I’ve never been too big on after-dinner liqueurs or digestifs–my post meal tipple is usually a continuation of what I’d already been drinking during the meal (grab another beer, or mix another cocktail). But lately I’ve taken to sipping that most Italian of digestifs–Limoncello. But not just any limoncello, but homemade limoncello made with Filipino Calamansi limes, or what I like to call Calamancello (see what I did there?).
This recipe was originally intended to go into my upcoming cookbook, but because it takes over a month of steeping Calamansi rinds in grain alcohol to make this recipe, I decided to nix it because, you know, waiting a month before enjoying a drink is kind of a long time. Oh well, more fodder for the blog I say.
Although I’ve made a calamansi-infused vodka before on this blog, this Homemade Calamancello is smoother. It’s more mellow. It’s sweeter. It’s better.
Normally, to make limoncello with lemons you have to zest the lemon and avoid the white pith like the plague because it will impart an unpleasant bitterness to the final product. But because Calamansi limes are so thin skinned and lack that same white pith, you can’t really just take them to your microplane as you would other citrus. And if you did, it would take a hell of a long time. So instead of zesting the lil’ limes, I just cut them in half, squeeze out the juice and seeds (I reserve the juice for other uses down the road), and utilize the spent Calamansi rinds. What little pulp left in the rinds will impart a slight bitterness to the final Calamancello, but I find the bitterness to be a nice balance to the sweetness and citrus notes.
After steeping the Calamansi rinds in high proof grain alcohol (100 proof vodka, or even better–Everclear), I add some simple syrup to the mix and steep for another week or two. Finally, I strain the Calamansi rinds out of the mix and pour the finished Calamancello into glass bottles, and then I store the bottles in the freezer. High proof grain alcohol is needed in this recipe because it tends to pick up the flavors of the fruit more easily, and because the finished product wont freeze in the freezer.
Trust me, the long wait is worth it. The final Calamancello has all the sweet and lemony notes of a Limoncello, but with just a hint of that fragrant orange that Calamansi is known for. Sip the ice-cold Calamancello after a big meal, or heck, whenever the hell you want to. A splash of Campari mixed into a glass of Calamancello isn’t a bad idea either.
Makes about 7 cups (1.7 liters)
1 pound calamansi, washed and stems removed.
1 bottle (750ml) high-proof neutral grain spirit (i.e. 100-proof vodka, or 151 Everclear)
2 cups water
2 cups sugar
Cut each calamansi lime in half, then squeeze the juice through a sieve and into a medium bowl. Set aside the calamansi rinds. Discard the seeds in the sieve and save the calamansi juice for another use.
Place the calamansi rinds into a large glass container or pitcher with a tight-fitting lid. Pour the vodka over the rinds and place the lid on the container. Steep the calamansi rinds in the liquor for at least 30 days at room temperature.
When the steeping period is over, combine only the water and sugar in a medium saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil and stir until sugar has dissolved. Reduce heat to low, and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow syrup to cool completely.
Pour the cooled syrup into the calamansi mixture. Cover and steep for one more week at room temperature.
Strain the mixture into a large bowl through a fine mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth. Press down on the rinds in the sieve to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the calamansi rinds. Transfer the calamancello to clean glass bottles and store in the freezer. Serve calamancello ice cold.