Sorbet is a frozen dessert which is typically made with some kind of fruit juice and/or puréed fruit, plus a sweetener (usually sugar), along with other flavoring ingredients. Wine and liqueur are sometimes used for flavoring sorbet, such as Sorbet with limoncello is a very common dessert in many Italian restaurants. Sometimes, sorbet is flavored also with chocolate and coffee. Note that the one ingredient you won’t find in a sorbet is any sort of dairy product, such as milk or cream. Also, nor are eggs (yolks or whites) used in making sorbet.
A little bit of history
The existence of the sorbet is documented in the classical texts: for example during the ancient Rome of emperor Nerone, the ice from the Apennines was used to prepare a first version of Sorbet. Regarding the etymology is uncertain and may be of Latin or Arabic origin from word “sherbet” that means fresh drink. The sorbet became really famous in the seventeenth century thanks to an Italian, which made popular the recipe of Sorbet first in Paris and then between the whole European bourgeoisie.
How to make the original Sorbet
Sorbet is usually made with fruit and is almost always dairy- and fat-free, but the strictest definition is simply a syrup of sugar and water that’s churned in an ice cream machine. That’s it: you could make a sorbet with nothing but plain water and sugar.
Sugar doesn’t just sweeten sorbet—it’s also responsible for sorbet’s structure. In ice cream, a combination of fat, protein, and sugar all influence the texture, but in sorbet sugar is the “big fish”. When you dissolve sugar in water you get a syrup with a lower freezing point than water alone, and the sweeter a syrup is the lower the freezing point becomes. As water starts to freeze in a syrup, the unfrozen water becomes, in effect, a more concentrated syrup. This process continues until you have a bunch of small ice crystals in a sea of syrup so concentrated that it’ll never really freeze. The really rule for a good sorbet is just one: high quality ingredients. It’s important to use the best fruit you can find: the most fragrant watermelon or the sweetest strawberries or the most ripe, juicy peaches. Sorbet with fruit high in pectin (like berries or grape) or in fiber (like mango or pears) will be high in viscosity and full of body, making a special creamy similar to ice cream. Differently, watermelon and pomegranate juices are thin with no body, so they need some special handling to make their textures as thick and creamy as berry or stone fruit sorbets.
Sorbet recipes often call for alcohol, sometimes as little as a tablespoon, to improve texture. Alcohol reduces a sorbet base’s freezing point, thus making the sorbet softer and easier to scoop. And the more alcohol you add, the softer the sorbet gets, until you add so much that the sorbet’s freezing point is literally too cold to freeze in a conventional freezer.
Unlike ice cream, sorbet doesn’t have air whipped into it, which gives it a very dense consistency and intensifies the flavor. In addition to being served as a dessert, sorbet is sometimes presented as a palate cleanser between courses of a multicourse meal.