Make Limoncello ASAP, Sip All Season Long

July 27, 2018
Photo by Julia Gartland

There’s a lot to love about Kachka: A Return to Russian Cooking by Bonnie Frumkin Morales—our most recent Piglet champion!—but one thing excited me most: vodka. Which, if you know me, doesn’t make any sense. Because I hate vodka. Or I thought I did.

Kachka’s first chapter is all about vodka—or, more specifically, infusing it. Tarragon, horseradish, chamomile, cacao nib, cranberry, strawberry. From Morales’s perspective, the possibilities are practically endless: “Alcohol is the perfect vehicle to both preserve and amplify flavors,” she writes.

Just, I thought, like Italian limoncello. This strong, sunny, lemon-infused Italian liqueur is usually enjoyed as a digestif, or post-dinner drink. I first stumbled upon it while in Italy with my mom, who insisted upon limoncello as often as possible, after we waddled our way home from all the pizza and pasta. When in Rome! But literally.


In The Tuscan Sun Cookbook by Frances Mayes and Edward Mayes, they suggest adding a splash to a glass of lemonade. But pour this over ice and it could practically be lemonade—sweet and sour and refreshing. Just, you know, proceed with caution: “Some people are in love with this and drink three or four glasses because it seems innocent,” they write. “This is a mistake.”

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Limoncello recipes often differ on two counts:

  • What type of alcohol. This all depends on the proof—or percentage of alcohol by volume. Most vodkas are 80-proof, or 40 percent alcohol. This is what I prefer here. It infuses well and is plenty strong. Or you could go stronger, say with higher-proof vodka or highest-proof, neutral grain alcohol. Some argue that these yield stronger flavors, but they also yield stronger limoncellos.
  • How much sugar. After you steep the alcohol and lemon peels, until opening the jar smells like crawling up into a lemon tree, and the liquid is gold, you have to sweeten it. I’m not one for sweet drinks, but it’s crucial here. The amount, though, is up to you. Starting with a 750ml bottle of vodka, I will add 1 cup sugar—dissolved in 1 cup hot water, to create a simple syrup. Some recipes add as much as four times that amount. Start small, taste, and build from there.

My recipe also differs on one more count: black pepper. Adding slightly crushed peppercorns along with the lemon peels adds some spice and warmth, a little tickle at the back of your throat, which I really love in a digestif. I call it limoncello e pepe. Or, after a glass, ’cello e pepe! Just perfect after a big bowl of cacio e pepe.

We originally published this article in April 2018. We're bringing it back because it's hot as heck and iced limoncello sure does sound good right about now. Have you ever infused vodka before? What with? Let us know in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Isabella
  • arcane54
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    Oscar Cadeau
  • Carolann
  • Dishlicious
Emma is the food editor at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles on the fly, baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., and writing about the history of pie in North Carolina. Now she lives in New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's award-winning column, Big Little Recipes (also the cookbook in October 2021!). And see what she's up to on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


Isabella August 14, 2018
I make Stolidoli's during the Holidays for a fabulous cocktail for a large group of friends/family. Rather than using fresh whole pineapples I buy cored fruit and place the sliced or cubed fruit in a beverage container that has a spout, fill to cover the fruit with Stoli vodka and let it sit, the longer the betters week usually. Awesome when shaken with ice and poured into a martini glass!!
Author Comment
Emma L. August 14, 2018
Yum! That sounds sooo good.
arcane54 July 29, 2018
I am about to strain kumquatcello and citroncello made with Crater Lake vodka. Can’t wait because it is blasted hot here!
Oscar C. July 29, 2018
Had a very wholesome interaction with someone who had a mulberry tree- She didn't want them and when I knocked on the door, said I could have as many as I could. A cup of sugar, a bottle of gin, and six weeks- Some lovely gin that makes a purple G+T and also a wonderful parting gift for a coworker.

