Big Little Recipes

This 2-Ingredient Mix-In Will Upgrade Any Sorbet

August 20, 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 spicy-sweet sorbet to beat the heat.

There comes a point in every summer—like, say, right about now—when even ice cream feels too heavy, too creamy, too much. In sweaty times like this, sorbet is at the ready.

Unlike ice cream, which is cream- and milk-based, sorbet hinges on fruit juice or puree, plus sugar and water. This dairy-free formula makes it as refreshing as a cool shower after a long run.

Of course, there is one catch: sweetness. While cream and milk are not noticeably sweet, ripe fruit is, which means you’re combining sweet fruit with sweeter sugar.

Ah-ha! you say. I know the Big Little trick! We skip the sugar! But not so fast. Sugar doesn’t just make frozen desserts sweet. It also makes them scoopable and spoonable. So to make a sorbet that’s balanced enough to eat two scoops—and you do want two scoops, right?—we’ll need to call in some reinforcements:

Lime Juice

You’ll find citrus juice—usually lemon or lime—in most sorbet recipes, to balance out the sweetness. For example, in this strawberry sorbet from Alice Medrich, there’s “2 teaspoons, or to taste.” And in this cherry sorbet from Emily Connor, there’s “1 to 2 tablespoons, or to taste.” The repetition of or to taste isn’t a coincidence. It’s because no matter how well-tested a recipe is, the author can’t predict the sweetness of the fruit you just brought home. Adjusting the acid level to taste means you’ll get the best-possible result from the fruit you’re working with. My mango sorbet calls for 3 tablespoons lime juice, adjusted to taste. This sounds like a lot. It’s not. Because sorbet is so sweet, it can handle an impressive amount of acid. The sorbet won’t taste limey, just balanced.


This honorary Big Little ingredient (see the article intro) is super-duper important in desserts. Just like salting a tomato makes it taste more tomato-y, salting a mango or any other fruit makes it taste more like itself. Plus, it goes a long way in keeping the sugar under control. We’ll be salting both the sorbet itself and the chocolate ripple running through.


Dark chocolate

I need not convince you that chocolate and fruit are like those friends of yours who have been married so long, they’re renewing their vows. So let’s focus on the cacao percentage instead. For a chocolate ripple in sorbet, seek out something that’s at least 67% cacao. This adds a deep, sultry, bitter dimension to the dish. And if you’re thinking chocolate ripple sounds complicated, don’t worry, it’s not. All you have to do is drizzle melted chocolate into the ice cream machine during the last few minutes of churning. As soon as it hits the frosty sorbet, it will freeze into chips, then the churner will break those into crackly shards.

Chipotle powder

Wander through any neighborhood in Mexico City and you’ll cross paths with a fresh fruit stand, where cut-up mango (or watermelon or coconut, you get the idea) is spritzed with lime juice and sprinkled with salt and chile powder, such as Tajín. First, you get the sweet juiciness of the fruit, then a bam-pow-boom of chiles. In this sorbet, we’re using earthy, smoky chipotle powder. But we’re not sprinkling it directly on the sorbet—we’re stirring it into the chocolate ripple. Spiced chocolate is another Mexican tradition I can’t get enough of in my own kitchen. I love how, in this case, it’s visually undetectable. You take a bite, expecting a super-sweet dessert, and get a spicy surprise.

This flavor combination was dreamed up with bright, sunny mango sorbet in mind. (Psst: Using honey—or Ataulfo or champagne—mangoes, which are especially creamy, makes an especially creamy sorbet.) But don’t let that stop you from adding a chocolate-chile ripple to other sorbet flavors, from plum-rose to more chocolate.

What’s your favorite sorbet flavor? Share 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.


the M. August 20, 2019
Favorite sorbet -- strawberry balsamic! But this sounds amazing as well! Must make soon!
Smaug August 20, 2019
I haven't worked to any noticeable degree with sorbets, but it seems to me if you wanted to temper the sweetness the place to start would be with using glucose and invert syrups in place of sucrose.