Big Little Recipes

This 3-Ingredient Dessert Is Like a Grown-Up Creamsicle

August  6, 2019

A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big everything else: flavor, creativity, wow factor. Psst—we don't count water, salt, black pepper, and certain fats (specifically, 1/2 cup or less of olive oil, vegetable oil, and butter), since we're guessing you have those covered. Today, we’re making a three-ingredient sherbet—homemade whipped cream included.

Perhaps you’re at a desk or on a couch, maybe riding the subway or in line for coffee—but let’s say you’re at the beach.

It’s 80-something degrees, too bright to skip sunglasses, and breezy. You love the breeze. As you stand by the water, the waves sprinkle your skin with salt, heavily, the way you would season a tomato sandwich. You are listening to Lizzo on repeat when you hear a ring, ring, ring. The ice cream truck? Yes. You run to it. And, like always, you order:

“A Creamsicle, please.”

Over the years, this Popsicle classic has come in flavors like raspberry, blueberry, cherry, and wild berry. But for many, you can’t beat orange. It’s the sort of nostalgic treat that’s been around for so long, people take it personally. Take, for instance, its product reviews:

“My family goes through a box of orange creamsicles a night,” says Britt25.

“They bring back childhood memories,” says Squirrel mom.

“Introduced creamsicles to my grandkids this summer! They loved them! One said it was like an orange float on a stick,” says Nana of 7.


This is a good point.


If we wanted to “match the flavor of an original creamsicle,” we would need: nonfat milk, corn syrup, sugar, water, high fructose corn syrup, maltodextrin, cream, orange juice (from concentrate), whey, mono and diglycerides, propylene glycol monoesters, dextrose, citric acid, malic acid, cellulose gel, guar gum, polysorbate 80, locust bean gum, cellulose gum, natural flavor, ascorbic acid (vitamin c), carrageenan, annatto extract (color), and vitamin a palmitate. Which, not that I’m counting or anything, is 23 ingredients.

In this Big Little Recipe, we’re going to ditch 20 of those, and end up with an orange sherbet (1) that comes with its own salted whipped cream.

Unlike an ice pop, which is what it is, this dish is whatever you want. You can fiddle with the citrusy-creamy contrast as you eat (if you’re like me, this means adding more whipped cream every couple of bites). You can eat two scoops and then decide to eat one more. It’s less sweet and sticky, more refreshing and bracing, like leaping into the ocean on an August afternoon.

Here are the three ingredients you’ll need:

1. Orange juice and zest. Not from concentrate. From oranges! Figure six, depending on their size. Get organic if you can, since we’ll be using the zest, which adds a zingy sourness. When you juice the oranges (I like using an old-school reamer), some of the pulp will tag along—don’t strain it out. Those pieces will add flavor and body to the sherbet.

2. Light corn syrup. Repeat after me: When it comes to frozen desserts, liquid sweeteners like light corn syrup are your friend. This ingredient—no, it’s not the same as high-fructose corn syrup and, yes, it’s available at any supermarket—thwarts crystallization (2), yielding a creamy, silky, scoopable sherbet.

3. Heavy cream. Another way to achieve a creamy sherbet? Cream. This ingredient is the foundation of most ice cream recipes for good reason—its high fat content adds lush texture and ultra-rich flavor. In this case, we’re using 1 cup in the sherbet and another 1 cup for the topping. You may be tempted to add a spoonful of sugar just before whipping, but resist! The only addition we need is…

Salt. This honorary Big Little ingredient is as crucial to dessert as it is to dinner. In this case, it balances the sherbet itself, and takes whipped cream from good to whoa. I started salting whipped cream thanks to Bill Smith’s Atlantic Beach Pie (another citrusy-creamy classic), and I’ve been hooked ever since.

As with the classic treat, the orange-cream combo reminds me of childhood. But then the puckery zest and beachy salt remind me that I’m not a child. And that if I want to have sherbet in the middle of the day—without eating my broccoli first—no one can stop me. Or you.

(1) Sherbet is a frozen dessert made with fruit puree or juice, some sort of sweetener (like sugar or corn syrup), some sort of dairy (like milk, buttermilk, or cream), and sometimes gelatin or egg whites. Not to be confused with sorbet, which doesn't contain dairy. Sometimes spelled and pronounced as sherbert, which a lot of people will tell you is wrong, but Merriam-Webster says is A-okay. You do you!

(2) In frozen desserts, crystallization refers to the formation of ice crystals—those itty-bitty things that make ice cream hard and grainy. As food writer (and frozen yogurt Genius) Max Falkowitz notes on Serious Eats, corn syrup is “impervious to crystallization...adding smoothness and creaminess to ice cream and sorbet.” And sherbet, to boot.

What's your favorite frozen dessert in the summer? Tell us in the comments!
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Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


Sal August 6, 2019
This look great! But there's no award for lowest ingredient count, especially when it's a farce.
Emma L. August 8, 2019
Hey Jeff! As noted in the article intro, we don't count certain pantry staples: "water, salt, black pepper, and certain fats (specifically, 1/2 cup or less of olive oil, vegetable oil, and butter), since we're guessing you have those covered."
michellegallik August 6, 2019
I am so going to make this, but why did you pre-freeze the canister from the Breville Smart Scoop ? the beauty of this machine is, you don't have to, just hit the pre cool button!
Marie S. August 6, 2019
This looks dreamy. Any possibility I could use Nigella Lawson's One-Step, No-churn Method? That would be great for us poor fools with no ice cream maker.
Emma L. August 8, 2019
Hi! There's probably not enough cream in this recipe for that method to work, but here's another no-churn method from Alice Medrich that might be a better bet: If you give it a go, please report back!