Limoncello e Pepe

April 19, 2018
6 Ratings
Photo by Julia Gartland
  • Prep time 168 hours
  • Cook time 15 minutes
  • Makes about 4 1/2 cups
Author Notes

Limoncello is a strong, sunny, lemon-infused Italian liqueur, usually enjoyed as a digestif, or post-dinner drink. Recipes often differ on: what type of alcohol (high-proof grain alcohol or vodka) and how much sugar. This recipe opts for vodka and a modest amount of sugar. I know, I know—it seems like there's a lot, but some recipes use four times this amount! Adding black pepper is another way to cut the sweetness and incorporate some subtle spice, which I really love in a digestif. Note: The peppercorns will deepen the color of the limoncello. If you want, you can bundle them in a sachet, pull them after a couple days, then let the lemon peels keep doing their thing. And be sure to seek out organic lemons—and wash well—since the infusing process draws out everything from the peels. —Emma Laperruque

Test Kitchen Notes

Featured in: Make Limoncello ASAP, Sip All Summer Long —The Editors

What You'll Need
  • 11 organic lemons, washed well
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns, slightly crushed
  • 1 (750ml) bottle vodka
  • 1 cup just-boiled water
  • 1 cup sugar
  1. Peel the lemon zest with a vegetable peeler into thick strips, avoiding as much of the white pith as possible. Add those and the peppercorns to a big glass jar with a lid. Add the vodka and stir. Close the jar.
  2. Infuse at room temperature—preferably a cool, shady spot like a cupboard—for at least 5 days or up to 1 month. The general rule is: The longer, the lemonier. We infused for 1 week and loved the flavor.
  3. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve, pressing on the lemon peels to get every last drop. In a separate bowl, combine the water and sugar until the sugar dissolves. Let cool. Add to the strained lemon vodka.
  4. Store in the fridge or freezer (my preference). Drink straight-up or on the rocks.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • betty888
  • Joan - Downstairs
    Joan - Downstairs
  • Susan Whiting
    Susan Whiting
  • Emma Laperruque
    Emma Laperruque
  • Oscar Cadeau
    Oscar Cadeau
Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.