I save my citrus peels in the freezer, and the next time a bottle of vodka comes my way, I'll put same peels together with it or else make a lovely mixture- Right now I have a mandarincello that just needs the alcohol!
Carolann April 30, 2018
I’ve been using a combination of jalapeño and Serrano peppers in vodka to use in Bloody Marys. No sweetener needed here and the heat is controlled by the amount of time it infuses.
Isabella April 27, 2018
I have always used Everclear for my limoncello with great success, made the same recipe using oranges and then limes when the price was decent and they had beautiful skins. Flip top glass bottles or other decorative bottles and this makes an awesome hostess, housewarming,Christmas,birthday gift. My friends can't wait until I make a batch(which I do quite often and place some for me in the freezer-yummy).
Dishlicious April 27, 2018
There is a bar on Cape Cod where the bartender makes fig martinis from vodka infused with fig and a hit of passion fruit juice. Out-of-this-world! Might have to try both.
Pomme D. April 26, 2018
We visited a restaurant where they were making a fascinating version of limoncello: they put the everclear in a largish mason jar and just suspend the lemon over it in cheesecloth. The bartender explained that the everclear evaporates (for lack of a better word) up into the lemon, mixes with the essential oils in the peel then precipitates back down. I think he said about a month. Then they sweeten and bottle. Sounded crazy, but when we had some, it was ridiculously good!
Author Comment
Emma L. April 26, 2018
Whoa, that does sound crazy. But so cool!
Kt4 April 26, 2018
Think it would work with moonshine? I have a couple jars of that sitting around, plus vodka doesn't agree with me.
Author Comment
Emma L. April 26, 2018
I haven't tried it with moonshine—but I feel like it *should* work. If you give it a try, let us know how it goes!
Susan April 26, 2018
Absolutely, I’ve been making Limoncello for years and I only use Everclear pure grain alcohol and I have used moonshine as well. While in Italy, we spent the afternoon at a farm in Sorrento and we learned how to make it. They use pure grain alcohol. Vodka changes the taste to more like a sweet lemon drop
Shameus April 26, 2018
I use Lyle's Golden Syrup as my sweetener...no cooking necessary....just mix it in to your taste. It makes for a more amber liquid, but yummy & easy!
Anke April 24, 2018
In The Netherlands we call it ‘drop’. Or liquorice as you will. Together with wodka it’s heaven!
Michelle April 22, 2018
I make pineapple infused vodka every summer. Delicious! I’ve found it works best if you infuse it for at least three weeks.
Author Comment
Emma L. April 23, 2018
Oo! Do you add sugar or is the pineapple sweet enough? And do you peel/chop the fruit?
CGCH April 20, 2018
I infused honey dew and cucumber in vodka. The cucumber came after three days, the honeydew after another two days. Next time I will make sure the honey dew is riper (sweeter). Served it with tonic water over ice. Crisp, light and refreshing.
Daniel April 20, 2018
Not so keen on vanilla extract, much prefer vanilla bean, however, have made vanilla extract a few times with Vodka, it can take years from me to go through 500ml of vanilla extract, will use vanilla extract sparingly. And then you can use the spent vanilla pod over and over depending on how they are used, I have them in a jar with organic sugar, and what flavour is created. Sugar and salt chemically respond the same taste far different and react to different spots of the tongue, but they draw out liquid. However, nothing and I mean nothing compares to a vanilla bean, nothing, and then used as perfume, OMG!
I do like this Limoncello recipe, will be making it!
Valerio F. April 20, 2018
ok, starting this this weekend!
Cory B. April 20, 2018
Going to make this! I love the pepper idea. The last time I made Limoncello was in like 2012 after getting inspired on a trip to Italy. I found that after steeping and straining it, the longer you let it hang around in the bottle the more the sweetness mellowed. If you funnel into small swing-top soda bottles, it makes a very cute hostess gift alongside a bottle of Champagne or homemade pound cake—two things that taste great with a little limoncello poured on top.
Author Comment
Emma L. April 20, 2018
Oo! Love the idea of this plus something else as a gift!
Lynn April 23, 2018
Limoncello, when making it, the longer you leave it sit the better it is when you complete it. I make at least 8 batches a year, each batch consists of a half gallon Everclear 190 proof Grain Alcohol!!
Lynn April 23, 2018
Orangecello is awesome as well.
Author Comment
Emma L. April 23, 2018
Whoa—I bet the color on that is gorgeous!
Lynn April 24, 2018
It really is a beautiful yellow.