One of my favorite things about winter is that citrus fruits come into season. I will soon write about my adventures with tangerines, but first I wanted to share my recipe for homemade key lime cordial. Key limes are a bit more acidic, and a bit more herbal, than regular limes – and they are quite a bit smaller. As a result, this is one of the more labor-intensive syrups I have made, but the cocktails we’re serving with it have been very popular, and it really captures the unique flavors of key limes, so it’s been fun to do.
Lime cordial syrup for cocktails should be citrusy, acidic, and balanced with a bit of sugar. The original recipe for a classic gimlet calls for lime cordial, and Rose’s was the first commercial brand. However, the Rose’s of today is not the same as it was, and I do not care for the flavor/taste of Rose’s lime juice – I’ve explored a variety of substitutions since then and have tried a range of recipes.
In fact, I wrote about homemade lime cordial some years ago on my blog (wow, it was 2007?!?). I have played off and on with homemade cordial ever since, and have had a few conversations with a fellow cocktail nerd here in Chicago, Todd Appel. Todd has also written about homemade lime cordial and actually sells some great cordials to bars & restaurants in Chicago. When I decided to make key lime cordial, I took a look at Todd’s recipe again and decided to give it a go, figuring the additional acidity of the key limes means they should work well in this application. The below is adapted from Todd’s recipe.
Homemade Key Lime Cordial
What you’ll need:
Fresh key limes – look for ones with nice skin, not hard as rocks but not super squishy either
- Cane sugar
- Microplaner or fruit zester – you want the peel, not the pith, which is harder with limes than other fruits (and harder with key limes than regular limes)
- Wash the fruit! Citrus fruits, even organic fruits, have a lot of dirt, waxes, dyes, pesticides, etc. on them. Take the time to wash them well, or else that stuff ends up in your cordial. Take off any of the remaining stems, too – they are common on key limes.
- Zest the fruit – try to avoid the pith, and avoid brown spots too. Use a microplaner, fine grater/zester or perhaps a citrus peeler that cuts very shallowly (I don’t have one of those, so I didn’t try it on key limes – I found my microplaner was the fastest route (even though it wasn’t that fast)).
- Juice the fruit – you’re going to want to use a small citrus press here, these limes are tiny and there are a lot of them – just do the best you can to get the juice out. Don’t worry about straining out pulp, but try to leave out the seeds.
- Measure your juice – then put it in a non-reactive saucepan. I found that on a 2 lb. bag of key limes, I would get about a cup of juice. If it was a little short, I added a little water to get to 1 cup. I also tried adding regular lime juice to top it up, and that worked well also.
- Add sugar – Add the same amount of sugar (so I added 1 cup).
- Bring to a simmer – Heat the juice/sugar combo just to a simmer, then remove from heat. Let cool for 10 minutes.
- Add the zest – let them steep while the syrup continues to cool.
- Strain out solids – When the syrup is slightly warm/room temp (about 20 more minutes), strain out the peels. Store the syrup in the refrigerator. Todd reports that it keeps for a very long time; it should definitely keep for at least a month, probably longer – it’s quite acidic.