12 September 2011

A Chill in the Air

Not an onset-of-fall kind of chill, but the frozen, edible kind. With summer having only just arrived in the Pacific northwest, there’s still time to enjoy fruity—and even vegetabley—sorbets.

On second thought, there’s no need to stop enjoying these refreshing treats once the dreary weather sets in. An Oregon pear sorbet might be just what the doctor ordered to stave off the winter blues.

The beauty of sorbets is that they satisfy the desire for a sweet ending to a meal, but without the fat of ice cream. Paired with shortbread cookie, they’ll please the most sweet-toothed among us.

Sorbets are so easy, requiring almost nothing more than sugar and water and maybe a squeeze of lemon. And they can be made without a machine. Sorbets are also used as a culinary Etch-a-sketch, wiping the palette clean before the next course.

There are probably berries still lingering in the market. There are plums, melons and peaches and nectarines, all of which make delightful sorbets. Peaches and nectarines won’t be available much longer but melons will stick around a bit. You can also play with flavor combinations (see below) by infusing your simple syrup (your sugary base) with herbs like basil, thyme or mint to add a haunting flavor (Remove herbs before adding syrup to the fruit or you might end up with a ghastly color sorbet.). Pictured above is a Melon Herb Sorbet with cantaloupe, basil and a hint of lemon and sea salt. For an unusual twist, try this Honeydew Lime Black Pepper sorbet.

The basics

The best sorbet comes from the best fruit. The fruit should be very ripe and sweet. Start with four cups of fruit to about 3/4 cup simple syrup (depending on the fruit). Simple syrup is usually 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar but amounts vary from recipe to recipe. Heat in a pan until the sugar is dissolved and let cool before pureeing in a blender with the fruit.

Some fruits are naturally sweeter than others. Taste the pureed mixture. If it’s not sweet enough, add some honey or reheat any leftover syrup, adding more sugar. The pureed mixture should be sweeter than you’d like because it will taste less sweet when frozen.

Some fruits are runny, requiring less syrup (melons). Others, like figs, are more dense, so you might need more syrup. Some fruits are cooked with the syrup to soften them, like rhubarb or pears. Others, like berries or peaches, go right into the blender with the syrup. If you follow this basic process and the tips below, you can forgo recipes, or use recipes as a guide and modify them. Most sorbets call for a good squeeze of lemon. You can also add lemon zest for an even brighter note.

Puree your fruit along with cooled simple syrup. Process according to your ice cream maker’s directions. If you don’t own an ice cream maker, pour your fruit mixture into a pre-frozen class or ceramic dish. Every 15 or 20 minutes, stir the mixture, incorporating the frozen bits from the sides into the center. Do this for about an hour. When ready to serve, allow sorbet to stand at room temperature to soften a bit before serving.

Sorbet can be served somewhat soft.

Flavor inspiration

If you want to get fancy with your sorbet, try some interesting flavor combinations. Herbs can be simmered with the simple syrup and then removed before pureeing with fruit.

• Melon and mint or lavender
• Pinot grigio and pears: make your simple syrup with wine instead of water
• Pinot noir and marionberries
• Cucumber, lime, mint
• Figs and balsamic vinegar or thyme
• Blueberries and cardamom
• Blackberries and black pepper

Preparation Tips

• Make a big batch of simple syrup in advance and keep in fridge. This way, the syrup will already be cool before using.

• Freeze a dish or bowl overnight if using the non-machine method. This speeds up the process.

• Cool/chill the fruit mixture in the refrigerator overnight if time allows.

• Add a tablespoon or more of limoncello or vodka to prevent the mixture from freezing solid. It will stay a little soft, the perfect texture for serving.

• Add an acid. As with a fruit pie, acid brightens the fruit’s natural flavor. This can be lemon, lime, orange or balsamic vinegar.

• Enjoy!