A couple decades ago, Mattel had the misguided vision to release a talking Barbie doll, one of whose onion-skin-witty quips has apocryphally been forever captured as "Math is hard. Let's go shopping!" This Barbie and I, we're, like, BFFs.
I decided to make another batch of Limoncello di Hillsborough, blessed as I was with another bag full of luscious yellow bounty from our friends' house. This time, I followed my own advice, and made a few modifications to the original attempt: I used thicker slabs of lemon rind with just a little pith attached, to lend a slightly bitter edge, and I used Everclear instead of regular 80-proof vodka, for a much-needed boost in alcohol content to keep it from freezing.
I was going for a double batch this time, and set the peels to infuse in two 750-ml bottles' worth of high-octane hootch for a couple weeks. After straining off the solids, I set to making my simple syrup. Referring back to my original recipe, I doubled the quantities of water and sugar, totalling 10 c. and 8 c. respectively. As I dumped them into a saucepan to dissolve, I thought, gee, that seems like an awful lot.
Looking back over the recipes I used as reference points for my own version, I realized that the proportion of 4 c. sugar to 5 c. water was meant for a double-batch, and that I had in fact halved that for my single bottle last time.
OK, no harm, no foul. I simply used half of what now turned into three liters of sticky-sweet stuff. Now I had three liters of limoncello and 1.5 liters simple syrup. Did someone say cocktails?
Yes, friends, I can think of worse problems to have than finding yourself with a surplus of simple syrup in the fridge. And so don't be too terribly surprised to find the occasional cocktail recipe pop up on these pages over the summer.
Math is hard. Let's have a drink.
Oh, and the limoncello? It's, like, totally awesome.
While the state of California was in the grip of the worst freeze in recent history, and citrus producers up and down the valley were suffering catastrophic losses, I enjoyed a bumper crop. Our friends Donna and Dennis had recently moved into a gorgeous house in Hillsborough, complete with a petite but prolific lemon tree in the back yard. One night, they brought us a paper shopping bag full of them.
Some were ready for use right away; others were still on the hard side and would benefit from a little quiet time in the corner, extending our enjoyment. Over the next couple of months, I made spaghetti al limone, chicken with fennel and lemon, a monster batch of preserved lemons and lord only knows how many vodka tonics. And we still had a mountain of the things left over.
I practically had to make limoncello.
I've been meaning to do so for quite some time. I've often been inspired to do so by my good friend Anita, a fine 'cellist in her own right. She's made not only limoncello but a seriously heady bergamocello, an ethereally perfumed Buddhacello (from a Buddha's hand citron) and a difficult-to-name bloodorangecello, as well as any number of other interesting concoctions (such as a seriously complex nocino that I am still enjoying precious sips of, sparingly, two years later).
At its most basic definition, limoncello is simply the combination of a lemon-infused neutral liquor mixed with simple syrup. It's less a recipe than a technique or, as I often think of such things, an equation. Algebra.
To wit: Limoncello is the product of lemon zest and vodka of a given proof, left together for a quantity of time, after which you strain out the zest; to which you then add a simple syrup of sugar and water and let it rest again for a period of time to mellow and blend. How much of each of those variables is what drives your final product.
I have long enjoyed the cupcakey escapades of both bloggers. Many times have I been inspired to whip up some batter and snap to it. Yet, I must confess, I was a cupcake virgin. I had never baked a cupcake in my life.
So what does one do to pop one's cupcake cherry? Cherry vanilla? Cute, but taken. Plain old Duncan Hines-style vanilla with chocolate frosting? Too boring. No, after weighing the options and dreaming of yummy flavors, I decided I wanted to make almond cupcakes with a lemon frosting.
You know what? I'm not going to be one of those bloggers that states the obvious, noting that I haven't gotten around to blogging for the past few days. Nor am I going to be apologetic or contrite about it. Nope, not me.
Anyway, I haven't had much to report, certainly culinarily, and I've been damn busy it seems. Sunday's tour went very well, even with the throngs of people in the park. (Bravi Azzurri!) In fact, it added a nice element to the tour. I felt like I was being cheered on by the masses. Go Sean!
Meanwhile, the conserved lemons have slowly deflated due to the combined power of salt and periodic pressure. Today was day six, the point at which you cover with oil. And now we wait. For a month. Time to start planning a Moroccan feast in mid-August!
No matter. They smell fantastical, sweet and lemon-tangerine-y, like Froot Loops. Really salty Froot Loops. I can hardly wait for the final product.
My friend Greg, his girlfriend and his brother recently purchased a home one scant block from my place. In their backyard is a glorious, well-established Meyer lemon tree, positively exploding with lemons. For weeks, I procrastinated dropping by to raid it, but finally had the occasion last week. I brought home a healthy bag full of petite and extremely fragrant yellow fruit.
A few went straightaway into an infusion. Knowing from past experience that the pith makes for a very unpalatable infusion, I just barely zested a couple of the lemons into a container, then set about supreming the fruit. As these are seriously tiny things, and the segments are quite thin indeed, it took nearly surgical precision to extract a few fleshy slices of pulp. But the deed is done, and there will hopefully be a small burst of lemony liquor in my near future. (No pic of the infusion -- it's not exacly photogenic right now.)
But the other thing I've been wanting to do with lemons is conserve them. I do like to make Moroccan/North African dishes from time to time, and it is the one ingredient I am always without. You can substitute fresh, but it just doesn't have the same zing. Besides, I think it will make a fabulous addition to nearly any recipe, regardless its provenance.
Pretty much all the research I've done on making conserved lemons says the same thing, but I did find one handy resource that came with photos here. And, so, that is pretty much the recipe I'm going to stick to. This is not instant-gratification food, though; I've got a month ahead of me, and several steps along the way, before I'll get to enjoy these babies. Luckily, I am a patient man.