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How to make sorbet without a recipe

August 4, 2010

Berry Sorbet / JillHough.com
At the sadly-now-closed COPIA: The American Center for Wine, Food & the Arts in Napa, where I worked as a culinary instructor, we did an every-Friday program called the Taste of COPIA Lunch. For several years, every lunch ended with sorbet, which means, over time, we made a
lot of sorbet.

And when I say “we,” I really mean Brigid Callinan, COPIA’s then-Culinary Programs Manager and the uncontested Sorbet Queen. Brigid had previously been the pastry chef at Mustards Grill and co-wrote the award-winning “Mustards Grill Napa Valley Cookbook” with Cindy Pawlcyn, so she knows a thing or two about delicious desserts. (Nowadays, Brigid teaches cooking to the US Coast Guard and works with her friend Lenny Rice Moonsammy at Good Food Source.)

With fresh fruit from COPIA’s gardens, Brigid made strawberry sorbet and peach sorbet. She made persimmon and apple sorbets. And sorbets from plums, blueberries, and honeydew. Week after glorious week, COPIA guests enjoyed all manner of sweet, smooth, bright, and tangy sorbets, thanks to the incredible fruit that the garden provided – and Brigid’s incredible talents.

One summer, however, the Sorbet Queen decided to take a vacation. And so she passed the spatula and taught me to make sorbet in her stead.

She started by telling me to use only the best fruit I could find and to cut off anything with the slightest bit of bruise or over ripeness, pointing out that the fruit wasn’t going to get any better by virtue of becoming sorbet. (In the COPIA gardens, it wasn’t a challenge to find great fruit, but now I only use peak-of-season stuff from the farmers’ market.)

Brigid showed me how to combine the pureed fruit with simple syrup, and how to magically use a whole, clean, raw egg to test my balance of the two. She taught me how to add acidity – lemon or lime juice – to add crisp dimension and complexity to the sweetness. And she taught me how to use the industrial ice cream maker down the hall at Julia’s Kitchen restaurant, so I could make gallons of great sorbet at a time.

When Brigid returned from vacation and tasted the fruits of my labor, she was so pleased that she dubbed me the Sorbet Princess.

To this day, thanks to Brigid, I make some of the best sorbet ever, like the absolutely amazing batch of Marion blackberry sorbet pictured here.

And now, with Brigid’s method spelled out below, so can you. Referring to yourselves as Lords and Ladies of Sorbet is entirely optional.

How to make sorbet without a recipe

Dime-sized egg

Dime-sized egg – sorbet base needs more simple syrup

    1. Make a batch of simple syrup: Mix equal parts sugar and water, heat them together, stirring occasionally until the sugar dissolves, then thoroughly cool. You’ll need about a cup of simple syrup per pound of fruit.
    2. Prepare your fruit: Start with really good, ripe fruit that’s juicy and aromatic. Cut the fruit into chunks, discarding any rotten or bruised parts.
    3. Some fruits are best if they’re cooked first, including blueberries, huckleberries, pears, cranberries, apples, some plums, and rhubarb. To cook, place the fruit in a large pot with a bit of water on medium-high heat. Cook until the fruit is very soft, then thoroughly cool.
    4. Once your fruit is ready, puree it in a food processor, then strain it through a medium-mesh sieve.
Quarter-sized egg

Quarter-sized egg – sorbet base needs more fruit puree or water

    1. Combine the fruit puree with the simple syrup to taste.
    2. Check the balance with the egg test: Carefully place a clean, raw egg (in the shell) into your sorbet base so that it floats to the surface. If the amount of shell that’s showing is about the size of a nickel, your balance of fruit and sugar is correct and it will yield a sorbet that’s neither too soft or too hard once it’s frozen. If the egg is sitting lower, showing a dime-size or smaller, add more simple syrup. If it’s floating too high, showing the size of a quarter or more, add more fruit puree or water.
    3. Now taste. Notice how it’s sweet, but syrupy so, a little cloying? Add lemon or lime juice until the sorbet base tastes sweet but also crisp and clean, typically about a tablespoon per pound of fruit.
Nickel-sized egg

Nickel-sized egg – sorbet base is juuust right

  1. Add salt to taste. Make your sorbet base very assertive – once it’s frozen, the flavor will be less intense.
  2. Thoroughly chill your finished sorbet base, then freeze according to your ice cream maker’s manufacturer’s instructions.

(If you absolutely can’t stand not having a recipe, here’s one for Berry Sorbet.)

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24 thoughts on “How to make sorbet without a recipe

  1. Jennie Schacht

    Yes, I love the egg test! Great way to make sure you have just the right balance of sugar to fruit. Another nice sorbet trick is adding a splash of alcohol — either a liqueur to match of complement the fruit, or something neutral (vodka). The alcohol lowers the freezing temp just enough to keep it from freezing rock hard. (sugar helps with that, too.) Thanks for a fun and inspiring post — might have to make some plum sorbet!

