the Carr Fire on July 26, 2018. Needless to say it was all very devastating! My house of 32 years, 3 cars, 4 cats, and 2 batches of Limoncello perished. Plus all of the flip top bottles and cutesy packaging I had bought to put the bottles in for gifts. To boost my spirits my husband encouraged me to try again. This time I made it with Everclear 120 and let it sit for 40 days. Then did the simple syrup (4 cups sugar, 5 cups water) and let it sit for another 40 days. FANTASTIC!! I’ve already been given lemons to make it again.
How much everclear did you use?
Letting my second batch rest post syrup having been added. It is cloudy although the syrup had cooled. Also, this time I used Everclear after having used vodka the first go-round.
Hello I can’t wait to give this a try, but you never said how much water you use to make the simple syrup.
Standard is a 1:1 syrup, so equal parts (by weight) water and sugar.
I am unable to find the PDF file for the Limoncello label. Can you assist? Thank you!
After moving from CT into a home in CA where a lemon bush was in the backyard, I thought I would give this a try. The following is the recipe I made the first time and it turned out excellent with Everclear. He uses the hammock method and I hung them for 2.5 months to be on the safe side.
Unfortunately, we can no longer get Everclear in CA, so I tried his version with Skyy vodka (80 proof) this last season. I messed up this version so I’m not sure if it was the vodka, the sugar or what. It was “thin” tasting to me and never got real thick like the first batch. I should have used the weight of sugar to water method like I did the first time, but I did by volume by mistake and I think it was too much water. I use raw sugar and room-temperature filtered water and keep stirring it on and off until it dissolves. Then I add it to the liquor until it tastes right.
This was a great article, and a lot of feedback with great ideas. This year’s lemons should be ready in about 2 weeks, so running across your article was perfect timing so I can try for the 3rd batch soon. Thanks for posting.
Yes I have heard warm syrup will make it cloudy I use 190 proof everclear and it’s alway clear I have started mixing 750 ml of everclear with 750 ml of 100 proof vodka this kills the bite
Yes! Please send label download!
We went to Amalfi and learned the art of making Limoncello from Vittorio Cobalto at https://www.antichisaporidamalfi.it/
This stuff is liquid gold.
We went to his Limoncello Experience class and now I make it at home.
I wish I could send you some of what I make. It’s pretty good.
The other factor influencing the last item is the proportion of lemon alcohol to sugar syrup and even water to sugar inside the sugar syrup. A lot of that relies upon individual taste, regardless of whether you like your limoncello on the sweeter side or not, so change as vital, recollecting that the limoncello will smooth after some time.
Made with home grown lemon. Adjusted recipe for quantity. It turn out wonderfully. Almost as good as we had in Positano! Thanks for sharing your recipe.
I’m making my first limoncello but wanted to do something different so I’m using 101 proof moonshine. I tasted the shine and it actually tasted a lot like vokda with a whiskey flavor on the finish. For 101 proof liquor I had expected it to taste like lighter fluid so I was pleasantly surprised. I used the peels of 10 organic lemons, well scrubbed before peeling, of course. Within a few hours it’s already turned yellow!
Hey, I bought a bunch of moonshine today to try it like this. How did it turn out?
Have you ever thought about putting your alcohol through a Brita water filter? If you run your spirits through it doesn’t matter if it’s cheaper high-quality you’ll get a very good unique flavor you can take cheap vodka and make it taste like Grey Goose with about 5 times running it through there it only takes about 5 minutes to do the whole 7:50 . This is going to be my first time making limoncello my thing is I love to make honey bärenjäger
I have a “white cloud” floating around in mine.
Should I throw it out or strain it.The bottles are in the freezer now. Could sure use some help before I try it again.
I have been making lemoncello for some time now with less complicated process and super results. The reason your product freezes is that the proof of Your alcohol to water is too low. I use 151 everclear 750ml with 750ml plus 1 cup of water. This produces an almost slushy consistancy that stays cold as you drink it. Also instead of peeling the zest use a microplanner. You don’t get any pith and you release the natural oils in the lemons giving more lemon flavor. Also store bought lemons work fine you just need to wash them well. I only keep my zest in the alcohol for one week then add the strained mixture to the syrup (750 ML + 1 CUP WATER TO 3 CUPS SUGAR).
