As much as I love high-fat, calorie-dense ice cream, summertime makes me crave a refreshing bowl of cool, frosty sorbet. The light, playful, icy texture is perfect on a sweltering summer evening. Sorbet is often relegated to the role of ‘palate refresher’ in a dinner consisting of a parade of taste-bud challenging courses. And in this role it is always welcome, but oh, what a great other future sorbet has !
Sorbet is right at home as the star of the dessert course. On one of my recent visits to our local farmers market, I spied bunches of fresh sprearmint and lemon balm neatly placed among the offerings from one of our favorite vendors. I quickly snatched one of each, thinking how perfect they would be chopped and added to an impromptu hot and spicy Asian noodle dish.
Once home, I began to work the tantalizing aroma of these herbs through my mental taste buds and I started to envision them not in an Asian noodle dish but in batch of savory sorbet instead. I decided to use Bob’s recipe for White tea sorbet from The Story of Tea. as the base for my experiment. My thinking was thus: since the flavor of the sorbet would be derived from an infusion of fresh herbs, this would be just a simple switch of one infused leaf for another. And should therefore cause no difference to the ratio of water to sugar called for in his recipe.
Knowing that sugar dulls flavor and freezing does more of the same, I thought it best to use copious amounts of each of my fresh herbs. And underscore the flavor with a squeeze of fresh ( please, not bottled ! ) lemon or lime juice.
I was right – the sorbet came out jazzed and flavorful and intriguingly different. And it was an elegant, frosty white color that added to its allure.
Now I am geared up to see how far I can go with this base recipe and interesting combinations of savory flavors. Next up….English thyme and black peppercorn sorbet accompanied by local fresh berries for weekend dinner guests.
Here is my recipe for anyone who want to savor this tasty treat.
French Mint & Lemon Balm Sorbet makes about 1 quart
3 & 1/2 cups water
2 cups sugar
2 cups densely packed herbs
freshly squeezed juice of 1/2 lemon ( or 1 lime )
1. Select the best leaves from the herb bundles and rinse them well.
2. In a 2 qt saucepan bring the water to a boil then remove from the heat.
3. Add the fresh herbs and cover the pan. Infuse the herbs for 5 minutes. Drain the mixture through a strainer into another pan and discard the herbs. Bring the infusion back to a boil and add the sugar. Reduce the heat and stir just until the sugar melts and the syrup is clear, about 2 minutes.
4. Move the pan from the burner and let it cool for 35 minutes. Add the lemon juice. Pour the syrup into a pitcher or bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Put it in the refrigerator to chill for at least 4 hours (or longer if you can). The longer it chills, the better the texture will be.
5. Pour the syrup into an ice-cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer the sorbet to an airtight container and freeze for several hours so that it may ‘harden off.’
6. When ready to serve, remove the sorbet from the freezer and let it sit for 10 minutes or until it softens slightly. The perfect dish of sorbet is soft but not melting in the dish, fine grained and smooooooth. Serve quickly in chilled bowls once it begins to soften.