  2. Jill Post author

    Hi Bro. I’m not speaking from personal experience here, just supposing, but I think that you’d could probably make sorbet without an ice cream maker, using a granita method to freeze it (freezing it in a shallow pan or dish and scratching it into shards every half hour or so, breaking it up) – but it’d turn out like granita, more snow cone-y and icy than smooth. Sorbet base likely has more sugar than granita base, which would have more water, so that’d cut down on icy shards, but freezing and stirring at the same time, which is what an ice cream maker does, is what makes for smoothness.

    You/One can get a decent ice cream maker for about $50. Is it too soon to start thinking about Christmas???

  3. Angela@spinachtiger

    This is a great article. I’ve been to Copia. So sad to see it end. I’ve bookmarked to make my favorite sorbets. I’ve made my own recipes for years, but had no rhyme or reason. This helps a lot.

  4. Jill Post author

    Thanks so much for reading, Angela, and for your comment! Sad, indeed, about Copia – I was very lucky to be a part of it.

  5. Kim

    Angela, Maybe I missed something, but is there an ‘amount’ of fruit to use to start with for the pureeing process, say apx. 2 cups or ??? Thanks for clarifying.

  6. Jill Post author

    Hi Kim – Jill here (not Angela) – Since the “recipe” above is about proportions, there’s no ideal amount of fruit to start with. You can use however much you have, then add simple syrup, lemon or lime juice, and salt per the directions. But if it’ll help give you a sense of it, 2 cups of fruit puree will need about 2 cups of simple sugar and 2-4 tablespoons of lemon or lime juice. And to make 2 cups of simple sugar, you’ll need about 1 1/3 cups each of sugar and water. Does that help?

  7. Mike Avery

    How would this work with a fruit free sorbet? I’m working on a Moroccan Mint Tea sorbet. The taste us great but… The texture isn’t there yet.

    Before it is smooth it has become a slushy mass that just turns in the ice cream maker’s bowl.

    Thank you,
    Mike

  8. Jill Post author

    Thanks for your question, Mike, and no, you can’t use this method for fruit-free sorbet – it needs the fruit puree to make the texture work. I think that what you’re creating is more like a granita versus a sorbet, and so I would try a granita-making method versus an ice cream maker – pour your base into a shallow pan and freeze it for about an hour, then run a fork across it to break it up, then repeat until it’s snow cone-y. Let me know if you try it and how it works out. Thanks again for reading and commenting!

  9. Mike Avery

    Thanks for the comment Jill. I’ll try that, as well as using pears in the Moroccan Mint sorbet. Pears would add a subtle flavor that might work nicely.

    If you feel inclined to try it, I use World Market’s house brand Moroccan Mint Tea. They’ve recently started carrying teas and have some pretty nice ones.

    When I get things working right, I’ll be back to share the recipes.

    Thanks again,
    Mike

  10. Jill Post author

    Adding pears sounds like a good idea, Mike. Apples would probably be nice, too. Either way, you’d essentially be making mint-infused pear (or apple) sorbet – when you make your simple syrup, add your tea to infuse the tea flavor into the syrup, then strain it out, then proceed with the basic fruit sorbet method, using the infused syrup. Remember to cook the pears (or apples) first.

    Looking forward to hearing how it turns out!
    Jill

  11. Mike Avery

    I hope you weren’t holding your breath waiting for a reply. Sometimes I move quickly, other times my progress is glacial.

    Anyway, the sorbet is in the freezer and the mix tasted very, very nice. I could even say great. I’m sure when frozen its taste is going to rock!

    But I have another question (I’ll be back later with a progress report).

    When I made the pear puree, I cooked the pears with a bit of water and sugar, cooled them, then processed them in a food processor. Next, I passed the slurry through a sieve to remove the biggest solids.

    The resulting puree was still pretty thick.

    When I added the Moroccan mint infused simple syrup I found I could make the egg float at almost any level or sink it completely. Half dollar size exposed? Sure. Quarter? Yeah. Nickel? No problem! Dime? Done!

    So, what am I missing out on here? Did I extract too many solids from the pears? Should I have added more simple syrup to get to “the next stage”?

    Thanks,
    Mike

  12. Mike Avery

    As before, the taste was wonderful, but the sorbet was a bit harder than I’d hoped for.

    How does one deal with a very thick puree?

    Thanks,
    Mike

  13. Jill Post author

    Hi Mike,
    Glad to hear that your sorbet tasted good even though it was too hard. Sometimes things in the kitchen just don’t turn out like we want them to – you know, there’s a learning curve, which can be discouraging – and I hope it hasn’t frustrated you into not trying sorbet again!

    I get what you said in the previous comment about the sorbet base being so thick that you could basically position the egg to show as much or as little as you wanted. I’d try adding more simple syrup, so that the egg is more floating than sitting – the fact that your sorbet was so hard also leads me to think that it needed more simple syrup.

    Did you do the mint tea infusion? How did that go?

    Good luck! And try, try again!
    Jill

  14. Mike Avery

    Oh no, I’m not ready to give up! As a baker who has fed lots of birds, I understand the learning curve far too well.