Hey, love your blog. I just started my second batch of limoncello and have been scouring for recipes and variant techniques. You mentioned cloudiness. My first batch was super cloudy and I thought this was due to an error on my part although it tasted amazing. Not wanting to repeat this “mistake”, I started looking into how to avoid it. Turns out the cloudiness is actually a desired effect and commercial companies are only able to remove it through the use of a centrifuge(and only to make it look “prettier”). The cloudiness is known as a louche, a spontaneous emulsification of the essential oils extracted from the lemons, aka, you got the good stuff. The lemon oils are dissolved in the alcohol and the introduction of water causes the oils to separate but stay suspended in the alcohol. This only occurs when the limoncello is above a certain abv%. I’m not sure what that abv is but my first batch ended up being around 50% if i’m recalling correctly. I wish I has wrote it down but, for what it’s worth, it was some combination of 100 proof vodka and 190 proof grain alcohol with 4 cups of 1:1 simple syrup. I also zested the lemons with a microplane, 2 weeks sitting before the syrup then filtered with an unbleached coffee filter and 2 weeks after the syrup. The cloudiness came as soon as i added the syrup.
I remember Roma and Lemoncello, wow. It too was also cloudy like what’s been talked about in this great recipe. Question, Aaron, you did not say what your volume of vodka and grain alcohol was, or your lemon count. Can you, or anyone provide this detail?
Thanks so much! It does work – great label!
I filled out the form to download the printable label, but the download link seems to be covered up by your copyright information, which makes it unusable.
Sorry about that! Give it a try now, should be working properly. :)
Tasted a little before it sits for two weeks and it’s AWESOME! ! Can hardly wait to share it! But did not get the download for the label. Can u send it to my email below?
Try again now… once you submit your email you’ll see a link to download the file. :)
This is a great recipe – I love how you posted all of test experiments, your tips and results! The labels and bottles are super cute too. :) I just made my first batch, and here are a couple of my notes:
– I used 100 proof vodka. I can get everclear, but this seems to be a cheaper and less assertive option, especially as far as making gifts is concerned!
– Avoiding the pith while peeling is super hard!! I found the best way is to just peel the lemon into wide strips the best you can, and scrape off the extra pith with the tip of a spoon. It really comes off very easily, and saves the frustration of trying to peel accurately.
– The recipe calls for a 2:1 water-sugar ratio (3 cups water to 1.5 cups sugar) for the simple syrup, but I used a 1:1 (1 cup sugar / 1 cup water per liter vodka) because I was worried about my limoncello freezing solid. It is still sweet and has a bit of a bite. As it ages, I imagine it will continue to mellow out more!
– I did add a warm simple syrup to my infusion, and it resulted in a beautifully cloudy color as seen in the photos above.
– SAVE YOUR LEMON PEELS PEOPLE!! You can dry them and grind them up and make lemon infused salt / sugar / pepper. Or you can (my personal fav) candy them!! Just boil in a simple syrup til super tender, then toss with sugar. They make a really awesome snack and gift to give with your limoncello! :)
I’ve got a Meyer Lemon and Orange version in the works, and I am hoping to make a Grapefruit or Blood Orange version soon too! Thanks again for sharing!
These are great tips, thanks for sharing! Enjoy your homemade limoncello!
Can I use the zested lemon peel/Vodka in lemon bars instead of throwing away?
No, I don’t recommend that. Most of the flavor of the peel will have been extracted into the vodka; what’s left isn’t going to taste very good.
“Place lemons in a large glass mason jar or other glass container than can be sealed airtight. Cover with everclear or vodka. ”
Lemons or the peel?
The lemon peel. The rest of the lemon can be reused in another way. :)
You missed the best part – don’t toss the peels. You can roll them in sugar and use them like candy or decoration. I often run them through my little food processor and have ready made lemon zest in a freezer bag. Give it a try!
That is a great suggestion… thanks for sharing!!
Having made it in all kinds of configurations over the last 10 years, I Find combining vodka and Everclear the best. Yes, its a matter of patience. I make huge batches as gifts. 2-3 movies worth of peeling, without any pith.
I use the juice, freeze it in ice cube trays, and make lemon curd, also for gifts.
Great suggestions! Once the Meyer lemons come in this year I may have to give the half-and-half formula a try. Thanks for sharing!
