Olivia Dish

My Little Limoncello

In Beverages, Homemade on July 31, 2010 at 10:49 pm

Why limoncello packs a punch

Global warming made me do it.

Made me drive over to the liquor emporium and buy my first ever bottle of Everclear. (How was I lucky enough to miss out on that in my youth?)

Made me skin lemons and steep the rinds.

Yes, global warming is the reason I’m stewing up a batch of limoncello crema in my kitchen.

Making limoncello is fairly easy. What’s not so easy is finding the definitive recipe.  I stumbled across one on NPR’s website, while I was tracking down a story about climate change. Limoncello crema sounded delicious. And doable. So I started assembling the ingredients.  But then, a closer look and my questioning began.

The original recipe calls for not one, but TWO bottles of Everclear. A 5-pound bag of sugar. A half gallon of milk. It seemed huge, too sweet, too Evercleary.  I googled and the questions only multiplied.

“Never use Everclear.”
“We only use high-quality vodka.”
“Never use vodka.”
“We always use Everclear or some other pure grain alcohol.”


vegetable peeler

Peeler made it pith-free

For starters, I halved the NPR recipe. No need to make a global supply the first time out.  Then, I checked other recipes for ratios of liquid to sugar. The NPR recipe had the highest sugar content by far.  I felt confident cutting it down to two cups.

Then there was the preparation.  Every recipe cautioned that getting the peel off the lemon was difficult. One must not include any of the white pith or the limoncello would be bitter. I found stripping the lemon peels off was a breeze with a basic vegetable peeler.

Steeping in the pantry

Now, onto the controversy of steeping. Some people say you can steep for as little as 48 hours. Others say you should wait as long as 8 weeks. I decided to go with the 48 hour model, because I wanted limoncello by the weekend and it was Wednesday.  My decision was further buoyed by a post on a recipe blog: once the peels are brittle, they have no more flavor to impart. My lemon peels were crispy as potato chips by the 48-hour mark.

Milk & sugar, without the juice

Okay then, that’s done. Now time to blend the lemon infused Everclear with the milk and sugar. The NPR recipe said to bring the liquor, the milk and the sugar to a boil then simmer the whole thing for five minutes. I hesitated. Wouldn’t heat cause the alcohol to evaporate? Back to the internet. No other recipe recommended cooking the alcohol. In fact, several recipes cautioned against it.

I decided not to cook the alcohol, reasoning that I could always go back and do so later.

I simmered the milk, sugar, a shot of bourbon and a half-teaspoon of vanilla for five minutes, cooled it for a bit, then added the lemon-flavored Everclear.  The alcohol steam escaping the warm bowl definitely singed my nose hairs.

Lemon-flavored grain alcohol goes in

I strained the cooled stuff into a pitcher and set it in the freezer to chill.  Several hours later, I tasted. Delicious…but…that harsh taste of alcohol could not be ignored. Somehow, I thought, it needs to be smoother.

Ready for the freezer

I heated it again, to see if eliminating more of the alcohol through cooking is the key after all.  And it is.  I simmered for five minutes and the alcohol vapors rising off the pot were darned near toxic. Word to the wise: do not lean over the simmering pot and inhale.

So to sum up limoncello crema based on my experience thus far:

  • Yes, use the NPR recipe.
  • Consider cutting it in half.
  • Reduce the sugar by at least two-thirds (no more than 2 cups for a half recipe, 4 cups for the full recipe)
  • Use a vegetable peeler to remove the peels
  • Steep for 48 hours and get on with it.
  • Heat the milk and Everclear combined.
  • Do not breathe in the vapors unless you want to experience a spontaneous bikini wax
  • Keep your limoncella crema in the freezer.

You'll only use the zest for your limoncello


Then, what to do with all those bald lemons?

I used the juice to make sherbet, following this recipe from Cook’s Illustrated, reducing the sugar to 2/3 cup and adding a teaspoon of bourbon.


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