    As you suggested, I made a simple syrup mint infusion. A quart of water, 2 pounds of sugar and 8 tsp of World Market’s Moroccan Mint tea. I let it boil for a minute or so (Moroccan Mint tea is traditionally boiled with sugar) and then let it steep about 5 minutes. At that point, I strained it. It tasted very nice!

    I have a good bit of the simple syrup left over, so I’ll get some more pears and try again.

    Thanks again,
    Mike

  15. Jill Post author

    I bet that syrup is good for lots of things besides sorbet. Just mixed into soda water – maybe with a splash of vodka or gin? – it’d probably be great!

    Glad you’re not discouraged. Let me know what happens next!

  16. Deborah

    Can sorbets be made without sugars or artificial sweeteners? My family is battling cancer/diabetes and we are keeping sugars to a minimum. We don’t sweeten our fruits normally. Could something else(healthy) be added to achieve the right liquid balance?

    I’ve made a sorbet with frozen mango in a processor that came out ok. Perhaps that worked out ok because the mango is already sweet?

    Also, have you made sorbet with lavender?

    Thank you,
    Deborah

  17. Jill Post author

    Hi Deborah,
    Thanks for your comment. I have to say that I don’t have much experience making sorbet without sugar – the sugar is part of what gives it the texture we know and love, so without it, it’d be hard to make sorbet that isn’t super-icy. It’s totally not my area of expertise, though, so there might be ways around it – I just don’t know what they are! I’m sure you know a lot of good sources for recipes appropriate for diabetics – I’d also recommend looking into books and/or sites focused on spa cuisine. Might be some ideas there.

    As for sorbet with lavender, I’ve never made that per se, but I’ve infused sorbet with all kinds of flavors – citrus, ginger, basil, rosemary, tea, etc. Just add the infuser to your sugar syrup mixture, letting it steep into the warm liquid a la steeping a cup of tea, then strain it out later. Take a look at my Berry Sorbet recipe – http://www.jillhough.com/recipes/berry-sorbet/ – towards the bottom there’s a variation for infusing it with rosemary. Use that same method, just use lavender in place of the rosemary (although probably not as much).

    Good luck! And thanks again for commenting.

  18. r j

    What would you do with fruits that are more traditionally juiced rather than pureed (like oranges)? I’d love to make a blood orange sorbet using this recipe…

    Thanks!

  19. Jill Post author

    Hi RJ, and thanks for your question! Although I’ve never made sorbet from fruit juice, if I were you, I’d go ahead and try it, using this method. It might take a slightly different balance of simple syrup to fruit, since your juice will likely have more water than a fruit puree would, but the egg test should help you work that out. Let me know what happens!

  20. Mike Avery

    YAY!!!! At long last I tried again. Some lovely Bosc pears caught my eye. I peeled them, cored them, diced them, covered them with water and poached them for a little over 5 minutes.

    A whir through the blender and I had puree. It wasn’t as thick this time to start with.

    While the puree was poaching, I mixed 3 cups each of water and sugar and 7 tsp of World Market’s Moroccan Mint tea. I boiled this for 5 minutes. (I had to grit my teeth there, the Moroccan’s boil their tea longer than that, in the US, Asia and India we just don’t boil tea. Ever.) I strained the simple syrup.

    Once everything had cooled to room temperature, I mixed the puree and the tea infused simple syrup until it passed the egg test.

    Into the ice cream maker and …. it worked nicely.

    The only question remaining is a general sorbet question. This has happened with many sorbet recipes, including this, and it has never happened with ice cream. The sorbet develops to a certain point and then I get the feeling that the machine isn’t developing the sorbet any longer – the dashers are just pushing a semi-solid blob around and around. Is the answer to adjust the sorbet somehow? To call it done, even if it seems like it’s not really ready? To cultivate patience and trust in the system and let it continue in the ice cream machine?

    In case it matters, I’m using a Lello 4070 Gelato Junior.

    Thanks again!
    -Mike

  21. Mike Avery

    r j asked about a fruit juice sorbet. I recently made a blood orange sorbet, using a recipe on David Lebovitz’s web site. It’s at http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2008/02/blood-orange-so/

    The first time I made it, I didn’t have enough blood oranges, so I filled in with Texas Ruby Red grapefruit juice and it was lovely. The second time, I bought a lot more blood oranges and it was better.

    Still, you could make this with any citrus fruit.

    Enjoy!

  22. Jill Post author

    Hi again Mike!
    So glad to hear that your sorbet turned out well! And it’s so nice of you to circle back and let me know. I really appreciate your engagement here and all the feedback.

    Regarding the sorbet just getting pushed around in your ice cream maker, it’s my experience that ice cream or sorbet never get as hard as you want them to from just the ice cream maker–at some point I have to transfer it to a freezer container and freeze it for a few more hours until it’s a scoopable mixture. I’m a little surprised that’s your experience as well, though, since you’re using an ice cream maker that has its own compressor (versus one that requires a pre-frozen canister). Could it be not getting cold enough for some other reason, like it’s running low on freon (assuming that’s what it uses)?

    Thanks, too, for the link to David Lebovitz’s blood orange sorbet recipe. I love his blog!

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