To say sorbet can be superior to ice cream in its ability to satisfy a sweet tooth is a huge feat. When made well, and with fruit in its prime, its water base exudes flavor in a way that its creamier cousin can’t compete with. The milk and cream base of ice cream, while lusciously rich, muffles flavor with its high fat ratio. While it makes for something wonderfully cold to eat, it is coveted more for its creaminess and velvety mouthfeel. It can be easy to eat more than one’s fair share of ice cream, too, when the actual flavor is lacking. With every dip into the bowl, the spoon searches for more than just sugar and cream and is only partially rewarded on the tongue with incredible texture.
These are all obvious enough reasons to give homemade sorbet a try, and I was reminded of them while eating at one of my favorite local restaurants. At this particular establishment the pastry chef has received numerous accolades, so I eagerly perused the dessert list and debated for several minutes over the right choice. My friend simply took one glance before quickly closing her menu.
“I’ll have the sorbet,” she announced to our waiter.
I settled on something that sounded far more interesting and was quite content with my decision until the desserts arrived. All I remember about the bowl in front of me is that it held some sort of reinterpretation of Italian tiramisu, with all the flavor components deconstructed into various forms. It was delicious, but fleeting. Across from me was a long rectangular plate with four large pastel orbs of sorbet that almost glowed in the candlelight of the table. After an invitation, I reached my spoon into each and was met with a burst of flavor that lingered far beyond our meal that night.
With that dessert still in mind, I set out to recreate two of the flavors at home. The first was a ruby red grapefruit spiked with Grand Marnier liqueur, intriguingly bittersweet and tart at the same time. The second was a caramelized golden pineapple, whose perfectly ripe nectar revealed tropical undertones of banana and vanilla. After creating my version of these two sorbets, I revisited the restaurant to order my own portion of the inspiring dessert. Happily, I concluded that my recipes were an improvement.
There are a few tips to keep in mind when making sorbet. While the ingredients are minimal, and the simple syrup base simple enough to create, the proportions need to be precise to ensure the end result is smooth rather than icy.
- Each type of fruit varies in its amount of water, pectin and sugar and that needs to be factored into your recipe.
- Both sugar and alcohol lower the freezing point of water and help create a soft texture in sorbet, but if you use too much of either your sorbet will “bleed” pockets of liquid. To have a perfectly smooth emulsion, the measurements of sugar and alcohol need to be exact.
- Inverted sugars (liquid sugars such as caramel, maple syrup, honey and corn syrup) lower the freezing point of water more so than plain sugar and can make for an even smoother texture.
- Ice crystal formation occurs when the sorbet base is churned in a machine. The machine both chills and whips air into the base. For ideal results (ie. a smooth texture) the crystals should be small and uniform. To achieve this, the sorbet base needs to be thoroughly chilled before going into the machine. This minimizes the amount of time it takes to churn, therefore incorporating less air and forming smaller crystals.
- Commercial sorbets contain stabilizers that allow the sorbet to maintain a smooth texture over several weeks. Homemade versions, without stabilizers, are best enjoyed in the first two days of production.
Ruby Red Grapefruit Sorbet with Grand Marnier
Zest of 1/2 of a ruby red grapefruit
Zest of 1/2 of 1 orange
3 C ruby red grapefruit juice
1/2 C sugar
1/2 C cane sugar syrup (or corn syrup, if desired)
1/2 C water
2 Tbsp Grand Marnier
pinch of salt
Bring the water, sugars and zest to a boil and then quickly remove it from the heat. Strain out the zest then combine the syrup with the citrus juice, liqueur and salt. Chill the mixture until it is completely cold before churning it in an ice cream machine.
Caramelized Pineapple Sorbet
I large pineapple, very ripe (the skin should be more golden than green in color and giving off a sweet smell)
1.5 C granulated sugar
1/2-1 tsp freshly squeezed lime juice
Heat the sugar along with 1/2 C of water in a medium saucepan over high heat. Meanwhile, peel the pineapple and cut the fruit off of its core, into long chunks. Roughly cut the pineapple into medium chunks. When the sugar turns a medium dark amber color, slowly add the pineapple pieces and stir to coat the fruit in the caramel. Lower the heat to medium low. Allow the pineapple to cook for five minutes this way. Remove from the heat and allow the mixture to cool slightly. Puree the pineapple mixture with 1 1/2 C cold water in a blender then strain it through a fine mesh sieve. Thoroughly chill the mixture then add the lime juice before churning in an ice cream machine.