Sorbet is made from fresh fruit or juices, lightly sweetened, and frozen. Cool, sweet, and the perfect dessert after a heavy meal, sorbet is the easiest frozen dessert to make. Unlike ice cream, sorbet doesn’t require a cooked custard base. All you have to do is make a simple syrup, add it to pureed fruit, and freeze.
These days that is incredibly easy to do with the wide variety of ice cream making machines at affordable prices. My favorite is the bowl that attaches to your KitchenAid mixer and utilizes the same motor to churn the sorbet or ice cream. It is a single unit that goes into your freezer first, then once cold, attaches to your mixer for the churning. Transfer the resulting product to another container to store in your freezer.
In addition to dessert, sorbet is often used as a palate cleanser between courses in formal dinners. This is important when you have two dishes with widely different flavor profiles, that don’t necessarily complement each other, such as transitioning from a fish course to a meat course. You want to be able to appreciate the next course with a refreshed palate.
My most memorable dinner where sorbet was served this way was at the Michelin-starred Etoile Restaurant at Napa Valley’s Domaine Chandon. It is touted as the only fine dining restaurant in Napa Valley housed within a winery and prides itself on presenting the quintessential wine country experience. Their menu seamlessly marries French and California cuisines and techniques, presenting exquisite wine-inspired dining adventures.
My date and I got all decked out in our finery and headed for the infamous winery. Located on a hill overlooking the Napa Valley, it has a stunning vista during the day and is intimate at night with small lights outlining the trees and pathways. From the moment you walk in the door until you leave, everything is perfect; the atmosphere, the view, the decor, the menu. The service is impeccable – discreet, efficient, pleasant, and knowledgeable – you never know they are there unless you need something and then they have already anticipated your request.
The chef at the time was Philippe Jeanty, an award winner and now the proprietor at Bistro Jeanty just down the hill in Yountville. He is famous for his tomato soup served with a puff pastry top – and it didn’t disappoint! The rest of the dinner continued with seemingly effortless yet unexpectedly complex and delightful course after course.
At one point the waiter brought us a small dish of what I thought was ice cream. No, he explained, this was a special sorbet to cleanse our palates. It is only available for a short time during the crush season and is made from the leftover grape juices not used for making wine. It was incredible. It had a slight wine flavor and yet was almost a dessert. I could have eaten an entire quart on the spot, but refrained from asking. Over 20 years later and that sorbet still is as fresh in my mind as if we had just been there last week.
To make your guests feel as though they are dining at Etoile, serve your sorbets in crystal stemware, I have a fondness for martini glasses, and don’t forget to include a sprig of mint. You can also prepare a big bowl of sweet, juicy berries or other sliced fruits, and let your guests garnish their sorbet if they want.
With fresh fruit at its height at the farmers’ markets all across the country, I have chosen four of my favorite flavors of sorbet for you today. I am also including an incredible method for always making perfect sorbet from one of this country’s finest pastry chefs, Zoe Francois. If you have ever made sorbet only to have it turn into an icy mess, Zoe has the answer. Follow her directions and you will be whipping out sorbets, one after the other, from any fruit or juice you want!
Enjoy these bright flavors of summer and have a wonderful weekend!
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
One of the best things about sorbet is that you can thaw and refreeze it over and over again. If it has been sitting in the freezer for a while and has lost its smooth texture, just thaw it and churn it again in an ice cream maker. Then refreeze it and it is like you just made it!
- 1-1/4 cup sugar
- 1-1/4 water
- 1 quart fresh seedless watermelon chunks (about half a large melon)
- 4 tbsp freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice
- In a medium saucepan, make a simple syrup by bringing the sugar and water to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the sugar is completely dissolved without stirring. Set aside to cool completely.
- Put the watermelon chunks and the lime into a blender or food processor. Pulse about 20 times to chop the melon, then process until the watermelon is completely pureed. Press the watermelon through a wire mesh strainer to remove the seeds and any extra pulp. Combine with the cooled simple syrup. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill for 1 hour.
