Luscious Liqueurs

Florida Press Club 2012 Second place winner, Commentary.


Originally published in Lake & Sumter Style, December 2011. Photos by Tony DeSantis.


Give a little taste of luxury with flavored liqueurs that are fun, festive, and easy to make.

Holiday gift-giving often means a quickly purchased bottle of wine with little or no thought about the recipient’s taste preferences. We’ve all done it — bought a last-minute gift of wine because we drew a blank about what to buy. On more than one occasion, I’ve given a dry red Cabernet to someone whom I later learned only liked white wine or very sweet wine. When people ask for wine recommendations for gift-giving, I ask them what their friends usually like to drink. Unless they clink glasses together regularly, they probably don’t know the answer.

My husband and I solved this dilemma a few years ago when we discovered how popular liqueurs were at our dinner parties. The Amaretto, Frangelico, Irish Crème, and especially Limoncello would quickly disappear.

Liqueurs add a little elegance to any celebration. They serve several purposes, too. As an aperitif, they stimulate the appetite; as digestifs, they help relax the stomach after a big meal. After-dinner liqueurs are a nice finish to any party. Fun, festive, and somewhat frivolous, liqueurs in a decorative bottle can be an interesting gift. They often are a little luxury that most people don’t buy for themselves.

While many store-bought liqueurs are nice gifts, I’ve found homemade ones are easy to make and often taste better than the overly sweet, overpriced concoctions sold to holiday shoppers. Two of my favorite liqueurs were discovered on trips, and both have become a part of our gift-giving season.

After returning from a visit to Sorrento, Italy — known for its syrupy Limoncello — my husband decided to try his hand at making a homemade version. We scoured several recipes from online sources as well as from a friend who had been making her own Limoncello for years. We combined a Food Network version that used vodka as its base and our friend’s recipe that used lemon verbena and Meyers Lemons. We added our own secret ingredient — lavender — which smoothes any harshness the vodka may have. Our Limoncello is not as sweet and creamy as the imported Italian versions, but it is nonetheless delicious and has become a popular holiday gift along with miniature liqueur glasses we find in kitchen outlet stores.

After a trip to Door County, Wisconsin, last summer, we decided to add a brandy-based liqueur to our repertoire of homemade digestifs. Door County is famous for its tart cherries and folks there plan ahead for holiday toasts with “Cherry Bounce.” With a carry-on bag filled with tart cherries, I came home and immediately began soaking them — pits and all — in a moderately priced brandy. The cherry pits lend a slight almond flavor. Initial taste tests tell us we are in for a very special holiday drink as many of our Wisconsin friends predicted. Once the liquid is gone, the “stewed” tart cherries make excellent toppings for ice cream, pound cake or other desserts.

Holiday cheer begins with Cherry Bounce.

To make liqueurs you need a tightly sealed crock or decanter. Homemade liqueurs also take patience and time. For Limoncello, you must soak the peels of Meyers Lemons in vodka for at least 40 days before adding “simple syrup,” a sugar and water mixture. Strain the solid particles out and let the liquids meld together at least another two weeks before serving.

Cherry Bounce also takes several months to ferment. Tart cherries are not available until late July, so they soak in the brandy for more than four months before the holidays roll around. Some recipes call for vodka instead of brandy

Although it’s too late to make your own Limoncello or Cherry Bounce for this holiday season, you can start practicing for next year with a simple base of sugar (1/2 cup), water (1/4 cup), vodka (1/2 cup), and vanilla extract (2 teaspoons). Infuse the mixture with subtle essences of herbs, spices and fruit. Put the decanter in the far corners of your refrigerator for a few months and forget about it. When the first signs of spring roll around, invite friends for a taste test. You’ll know then if you need to start a larger batch in time for the 2012 holiday season!

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