The Sicilian digestivo limoncello is summertime in a bottle. Traditionally made with Sorrento lemons, a variety with ample, flavorful oils in their peels, it’s juicy and citrusy, sweet-tart, and undeniably refreshing.
Crema di limoncello, the cream-based version of the drink, is all those things and more. With a custardy richness reminiscent of eggnog and hot chocolate, a glass of crema di limoncello is like a dessert and after-dinner drink rolled into one. It’s sunny, bracing, yet also soothing—the perfect antidote to the dark, frigid days of winter.
Crema di LimoncelloThe Italian digestif crema di limoncello combines custardy richness with the punch of alcohol and the intensely floral aroma of lemon zest.
It’s also very simple to make. All you do is steep lemon peel in a neutral spirit, then combine the lemon-infused spirit with vanilla-accented cream. The only problem? The first step—steeping the lemon peels—typically takes a month or more. It typically takes a month or more to steep.
Luckily, Senior Editor Steve Dunn discovered a way to expedite the process. His recipe for crema di limoncello is ready in only a week, so you can easily whip up a batch with little notice for a holiday party, gifting, or just savoring by yourself (the digestivo lasts for a year in the refrigerator). Read on to learn more.
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Speeding Up the Steep
For crema di limoncello in a fraction of the time, instead of steeping whole strips of peel, Steve processes the peel and vodka in a blender until the zest is reduced to fine particles.
This mechanically releases the zest’s flavor compounds and creates more surface area from which the alcohol can extract flavor more quickly. After just a week of steeping in an airtight container, the processed zest produced as fragrant and lemony a spirit as whole strips steeped for a month.
Refining Taste and Texture
The second step in the process is to make a sweetened vanilla cream by simmering cream with sugar and vanilla bean.
As Steve tested a few existing recipes for crema di limoncello, he noticed that many yielded a product that was overly rich and sweet, making it difficult to drink more than just a small amount. Moreover, the heavy cream that most recipes called for masked the robust lemon flavor signature to limoncello.
So, Steve toned down the sugar and for just the right degree of richness, instead of cream (or milk) he used half-and-half diluted with a small amount of water.
Fast-Track DIY Crema di Limoncello
Here’s the step-by-step breakdown of Steve’s recipe.
1. Make the infused vodka
Process lemon peel in vodka in a blender until the zest is reduced to fine particles. From there, transfer the mixture to an airtight container and store it in a cool, dark place for a week.
2. Create a sweetened vanilla cream
One week later, scrape out the seeds from a vanilla bean and combine them with sugar, water, and half-and-half. Simmer the mixture, then set it aside and let it cool completely.
3. Strain vanilla cream
After the cream has cooled, strain it through a cheesecloth-lined fine-mesh strainer set over medium bowl (the cheesecloth is necessary to remove the vanilla specks).
4. Strain infused vodka and combine with cream
Strain the zest-infused vodka through a fine-mesh strainer, then whisk the cream and alcohol together.
Transfer it to a bottle (or to many small bottles, if you’re gifting), then refrigerate for up to one year.