- Turn on your ice cream maker and pour the watermelon puree mixture into the freezer bowl. Mix until the sorbet has thickened, about 25 to 30 minutes. The sorbet’s consistency will be similar to soft-serve ice cream.
- You can enjoy at this point or put the sorbet in an airtight container and place in the freezer until firm for about 2 hours to ripen.
- Yield: about 1 quart
- 6 ripe (about 2 lbs) nectarines
- 2/3 cup water
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 tsp kirsch, or 1/4 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Slice the nectarines in half and remove the pits. Cut the unpeeled nectarines into small chunks and cook them with the water in a medium, non-reactive saucepan, covered, over medium heat. Stir occasionally, until they're soft and cooked through, about 10 minutes. Add a bit more water if necessary during cooking.
- Remove from heat and stir in the sugar. Let cool to room temperature. When cool, purée the mixture in a blender or food processor until smooth. Stir in the kirsch or lemon juice.
- Chill the mixture thoroughly, and freeze it in your ice cream maker according the manufacturer's instructions.
- VARIATION: For Peach Sorbet, substitute 7 large, ripe peaches for the nectarines. Remove the skins prior to cutting them into chunks.
- 1/2 large cantaloupe, seeded, peeled, and cubed
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 2 tsp lime juice
- In a blender or food processor, pulse the cantaloupe about 15 times to break up the cubes then process until smooth. Set aside.
- In a small saucepan, over medium-high heat, bring the sugar and water to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook just until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat, set aside and let cool to room temperature.
- Add 2 to 3 tsp of the syrup to the cantaloupe puree, or more to taste, depending on the sweetness of the fruit. Add the lime juice to taste.
- Remove the puree to a small glass loaf dish and place in the freezer, stirring every 20 minutes to half an hour until frozen enough to shape into quenelles, 2 to 3 hours.
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 tbsp peeled, minced ginger
- 2 tsp freshly grated lemon zest
- 4 cups water
- 1/3 cup lemon juice
- Combine sugar, ginger, lemon zest and water in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring often. Boil, uncovered, over medium heat for 10 minutes. Cool. Stir in lemon juice.
- You can use more or less ginger depending on how spicy you like it. If you want a smoother texture, strain the mixture through a wire sieve. This will also reduce the heat slightly.
- Freeze the mixture in an ice-cream maker, following manufacturer’s directions. Break into chunks and whirl in a food processor until smooth. Transfer to a chilled airtight container and return to the freezer for 30 minutes to 1 hour, or until firm.
- Serve with fresh blueberries on the side.
- Yield: 6 servings, generous 3/4 cup each.
- MAKE AHEAD TIP: Freeze for up to 4 days. Let soften slightly in the refrigerator for 30 minutes before serving.
- 3 cups your favorite thin fruit juice, chilled (if you are using lemon or lime juice, dilute it 2 parts juice to 1 part water)
- Up to 2 cups simple syrup, chilled (see recipe above for how to make this)
- 1 to 2 tbsp liqueur (this helps prevent the sorbet from freezing solid)
- 1 very clean raw egg, in the shell (I wash it with dish soap and rinse several times)
- Put your fruit juice in a container that has room to add more liquid and is deep enough that you can submerge an egg. Gently place the egg in the container. At this point it will probably sink straight to the bottom, so don’t just drop it in. If it heads to the bottom, remove it and add about 1/2 cup of the simple syrup. Stir and try the egg again. This time when you put the egg in it should be suspended in the liquid, maybe not to the surface yet, but hovering just below. Remove the egg.
- Add another 1/2 cup of the simple syrup and stir. Place the egg in the sorbet, now you can see it starting to emerge. The exposed area above the surface needs to be about the size of a quarter to indicate that there is enough sugar in your solution.
- Add more simple syrup, a couple of tablespoons at a time, until you have the right level. Once the egg is floating high enough, remove the egg, and add the liquor orliqueurof your choosing. Freeze the sorbet according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
- If the sorbet hardens a bit after being frozen for a couple of days, you can temper it by letting it “warm up” in the refrigerator for 20 minutes before serving.
- Yield: about 1 quart