Classic Limoncello Recipe

Limoncello is an Italian liqueur that recipe developer Michelle McGlinn describes as "very lemony and very sweet." Like most liqueurs, the store bought stuff isn't all that cheap. But, as McGlinn points out, making homemade limoncello "is very likely to be cheaper than buying a bottle at the store." Yes, we should think so, as this recipe makes over two quarts of the elixir for the price of a bottle of cheap vodka, some sugar, and (of course) lemons.

While McGlinn admits that this recipe makes quite a lot of limoncello, she feels that "when you have to spend 4 weeks making it, it's worthwhile to yield a big batch." She says this liqueur is perfect for drinking after meals as it "cleanses the palette and offers satiety." You can also use it in baking, pour it over ice cream a la Ina Garten, or mix it into lemony summer cocktails. If you don't need a large amount of limoncello, McGlinn says you can always cut the recipe down, or you could package it in pretty bottles and use it as an inexpensive gift for any liqueur-drinking friends and family.

Gather the ingredients to make limoncello

All you'll need to make limoncello is the zest from a bunch of lemons, plus water, sugar, and a bottle of either vodka or, for a more potent liqueur, grain alcohol. McGlinn says that if you use grain alcohol instead of vodka, this drink can be stored in the freezer. She does say that limoncello made with grain alcohol will be cloudy, not clear; this is because it will contain more of the essential oil from the steeped peels.

Zest the lemons

The first step in making limoncello involves zesting the lemons, Use the juice for something else (lemonade, perhaps?). McGlinn says it's important to make sure you're using only zest and none of the white pith. "Pith," she explains, "is very bitter, and steeping the alcohol in pithy rinds will result in a bitter limoncello." In order to reduce the amount of pith clinging to the zest, she recommends peeling the lemons horizontally rather than vertically. That way, she says, "your hand is simply positioned better for removing the peels gently without pushing down too hard." 

Steep the lemon zest in vodka

Put the lemon zest in a jar or pitcher and cover it with the vodka. Make sure the jar or pitcher is tightly covered (either with a lid or some plastic wrap), then put the vodka in a dark, cool place like a basement or closet. Let it sit there for 2 to 4 weeks so it can infuse with lemon goodness.

Finish and bottle the limoncello

Combine the sugar and water in a very large pot (3 quarts or more) and heat the mixture to a simmer, stirring until the sugar melts. Once it does, turn off the heat and let the syrup cool completely. When the syrup is cool, strain the vodka into the pot, discarding the lemon zest. Pour the limoncello into as many bottles or jars as it takes to contain it all.

If you plan to drink the limoncello all by itself, McGlinn advises that it tastes best when it's cold, so she likes to store it in the fridge (or freezer, if made with grain alcohol). She also prefers to drink it out of a chilled glass.

Classic Limoncello Recipe
4.5 from 6 ratings
Bright in color and flavor, homemade limoncello is well worth the wait.
Prep Time
Cook Time
glasses of limoncello
Total time: 10 minutes
  • 12 lemons
  • 1 (750 milliliter) bottle vodka or grain alcohol
  • 6 cups water
  • 2 ½ cups granulated sugar
  1. Zest the lemons, being careful not to include any of the white pith with the zest.
  2. Put the lemon zest in a pitcher or jar and add the vodka, making sure the zest is covered.
  3. Cover the container with a lid or plastic wrap.
  4. Store the vodka in a cool, dark place such as a closet or basement for 2 to 4 weeks.
  5. After the vodka has steeped for the extended period, bring the water and sugar to a simmer in a large pot over medium-low heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves.
  6. Allow the sugar water to cool completely.
  7. Strain the vodka into the sugar water, discarding the zest.
  8. Stir the limoncello, then pour it into bottles or jars.
Calories per Serving 471
Total Fat 0.3 g
Saturated Fat 0.0 g
Trans Fat 0.0
Cholesterol 0.0 mg
Total Carbohydrates 70.6 g
Dietary Fiber 2.4 g
Total Sugars 64.6 g
Sodium 10.4 mg
Protein 1.0 g
The information shown is Edamam’s estimate based on available ingredients and preparation. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.
Rate this recipe