33 Reviews

Katherine June 12, 2022
I really really wanted to like this, as I love traditional limoncello, but it was not good. I followed the recipe exactly, let it steep for one week, and the color was brown from the peppercorns and the bitter flavor overwhelmed the lemon flavor. I’ll be sticking with my regular recipe!
Katherine June 12, 2022
Ok maybe I spoke too soon. While I’m not a fan of it on its own, it’s pretty good in a spritz with prosecco and club soda. Leaves an interesting tingle on the tongue. Traditional limoncello is still my preference though.
Lisasix June 7, 2022
Could you make this alcohol free? Perhaps use a little sweet white balsamic vinegar? Any ideas? Thanks for any suggestions!
trvlnsandy June 7, 2022
You could make a syrup -- which without the alcohol is what it would be -- and then use it to flavor sparkling water or just water.
trvlnsandy May 14, 2022
Be careful. Recipe indicates that the longer the better for an infusion - but too long and begins to get bitter and off in flavor. Taste as you go.
young September 9, 2021
I make Limoncello using an inexpensive Limencello in place of Vodka--add the zest and squeeze the juice from the lemons and add to the infusion--sweeten to taste I use a saved Limencello bottle because the yield is usually 1+1/2 bottles. Less alcoholic, but has the flavor of fresh lemons--I store in the refrigerator.
betty888 July 28, 2020
I made a half batch according to the recipe and it is delicious! I love the flash of heat that the peppercorns add - it dissipates fairly quickly and it does offset the sweetness a bit. While wonderful on its own, I've also played around with adding it to white wine, prosecco, and gin is next!
Laura W. December 12, 2018
Excited to try this for Christmas gifts! Any suggestions on where to purchase nice bottles?
Emma L. December 12, 2018
Hi Laura, yay! If you have a craft/art supply store nearby, that's usually a good place to start.
Roxy53 June 17, 2018
Love all your ideas and comments, gonna give it a try!
jmvs921 May 1, 2018
what sort of container do you use during infusion process, and
then in the freezer? glass or plastic or??
Emma L. May 1, 2018
I used glass for both the infusion and storing in the freezer.
micmitch April 30, 2018
I have had great results with a 190 proof neutral grain alcohol which I then cut down to around 50-60 proof with the simple syrup after several months of infusing. This results in a much richer flavor than what I have been able to achieve with vodka. As you cut down the infusion to a drinkable strength your limoncello will become cloudy however because the solubility of the lemon oils and compounds decrease with the alcohol percentage causing some of them to precipitate out of solution and form more of a suspension. I use a comparable number of lemons for a single bottle of 190 proof which yields ~3 L of limoncello so I suspect you could probably reduce the number of lemons substantially without noticing much of a difference. Something worth experimenting with. The addition of the peppercorns is intriguing. I'll have to give that a try in my next batch!
Carlo April 30, 2018
Could you use honey or maple syrup in place of the sugar?
Emma L. April 30, 2018
Hm! I haven't tried that myself, but here are some thoughts: You'll notice the flavor a lot more, as opposed to the sugar, which just offers sweetness. You might want to reduce the amount, so as not to overpower the lemon. Honey would be so lovely with the lemon, but maple might be too distracting. Both will also darken the color of the limoncello. If you opt for maple, I'd choose a lighter variety. Hope this helps!
Carlo April 30, 2018
So make a honey simple syrup ?
Emma L. April 30, 2018
Yes, and then add to taste!
Carlo April 30, 2018
Thank you! I’ll let you know how it turns out
Michelle May 21, 2018
Carlo, have you tried it yet? I'd like to use honey too and was wondering your thoughts!
Carlo May 21, 2018
Yes the honey worked perfect I cut the amount of honey in half as we don’t like things overly sweet. Hope this helps!
Carlo May 21, 2018
Yes the honey worked perfect I cut the amount in half as we don’t like things overly sweet. Hope this helps!
Deb April 28, 2018
Yes, let the strawberries sit until they lose color and then sweeten with the simple syrup. You also want inexpensive vodka; higher proof has less flavor. Hope this helps. Enjoy.
Joan -. April 27, 2018
I love a gin gimlet, not too sweet. I wonder if I infused vodka with lime and went easy on the simple syrup, would I get a good gimlet-like sipping experience?
Has anyone here used lime?
Oscar C. July 29, 2018
Oh yes, absolutely. The last time I infused vodka with lime (I just put in a sliced lime and then strained when it was ready) I also put coconut flakes in. Lovely. But just the lime would make for a good gimlet.
Susan W. April 27, 2018
Does quality of vodka matter? Cheap or higher grade?
Emma L. April 27, 2018
Bonnie Frumkin Morales has the perfect answer to this in her book, Kachka. Writing about vodka infusions, she says: "Cheap and neutral are your friends...Clean, bottom-shelf brands, like Taaka or Gordon's, work best."
Arugulady April 26, 2018
Love the peppercorn idea! Wonder if pequins might be nice? I used to make a delicious rhubarb cordial using this technique—just learned to make it with really red rhubarb stalks or the color is nasty! (Lots of jokes about urine samples!)
j9 April 22, 2018
How large are the lemons used in this recipe? A lot of the organic lemons I see in stores are huge (about the size of a baseball). I can't imagine using 11 at that size, but maybe that's correct.
Emma L. April 23, 2018
The lemons I used were pretty unremarkable—so, bigger than a golf ball, but smaller than a baseball. If you're using huge ones, I'd drop the amount to 8, maybe even less, then taste-test every so often until the infusion is lemony enough to you. Hope that helps!
Deb April 21, 2018
Try letting it sit for a few weeks after adding the simple syrup. It really smooths out the flavor. You can also do a strawberry version using the same basic recipe. Great summer sippers.
Di April 28, 2018
You infuse strawberries in vodka and then strain?
Molli B. April 20, 2018
During the “infusion” process where do you store the liquid—— counter top or in the refrigerator?
Emma L. April 21, 2018
Great Q! Will add this detail to the recipe. Room temperature—preferably a cool, shady spot like a cupboard.