Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Limoncello, baby!

One of my Christmas presents this year was the fixings for home-made Limoncello.

Now, let it be known that my wife and I have a weakness for all things lemony. My favorite candy is Sunkist Fruit Gems, particularly the lemon ones. I love me some lemon coolers cookies, and the lemon loaf at Starbucks is always a hit.

I'm also drinking Country Time lemonade as I write this. Zero danger of scurvy in this household, is what I'm saying.

Between my lemon fetish and my love of cooking, and particularly learning to cook new things, this was an awesome gift.

The basic recipe is as follows:

1 Fifth (750mL) of strong, tasteless alcohol. Everclear is the ultimate, but we used Smirnoff Triple Distilled Vodka and it worked fine, it's just not as strong as it could be.

12 large lemons. This isn't an exact number. if you have small lemons, buy more. These were pretty good sized.

3 1/2 cups sugar

1 1/2 quarts water

A large pickle jar. We used the Vlassic 64 ounce jar we get at Winco for ~$3. I think Wal-Mart carries the same size for a similar price.

First off, peel or grate the zest off the lemons. This will take a WHILE. Your house will smell like Mister Clean went on a bender. You have been warned.

Be careful as you peel or zest. You just want the very outside of the lemon peel, the yellow part. You don't want any of the white part, as it lends a very bitter flavor. A little is pretty unavoidable, but keep it at a minimum.

Peeling Vs. Zesting/Grating: it's much easier to get the larger peels out of the liquid once you are done steeping them. However, you have to steep them longer to get the same amount of lemon flavor. It's also harder to avoid the white part of the rind while peeling than while grating. It's your call. Both ways work.

I grate.

I use a large (8" tall) box grater I picked up at a Costco Business Center. You can find a similar one at your local restaraunt supply store or Cash & Carry. It has four sides, and I used the parmasean grating side. A Microplane zester or chocolate grater will work marvellously, as well.

Once you have your pile of lemon peels/zest, dump them in the pickle jar and add the booze. Seal it tight and place it in a dark, warm place for at least two to three weeks, about half again as long if you used peels rather than zest. You can steep it up to three months if you're that patient, I don't know how much it will effect the flavor.

Now go make some lemonade with the pile of nude lemons you have. I'll wait.

I should note that when you open the pickle jar after you finish steeping, you will be nearly blown away by the smell. It will be intensely boozy and lemony.

After you've steeped it, remove the lemon peel/zest. Peels come out in a collander easily enough, but you'll want to pick up some cheesecloth if you grated. Coffee filters aren't going to cut it.

Add the sugar to the water and boil it until the sugar is totally absorbed and the water isn't granual at all. Cool it completely, either overnight out, or two hours in the fridge.

Mix your lemony alcohol with the sugar water and there you go! Limoncello!

This makes a fairly large portion of the drink, so we have found it best to keep most of it in the pickle jar in the pantry, and just keep the orginal vodka bottle topped off and in the fridge.

Sadly, when I made it, I added too much water (something I've fixed in my recipe), so mine will freeze. I can't keep it in the freezer. :( Done right, limoncello shouldn't be able to freeze in a normal freezer. Your mileage may vary, though. It probably depends on what alcohol you start with.

From here, the sky's the limit. Use your limoncello as a mixer to make great Lemon Drops, add it to sparkling lemonade for incredibly refreshing cocktails, or just enjoy it ice cold in a shot glass.

I'm planning to get some small, decorative bottles and making another batch for my own Christmas presents this year. Hope that's not too much of a spoiler to those on my list.

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