<…In the car, listening to america’s test kitchen podcast…>Wait…I can make my own limoncello?
Phew! Christmas list solved. I’ll look up the recipe when I get home.
<…At home, searching the web…>
Darn…it has to rest for weeks, if not months. Christmas is too close. Hmm.
<…adjusting search terms…>
Aha! Sous Vide to the rescue! I can speed the infusion time up from weeks to hours. Next, I need 190 proof grain alcohol.
<…remembering a particular party in college…shudders. Moving on…>
Darn, again…I can’t buy Everclear 190 in Ohio without a prescription. It’s 127 miles to Pittsburgh. I’ve got a full tank of gas, ten organic lemons, it’s snowing…
<…one bootlegging run to Pennsylvania later…>
Excellent warning labels on this bottle: “Caution! Extremely Flammable! Contents may ignite or explode.” That’s what you get with 95% alcohol.
I got to work scrubbing and zesting lemons. And…that’s it. Lemon zest, Everclear, a quart mason jar, and three hours sous vide yield lemon infused liquor; simmering water and sugar gives me simple syrup, and the two combine into limoncello. I can’t believe it is this easy.
Recipe: Sous Vide Limoncello
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 3 hours
Makes 2375ml (2.5 quarts)
- Sous Vide setup - I used my PolyScience Sous Vide Professional Creative, but any precise temperature cooking setup will do.
- Quart sized canning jar
- Zest from 10 lemons (preferably organic, because they usually aren’t coated in wax to protect them.)
- 750ml bottle of 190 proof grain alcohol (Everclear 190)
- 4.5 cups water
- 4.5 cups sugar
1. Zest the lemons
Scrub the lemons. (If they’re non-organic lemons, scrub hard to remove their protective wax coat). Zest the lemons, avoiding the bitter white pith. Put the lemon zest in the canning jar. (Wrap the lemons in plastic wrap and refrigerate for later use.) Pour the alcohol into the canning jar and screw on the lid.
2. Sous Vide infuse the alcohol
Put the canning jar in the sous vide unit. Add water to come up to the lid of the jar. (Don’t submerge the jar, or it will float around.) Sous vide at 135°F/57°C for 3 hours. Strain the alcohol through a fine mesh strainer, then again through a paper coffee filter to remove all the lemon zest from the alcohol.
3. Make the simple syrup
When the alcohol is almost done infusing: Put the water in a large pot over high heat, and bring to a boil. Stir in the sugar, and keep stirring until the sugar dissolves. Remove the pot from the heat and let it rest until the infused alcohol is ready.
4. Combine, rest, and serve
Mix the alcohol and simple syrup, then divide into jars or bottles and store in the freezer. You can drink it right away, but it is better if you let it mellow for a week before drinking. Limoncello keeps for about a year…if it lasts that long.
What if I don’t have a sous vide?
So, you want to do it the old fashioned way? Easy. Everything is the same, except step 3 becomes “let the jar of alcohol and zest age for at least 3 weeks, up to 45 days”.
What if I can’t find 190 proof grain alcohol?
I found out that I can probably get Everclear 190 in Ohio, if I find a liquor store that is willing to accept a signed affidavit that I’m using it to make cordials, and not chug it straight from the bottle. (Frankly, with all the warning labels, I felt like I should be wearing goggles and gloves when I was handling the liquor.)
Or, I can step down to Everclear 151, which is the second best option, and legally available in Ohio. (Maybe next time, instead of driving for three hours. The things I do for this blog…). The main reason to go for higher alcohol content is because alcohol is better at extracting lemon flavors; the more alcohol, the more flavor extraction.
It’s easy to substitute a lower alcohol liquor; you want something with no taste, like grain alcohol or vodka. We want 60 proof limoncello - 30% alcohol. I didn’t know that proof is twice the alcohol percentage…until now.
Here is the amount of syrup you want to add to a 750ml bottle of alcohol, depending on the proof. (I went over the math on this multiple times, and double checked against this calculator on so I’m pretty sure I got it right.)
- 190 proof grain alcohol => 1625ml syrup => 1083ml (4.5 cups) each sugar and water
- 151 proof grain alcohol => 1135.5ml syrup => 757ml (3.25 cups) each sugar and water
- 100 proof vodka => 500ml syrup => 333ml (1.5 cups) each sugar and water
- 80 proof vodka => 250ml syrup => 167ml (¾ cup) each sugar and water
This is the other reason to go for higher alcohol content is the amount of sugar you can add. As you can see, we can add a lot more simple syrup to 190 proof grain alcohol than we can to 40 proof vodka - the 190 proof batch is much sweeter. (There's also a lot more of it - you get more limoncello for your liquor dollar. That said, my bottle of Everclear cost $17, so it's not a huge expense.)
Another aside: Simple syrup is equal parts sugar and water by volume…but sugar is less dense than water, so when it dissolves, we only get half the volume in liquid.
What do you think?
Questions? Other ideas? Leave them in the comments section below.
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