Come Purim, I know what my friends are expecting from me. They want to find a bottle of home-made limoncello or coffee liqueur nestled among the hamentaschen in their Mishlochei Manot, Purim care-packages and I’m happy to oblige. Limoncello’s bright lemon taste is true to the fruit, while the coffee liqueur releases a wonderful hit of intense coffee flavor in the mouth. Neither are over-sweet nor artificially cloying, which is one reason they’re so popular, but they are also simply a beautiful, flavorful and unique holiday gift to give to friends.
I’ve been an avid home-brewer for 15 years, but compared to making wine, making these liqueurs is child’s play. There’s no fermentation involved here, the base is vodka and all you have to do is infuse it — which is phenomenally simple. Well, you do have to strain the solids from the liquids, then bottle your liqueur. Which takes about 10 minutes. And of course, your bottles will need labels, which can be hand-written or worked out with some fancy font on your printer. My labels bear my name and a Happy Purim message.
While making these liqueur requires minimal effort, it does require planning, as liqueur does take some time to transform itself. Purim is the 7th and 8th of March, so I recommend starting your liquors now and let them sit as they infuse.
Hopefully, you’ll keep a bottle of each liqueur for yourself. Limoncello makes a nice aperitif, but try either liqueur as an after-dinner digestif. In baking, try adding a shot glass worth of either liquor to chocolate cake batter. Of course, you can always drizzle either over ice cream, or add the coffee liqueur to a cozy hot cocoa one of these chilly winter afternoons.
Or marinate chicken in a couple of tablespoons of limoncello, crushed garlic, salt and pepper, olive oil, and herb of choice: basil, thyme, or rosemary. Then roast the chicken. Limoncello gives the chicken a zing, as Grandma used to say.
Yield: approx. 3 liters – 12 cups
Limoncello is that made with the lemon rind only, so it’s important to use non-sprayed or organic lemons. If you can get a few fresh green lemon lime leaves to throw in, even better. Limoncello keeps forever, just getting more mellow with time. I make some every year, giving away the batch from the previous year because it’s the smoothest.
3 cups water
6 cups medium-quality vodka*
3 cups sugar
1) Peel the lemons, avoiding the white pith.
2) Put the peels and lemon leaves (if you wish to include them) in your jar: pour the vodka over them.
3) Cover jar tightly, store in a dark, cool place, and allow peels to steep 2 weeks. If the lemons become faded and brittle before 2 weeks, proceed to the next step without waiting.
4) Make a syrup of the water and the sugar by simmering them together for 5 minutes. Cool the syrup and add it to the jar.
5) Allow infusion to steep another 10 days - 2 weeks.
6) Strain into a clean jar. A piece of cheesecloth works well, and so does a never-used, rinsed nylon stocking. Decant your liqueur into bottles, using a funnel. Cap tightly.
Drink limoncello well chilled. It will hold for up to 2 years.
*The cheapest ones are too raw, while the most expensive have too much character. You want the flavoring to dominate in a liqueur, not the vodka.
Yield: about 10 cups
Your coffee base may be made out of instant granules, but for the richest flavor, go to a little extra trouble and make some fine, freshly-brewed coffee.
4 cups coffee, hot
2 1/2 cups brown sugar
4 cups vodka
1 vanilla bean, split in half
1) Add the sugar to hot coffee, and mix until dissolved. Allow to cool and transfer to a jar. Add the vodka and vanilla bean and close tightly.
2) Start tasting the liqueur after 2 weeks; wait up to 4 weeks, tasting as you go along. Strain it into bottles when you are satisfied with the taste and smoothness. Coffee liqueur lasts a year.