Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Tale of Two Sorbets

I love ice cream. I love to cook. Yet somehow, I am not a lover of making my own ice cream. think my problem is that when I want ice cream, I want it now, and frankly, you have to be a bit patient. Plus, there are so many fabulous artisanal versions available that it’s too easy to just go buy it when you have a craving. But I still do a lot of thinking about making ice cream, or gelato, or something.

It was serendipitous that I found two wonderful recipes for sorbet within days of one another. One was a divine sounding Chocolate Cherry Sorbet and the other a Thai Basil Coconut sorbet. I had grand plans for a pairing of contrast: deep, dark chocolate beside creamy white coconut, garnishes of red cherries and verdant basil, and of course, bitter chocolate and fruity cherry against nutty coconut and spicy basil.

Before you get too excited about this pairing, I have to confess that I first made Chocolate Cherry Sorbet and weeks went by before I finally got around to the Basil Coconut. It was pure laziness on my part. I had one good sorbet, and I didn’t need two. Perhaps it was a good thing that my excitement had waned, because the Coconut sorbet ended up being a big disappointment.

But first, the Chocolate sorbet. The picture in Cooking Light of the Chocolate Cherry Sorbet, from which I based this recipe, was gorgeous, and almost sensual with the melting sorbet and the glistening cherry topping. (Disclaimer: I got lazy far before making the coconut sorbet and skipped the topping all together.) On the upside, the sorbet was fabulous on its own. I like to add a little liquor to my ice creams; because alcohol freezes at a much lower temperature than water, it yields a softer and creamier texture. This I learned after several rock hard tubs of ice cream that were basically inedible. A tablespoon or two does the trick. To bring out the flavor of the cherries I used little ruby port. It added complexity and worked wonderfully with the chocolate as well.

We enjoyed this sorbet until the last scoop. Then it was time for the Thai Basil Coconut Sorbet. When I re-read the recipe, I decided that there was no way that the flavor of the Thai Basil would infuse the ice cream just by getting blended in at the last second before straining. Instead, I would infuse the basil in the coconut base for ten minutes. (Cue some dark "Jaws" warning notes) I must say that at this point I did express concern that there would be some off green notes, but this did not stop the steeping.

Ugh. It was not only green tasting, but stemmy, too. It was like eating a plant. Gone were the minty notes on the mid palette and the spicy basil flavors on the finish that were present when I first began the infusion stage. Worse, it had a gummy texture. Could it be the coconut cream? I’m not an expert in this ingredient, but the only version my grocer carried was gritty and thick, and even after dissolving it and straining it, the final product had that weird texture. In fact, after I let it all melt to throw away, it was still thick and gluey, with an unappetizing grey-green color.

I can’t believe I’ve just spent more time discussing what went wrong versus what went right, when I had a perfectly good recipe to share with you. But I think if you want to grow and expand your abilities, you have to take risks and learn from your mistakes.

In the end, I had one good sorbet recipe and was reminded of the importance of both following a recipe, but also occassionally going out on a limb to make something the best you can. I won with the Port, but lost big time with the basil. And that’s okay, since I enjoyed the process, and the pint of gelato I had in the freezer.

Chocolate Cherry Sorbet

Chilling this recipe overnight is key to having a smooth texture. If you pour it into the ice cream maker without it being cold throughout, it will develop ice crystals and freeze unevenly. The port will help it stay a little creamier when frozen, as will keeping it in your freezer door (where it warmest) as opposed to the back of a shelf.

¾ cup Cherry Jam
½ cup cocoa
¼ cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups water
2 Tablespoons Ruby Port

Combine the jam, cocoa, sugar and salt in a heavy saucepan and stir with a whisk until smooth. While whisking, gradually stir in the water. Bring the mixture to a boil, and whisk occasionally to keep it smooth. Cool to room temperature, then chill overnight.

When you remove the mixture from the fridge, stir it with a whisk until it is smooth; it may have settled a bit. Add the port and whisk thoroughly. Pour into the ice cream maker and process according to the instructions. If you want a soft serve style sorbet, eat it right now, but hurry before it melts! Otherwise, transfer it to a freezer safe container (I like the to-go soup containers you find at a hot bar of a grocery store) and freeze for about an hour.

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