Digestif

Our Homemade Limoncello Is Wayyy Easier Than You'd Expect

Sip it all summer long!

May 13, 2022
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.”

Food52 staff writer Kelly Vaughan developed a cocktail recipe featuring limoncello for her summer wedding—she called it “The Lemon Squeezer” and made it with equal parts limoncello, prosecco, and soda water. “It’s like a slightly boozy, super bubbly version of lemonade—perfect for a hot July day!” she said.

How to Make Limoncello

There are so many delicious brands of limoncello that you can buy at the liquor store (Pallini and Landucci are two of our favorites), but you can also make your own limoncello at home. Our recipe only requires 15 minutes of hands-on work, but you’ll need to wait at least a week before you can drink it. Gather the following ingredients: 11 lemons, 1 (750ml) bottle vodka, 1 cup of just-boiled water, and 1 cup of granulated sugar.

Start by peeling the lemon zest into thick strips, avoiding as much of the white pith as possible, and add it to a big glass jar. Pour the vodka into the jar and stir the two together. Add those and the peppercorns to a big glass jar with a lid. Add the vodka, stir, and then tightly seal the jar with a lid. Let the lemons and vodka be infused at room temperature—preferably in a cool, shady spot like a pantry—for at least five days, or up to one whole month. The longer you let it sit, the lemonier it will taste (personally, I loved the flavor after just one week).

Once you’re happy with how it tastes, strain the vodka through a fine-mesh sieve, pressing on the lemon peels to get every last drop of limoncello. In a saucepan, combine equal parts water and granulated sugar and heat until the sugar dissolves, stirring frequently. Let the mixture cool and then slowly stir it into the limoncello. Store the limoncello in the fridge or freezer (my preference) indefinitely.

Limoncello Variations

Limoncello recipes often differ on two counts:

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 but still lets the limoncello flavor shine. 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. The result will be a boozier beverage that, I think, is personally less palatable for sipping as a digestif.

Sugar Content: 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.

Other additions: Many limoncello recipes end at those few ingredients, but I wanted to do something extra special. 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.

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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 November 2021!). And see what she's up to on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.

32 Comments

rkc1 May 15, 2022
I've infused lots of things, but my favorites have been Meyer lemons, anise/fennel seeds/star anise and, the best, lemongrass & ginger. This is a family favorite.
 
Rum April 10, 2022
It is Quince season here in NZ, I am about to chop up and steep quince in high quality Vodka (our taxes are waaaay too high to use pure grain alcohol here), to try and make a quince ‘cordial’. I make Limoncello every year to give as gifts, but the peppercorn thing is a fab idea! Will try that now too, Thanks.
 
Deborah April 8, 2022
I make my lemoncello using organic Meyer lemons; saving the juice in freezer containers for lemon curd later, and adding fresh thyme.
 
jpriddy April 7, 2022
I infuse rhubarb by filling a jar and pouring to cover with Icelandic vodka and a cup of sugar, no water. Lovely. I also filled 2-qt. jar with salal berries, filled to top with vodka, then added 1 1/4 cup sugar. The sugar dissolves within three days. Age for a month, strain and age for another month. I made twenty bottles last spring and still have one left after gifting and drinking.
 
MrzC April 2, 2022
I’ll infused vodka with just about anything! It’s a great way to use up leftover specialty ingredients like lemongrass, ginger, horseradish or herbs. I’ve even done a small batch with shallots. Tastes great in penne alla vodka. Also infused vodka is a great way to use up leftover/clearance candy like candy canes or butterscotch candies. I do small batches and use decent but less expensive vodka. If it doesn’t turn out, just dump it.
 
Author Comment
Emma L. April 4, 2022
Whoa! Shallot-infused vodka for penne alla vodka!
 
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!
 
jpriddy April 7, 2022
I save citrus peels too, but I make candied peel for bread. I will try this!
 
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.