I want to make your limoncello recipe, it sounds like a fun project. How can I download the fun tags?
Thanks! Enter your email in the “Download this FREE Printable!” form within the post and you’ll be able to download the PDF file from there. :)
My lemoncello came out more of a golden or coppery color. Any ideas as to what happened? Can it still be drinkable?
My first try at making limoncello and it also is a coppery color. Trying to read all the different reviews but didn’t find an answer about the color turnout. Is everyone else’s batch beautiful yellow??
I have 2 jars steeping now. One is clear bright yellow and the other is more golden orangey. The only difference between the two batches is that in yellow batch the lemons were zested with a microplane zester. In the deeper gold batch the the lemons were peeled using the large hole side of a box grater. Both techniques were suggested by different but veteran limoncello makers. Still steeping so haven’t tasted.
I’m sure they’ll both be fine to drink but I’ll be curious if there if any difference in taste
I’m sure both are fine to drink. For last year’s batch I peeled the lemons with a paring knife and it was a nice yellow. I was meticulous for all batches about no pith. Wondering if using my old box grater causing something chemical reaction or some “metal” to rub off? How did you peel?
I love the glass bottles you used for this recipe! I’m in the midst of making a batch of this right now and getting ready to bottle. I want to ship some out of state to family and I’m wondering if you think that these bottles will work? Do they leak at all? Thank you, and I LOVE the printables! So cute.
They are pretty secure, but with pressure/temperature changes in shipping it’s possible they might leak. If you do use these bottles I’d double bag them as well just in case!
Thanks for the details on homemade limoncello. I love the kitchen science. I’ve been making my own vanilla for years since living in places where it was difficult to buy. So, all your lemon trials and details seem rather familiar; I’m very thankful for them. My friend went to Italy a few years ago and came back with a recipe for limoncello yogurt parfait. I’m thinking of making this for my daughter’s bridal shower this summer. Main ingredients are Greek yogurt, cream cheese, crema limoncello, limoncello, and sugar. We’ll see how it goes.
I’m new at limoncello so this is an adventure for me. I’ve never even tasted it but I love love LOVE lemons.
A local restaurant makes their Long Island Iced Tea with limoncello instead of sweet & sour mix and it is wonderful. Maybe something to go on your ‘to try’ list.
Thank you for your comment on the hammock trick. I was skeptical after reading about it, but considered trying it. I think I’ll stick with steeping. I’m lucky to have a Meyer lemon in a pot that seems incredibly happy, and white quite organic. I’m turning the juice into various goodies such as lemon bars, and can’t wait to taste the limoncello I’m making with the peels. I appreciate you posting your recipe and sharing your results!
I’ve done blood orange and satsuma in addition to Meyer lemon…all are delicious. Yes, they have bite but when we take our girls trip, it comes along and we mix up ‘cello at the bottom of a wine glass (about an 1 /8 – 1/4 of the way up the glass) with Prosecco or Moscato and ice – it is fantastic!
Love your blog! Great tip about how to completely remove pith from lemons. I use the back of a small paring knife to scrape it off. Easy and fast! I also leave the lemon peel in the jar after adding simple syrup and drain just before bottling (after the traditional 40 days of infusing). I figure it can’t be too lemony for me. Any reason why the peels should be removed before adding the simple syrup? I too only use Meyer lemons. I like the rich creamy look and texture vs. some store bought clear versions. And like yours, I let the simple mixture cool completely and use grain alcohol. Looking forward to hearing about your next batches!
PS – I use 2 liters of ever clear to 14 lemons (per the recipe I use). . Not too boozy for me and my tasters!
Can’t wait to make some limoncello….wondering if I can half the recipe? I don’t think I will use that much and I don’t have that many lemons! Especially since I am going to use some for triple citrus marmalade! Thanks for sharing your process!
Yes, you can certainly halve the recipe! Although if you have the citrus available it’s the same amount of work either way, and might I add it makes great gifts. :) Enjoy!
I have my first batch of lemons “steeping” right now! I was just wondering if anyone has tried making this with honey instead of sugar as the sweetener?? I’m tempted to try at least a small portion using honey just to test the results.
I have not tried it with honey… it should work technically, although I worry the flavor of the honey would overpower. Limoncello is by nature a very clean lemon flavor, and I think the honey would really change that.
