Lately I’ve been to drawn to sorbets which might seem like odd timing given we are still in the throes of winter. But when you consider the seasonal fruit available right now, the time is really ripe for the picking. Heirloom navel oranges, for instance, are like a burst of sweet sunshine in the middle of winter. Meyer lemons, too, come at the perfect time with their juicy, fragrant flesh like a small reprieve from this otherwise bleak time of year. Citrus fruit almost seems more at place in the summer, but as a gift from mother nature appears at its prime during the darkest, and least likely time of year. I look forward to it every December, and instead of getting lost amid the bounty of produce in July, it stands alone to be prized when there is little else for the taking.
Over the summer I earmarked a recipe I found on Food 52 that looked particularly good for meyer lemon and basil sherbet. It is just as well I forgot about it until about two months ago when I came across meyer lemons at the market. In abundance, and perfectly ripe, it was prime time to test the recipe. Inspired by a friend whose favorite dessert is lemon sorbet served in a sugared lemon cup, I decided to dress up the presentation of the sherbet. To make the “cup” edible, I poached the shell of the lemon in water several times, candied it in a saturated sugar syrup and then coated the whole thing in a dusting of granulated sugar.
The dessert was as whimsical to eat as it was to look at, with an amusing interplay of basil and meyer lemon zest in ribbons throughout cold sherbet. The sweetness of basil is accentuated here, and the balance of creaminess from the milk and acidity of the lemons provides an intriguing juxtaposition of flavor.
Meyer Lemon and Basil Sherbet
(adapted from the recipe Lemon Basil Sherbet by Sandy Smith)
Serves about 1 quart
- 1 cup half-and-half or light cream
- 2/3 cups granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1 1/2 tablespoons Meyer lemon zest
- 8 fresh basil leaves, divided
- 2 cups whole milk
- Juice of 3 Meyer lemons, chilled
- Pinch fine sea salt
In a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the half-and-half, sugar, honey, and lemon zest. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat and add 4 whole basil leaves. Using the back of a large spoon or ladle, bruise the basil leaves against the bottom of the pot. Cover and let steep 15 minutes.
Remove the basil leaves and discard, then whisk in the milk. Place the mixture in an ice-water bath or refrigerate until completely chilled.
Slice the remaining 4 basil leaves in very thin strips. Whisk the lemon juice into the chilled sherbet base, add the sea salt, and stir in the sliced basil. Taste for sweetness; adjust by adding an additional tablespoon or two of honey, if needed.
Freeze the sherbet mixture in an ice-cream maker, following manufacturer’s instructions. For optimal flavor and texture, freeze sherbet for a couple of hours before serving.
Candied Lemon Shell Recipe:
2 Meyer lemons
2 C granulated sugar
1 C water
1/2 C granulated sugar
Trim the top inch off each lemon, leaving the tops in tact. Using a small, serrated knife, cut out the inside flesh of the lemon around the white pith. Be sure to keep a small layer of the white pith in tact for structure. Cull a small, flat piece off the base of each lemon so that they can sit flat. Bring the lemon shells and their tops to a boil in a medium pot of water, then immediately remove them. Fill the pot with water again, bring to a boil, then blanch the lemon shells and tops a second time for 3 minutes. Remove the shells then bring the 2 cups of sugar and 1 cup of water to boil. Simmer the shells and tops in this syrup for 10 minutes. Remove them from the syrup and allow them to cool on a plate. Once cool, dip the shells and tops in the granulated sugar just to coat. Store in a covered container in the freezer until ready to fill with the sherbet.