Making sorbet is about as hard as making coleslaw, which is to say it isn’t. You’ll have to chop things. You have to put things in the food processor. There will be some remedial tasting and adjusting of flavor knobs. And then you’ll be done, and you will have made your own sorbet. When you say this aloud to other people they will look at you with the sort of wonder and disbelief usually reserved for marathoners.
I am not a marathoner by any means, but I am nutty enough to own and devote a corner of my little apartment kitchen to an ice cream maker. Here is the truth: I think making ice cream at home is a pain, I really do, and would much rather fork over $6 for a giant, funky, chunk-packed cone at my favorite neighborhood scoop spot.
But sorbet is a different story, and this is why: Because when fruit comes into season, it comes in barreling. It’s super-ripe and perfect and must be eaten or used as quickly as possible. Sometimes that means a quick compote (for the urgently ripe), sometimes pie (for a weekend project), sometimes jam (ditto), and sometimes it’s really dang hot out and what needs to happen is icy, bracing, true-as-biting-into-the-fruit-itself sorbet. This also means that you can dream up all the flavors you can’t find in the freezer aisle. And it really does all happen in the food processor.
Here’s how to make any kind of sorbet without a recipe and even (spoiler alert!) without an ice cream maker. I like the River Café’s Genius method for making a sorbet base, which bypasses the traditional method of making a simple syrup. This guide is partially adapted from their smartypants recipe, as well as from Alice Medrich's peachy buttermilk sherbet.
For about 2 quarts of sorbet, you’ll need:
- 2 small citrus fruits (like lemons or limes) or 1 large citrus fruit (like grapefruits, oranges, pomelos… whatever you’ve got!), freshly squeezed
- 1 small citrus fruit or 1/2 large citrus fruit, roughly chopped (peel-on, but remove any seeds)
- 1 to 2 cups sugar (white, brown, anything)
- Pinch kosher salt
- 2 pounds peeled, seeded/stemmed fruit, roughly chopped (This can be just citrus, peeled and chopped, if you like. You can even use frozen! Just let it thaw for 15 minutes or so before processing.)
That’s it. I’d recommend seeking out organic citrus here, because—yep—you’ll be eating the whole thing, peel and all.
And then, of course, there are any number of optional add-ins, like:
- A splash of booze (This will subtly flavor but also make the sorbet less icy. When I say “splash,” I really mean “splash,” not like when I ask for a splash more of wine and what I’m asking for is a full serving—because alcohol raises the freezing point: If there’s too much booze, it won’t freeze at all.)
- A splash of extract (vanilla, almond, etc.) or a few drops of bitters (like the kind you’d put in a cocktail)
- A handful of fresh herbs (like basil, mint, lemon balm, or tarragon)
- Poppy seeds (especially fun in any citrus sorbet!)
- Spices (try cinnamon, chile powder, fennel seeds…)
- A peeled nub of fresh ginger or turmeric
- A little tamarind or guava paste
- A few spoonfuls of full-fat dairy—Greek yogurt, sour cream, mascarpone, or crème fraîche, or a long pour of buttermilk or heavy cream. Yes, sherbet lovers, yes! It’s not how conventional sherbet—usually more dairy-based than fruit-based, and this is decidedly the latter—is made, but a nip of something rich gives it that creamy dairy flavor while still letting the fruit be the star. The richer the dairy (cream or crème fraîche over buttermilk, say), the creamier (and more scoopable straight from the freezer) your sherbet will be.
First things first: You don’t absolutely need an ice cream maker, but if you have one you want to dust off and use here, make sure the canister is totally frozen (about 24 hours before churn time) before you get started. While we’re talking about planning ahead, I should mention that you should consider roasting your fruit (like EmilyC does in her cherry sorbet recipe). It’ll give you an intense, almost jammy flavor. Do as EmilyC does: Toss your prepped fruit with the sugar you would otherwise have thrown into the food processor (1 cup is a good place to start) and roast in a hot oven—about 400°F—until bubbly and syrupy; start checking at 20 minutes. Let it cool, then purée; chill the roasted, puréed sorbet base until totally cold before churning it in the ice cream maker.
When you’re ready to go, add the chopped citrus, citrus juice, 1 cup of sugar to start, and any spices if you’re using them to the bowl of a food processor (or, if you have one, a high-powered blender). Blend until totally smooth, then add the chopped fruit. Blend—zoooooom—until smooth as can be. Add a splash of water to help get things moving if needed. Now you can add the fun stuff (herbs, booze, extracts, dairy). Blend again until smooth, and taste for sugar. Remember that cold dulls taste, which means that you’ll want to err on the slightly-too-sweet side. (Also notable: The sugar content helps the sorbet be scoopable and less icy. The less sugar you add, the icier the sorbet will be.) Just keep tasting. As with love, when you know, you know.
When you do know, it’s time to strain your sorbet base. Use a fine-mesh sieve set over a bowl, and really press on the pulp so that not a single! drop! gets by unused. Your sorbet will be silkier for it. Or skip the straining if you like it a little chunky, which I actually do!
Pour all this into your ready-to-go ice cream maker. Process according to manufacturer's instructions (about 20ish minutes in my Cuisinart). You can eat as is, soft-serve-style, or freeze in a container with a tight-fitting lid for a couple of hours and up to a couple of months. Let sit at room temp 10 to 15 minutes before scooping so you don’t feel like you’re making an ice sculpture.
And here’s that promised ice-cream-maker-less route: Pour the sorbet mix into a shallow pan lined with foil or plastic wrap and freeze until solid. Let sit at room temp 10 or so minutes, until you can cut into ice cube-sized chunks. Pulse the frozen chunks in the food processor until smooth, scraping the bowl regularly to redistribute. Eat as is, or freeze further until scoopable.
Oh—and if you’re feeling really wild, make it boozy. Once you have your sorbet, drop a scoop into a glass of sparkling wine. Or pulse a few scoops in a food processor or blender with a handful of ice and the spirit of your choice (Pineapple sorbet + tequila! Watermelon sorbet + gin!) until slushy. Don’t forget a paper umbrella.
Here are a few flavor ideas to get you going:
- Pineapple + mint (what you see pictured here!)
- Sweet or sour (or both!) cherries + almond extract
- Mango + lime + chile powder
- Apricot + almond extract
- Grapefruit + fresh tarragon
- Rhubarb + lemon + seeded vanilla bean
- Honeydew + lime
- Passionfruit + orange + guava (POG!)
Have you made sorbet at home? Let us know your favorite flavor combos below!