I have used brown sugar instead of white sugar and it delivers a deep brown coloured Limocello with a much sweeter taste.
I think I need the recipe for blackberry-basil jam!
Do you think this same recipe could be used with other citrus fruits to make things like “lime”cello?
Sure, definitely! I made a batch with grapefruit, actually, that turned out to be one of our favorites. :)
Still have end of the season lemons.
Want some more?
I make limoncello and love it! I let the rind (no white stuff!!) of 12 lemons sit in a gallon sized glass jar with a handle of vodka for 30 days. Then add the simple syrup (4C water & 4C sugar, cooled!) and a fifth of vodka. Let it sit for another 10 days. Then I strain it thru coffee filters. I tried the cheesecloth, but I like how clear filtering it thru a coffee filter makes it. It is very smooth and sweet and just perfect chilled on a warm summers day.
Hi there- Where is the PDF for the adorable tag?
Enter your email address in the form above and then it will show you a link to download. :)
Do you bake? I know I have at least several recipes in my files right now that use Limocello as one of the ingredients. I would think in many baking recipes the Limocello could be substituted for the liquid such as water or other fruit juices to enhance the flavor. I wouldn’t swap out something like buttermilk though. That adds a moistness and richness to a cake which I don’t believe Limocello could create. You make me remember with great sadness the lemons my parents used to bring me from San Diego when they would do their “snowbird” thing there each winter. Sadly, we ended up having to sell the properties in San Diego and when they do go out they don’t seem to bring any lemons back with them, maybe because they have to fly and aren’t driving the RV. (my mom is afraid for my dad to drive all that way as he is 76 now with a few health issues. They only take the RV on trips closer to home or stay on the east coast). The lemons were the size of grapefruit, no joke. They weren’t these itty-bitty things you find in supermarkets now. One year she brought me so many I just had to give some of them away. I put one on each of the desks of the co-workers in my unit. Some of the ladies actually thought they WERE grapefruit. After that year, for the ones who were fellow bakers I had to supply at least one a year of those giant lemons when they arrived back here on the east coast in the spring when the folks came home. I know California is VERY picky about what is brought into the state but what about goes out, is it the same? Can people bring lemons home with them on planes? I don’t really know the answer to that question. I thought about that when you mentioned the spiders on your lemons. That COULD have been a huge problem if the wrong spiders were sent elsewhere in the country and began breeding. Lots and lots of folks in California have lemon trees in their backyards. People like you and me need to make some GOOD friends with these folks and help take a lot of those lemons off of their hands. We would be doing them a BIG favor, right? The price of lemons, not even getting into the Meyer Lemon issue here, get downright more expensive than gold at times even at the big warehouse stores. As a baker that gets VERY frustrating at times, and expensive. You have my email address, let me know if you would like any of those recipes. I believe Ina Garten uses Limocello a good bit when baking. She may be able to help you with some also.
Oh I love homemade limoncello. I never made it on my own though, but this post really makes my fingers itch. I think this will be my weekend project.
So I have made limoncello once, with lemons given to me by a friend, from her tree, and it came out pretty darn good. I used Gabriele Corcos’ (Extra Virgin TV show) recipe… anyway… found your blog post on Pinterest and it made me want to try it again, following your recipe,. BUT… when I read you have a free printable of your tags! I can’t even! That’s what made me click on the link. Thank you!!! Okay, now to finish reading the post. Carry on.
love the idea of making limoncello and totally bummed I didn’t find this when I lived at a house with a 100 yr old Meyer lemon tree in Southern California. I wonder if you could use pure organic lemon essential oil.
Great post! I’ve got a batch that’s been “brewing” on my kitchen counter since last December. It definitely mellows with time. “don’t rush the cello” is right indeed! Thanks for the labels Lindsay!
Hy, :) i’ m Daniela from Romania
my family make : cherry brandy, strawberry brandy, any berry brandy, even watermelon brandy, banana brandy etc. – we tried amost every fruit
We are not alcoholics but we love to have something homemade for our friends birthday
I have not tried limoncello but you gave me a good idea !!! :))
so i think maybe if you let the pitted lemon and pitted zest to stay first with the sugar…
my husband let the fruits to stay first with the sugar to make the syrup – in a big glass jar covered and in a place without the sun but worm ( not very worm )
he let to sit till a month ( or till he is satisfied the flavor) and at list a couple a days he softly blend with a wood spoon
and then he strain the contents and pick a few(or many ) fruits that have remained intact for bottles decoration ( with the rest we freeze them and make sometime the
” magic” cakes… :)
and the last he add the alcohol as long as he likes
he put them in bottles as sealed as it can
i hope i could help you , and i hope i will make this lemon liqueur in this winter
i will tell you !!! :)
dearly , Daniela :)
Sorry, but I call BS on the lemon-hammock method not working. My guess is a less-than-perfect seal, letting the flavor-saturated alcohol fumes escape.
I have seen this process work in an Italian restaurant I used to manage. The bar manager would do this and let the lemoncello infuse for at least 6 weeks. The idea is a micro still, so to speak. Using 190-proof everclear, the alcohol evaporates to the top of the closed vessel, condenses on the lemons, and collects the essential oils over time.
When it is time to remove the lemons, the fruit will be heavily concentrated in alcohol (which also makes the best lemonade EVER!) and completely dry on the outside. This is when you add the simple syrup. The lemoncello WILL become cloudy. Let the lemoncello condition for 4-6 weeks, and when it clears up again, it’s ready for bottling.
So here’s what happened… I used a large weck jar with a rubber gasket seal. Put two lemons in a hammock of cheesecloth held in place with the lid. The cheesecloth seemed to absorb all the flavor-saturated alcohol, turning it brown and sticky while the alcohol itself stayed perfectly clear. So maybe it was the seal, or the cheesecloth, or a combination of things, but it definitely didn’t work for me. I guess I’m not sure how else you’d suspend the lemons so this didn’t happen? Can you describe your setup?
We used a 3 gallon glass jar and I’d say 5 lbs of lemons. They hung in a single layer of industry-grade cheesecloth over 3-4 liters of everclear (must be 190 proof), and the top was sealed with plastic wrap, basically tied over the cheesecloth. Total aging was close to 3 months, at least. We also did this with oranges (arancello).
Homemade limoncello is so good! I have a meyer lemon and a standard eureka lemon version in my cupboard right now. So good on a hot summer afternoon!
I love how you went through all your experiments with lemoncello and since I have a meyer lemon tree, I now know what I’m going to do with my next big harvest!!! This post reminded me of a fun dinner we had in Venice – the owner asked if we wanted an after dinner drink and we said “yes! Lemoncello!!” … and he said “no, Grappa!!” It was quite an evening after that…..
Color me jealous of you and your lemon tree. :) And grappa is something wicked, that’s for sure.
Thank you so much for the great recipe!! How long will it keep??
In the freezer it should keep for a good while, I’d say at least 6 months. It’s alcohol so it won’t go ‘bad’ necessarily, just might lose or develop a bad flavor over time.
I make limoncello every year. I have found that cheap vodka put through a brita pitcher repeatedly leads to a better result than everclear. I also take half of it and make creamy limoncello. Basically this just involves making the simple syrup with milk instead of water. It is crazy good. The main key to good limoncello is how long you let the lemons sit in the alcohol. One year I made mandarin orange and key lime–also good, but I haven’t bothered with it again.
Thanks for the insight, I love the idea of a creamy version! How long do you usually steep yours for?
I tried making limoncello once, with Everclear (as is supposed to be traditional). It was really harsh, even after significant aging. Maybe I’ll try my hand using vodka …
I know, it makes me wonder if the Italians have some secret not-so-harsh everclear they aren’t telling us about. That stuff is wicked.
Well, my introduction to Limoncello was your strawberry jam (and the pectin as well – thank you very much!!). The jam was so awesome, that I had to add some Limoncello to a blackberry-basil jam. Wow!! We have been adding the Limoncello to lemonade and it’s pretty yummy. Now I need more. Will try making it when winter – and lemon season – gets here. Thank you so much for taking the time to share!!
Funny that the jam has become a gateway to a love of limoncello. :) Same for me, actually, that jam was the reason I attempted homemade limoncello in the first place! Blackberry-basil jam sounds amazing!
I’ll never forget the first time I tasted Limoncello in Italy! But this I might just have to make so I can then make your Strawberry Limoncello Jam!!
YUM! Love limoncello! I’m thinking that a boozy Arnold Palmer might be the best drink to finish out the summer!