Nick Palumbo
16 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
Billy Law

Sorbets are the original ‘gelato’ or precursor to ice cream. The oldest recorded recipes were all sorbets as they were water-based recipes. The introduction of milk and cream came hundreds of years later.

It’s important to make the distinction between sorbet and gelato/ice cream. Sorbets should NOT contain any dairy or dairy products. However, just because you use water in a recipe, this does not automatically make it a sorbet. I have friends in the restaurant game who make ‘yoghurt sorbet’, for example, but really there’s no such thing. Yoghurt is made from dairy, so by definition there can be no such thing as a yoghurt sorbet.

Although most sorbets are fruit based — think mango sorbet, raspberry sorbet — this isn’t a rule; as long as there are no dairy products included, a sorbet can be flavoured with almost anything.

There are four things that need to be taken into account before you formulate a sorbet recipe:

1. How ripe is the fruit

For sorbet, it’s really important that you use fruit that is well overripe. If you use fruit that’s still perfect enough for eating raw, then once you mix in the sugars and water, you won’t get much flavour coming through. Just like when you make a banana cake, for the best flavour you really need to use bananas when the skins are virtually black, as the fruit will be very soft and sweet.

The great thing about using overripe fruits is that often your fruit and vegetable purveyor will sell it to you at a cheaper price. Or if you have excess fruit at home, you can always process and then freeze it, so it’s ready for another time.

When processing fruit, it’s a good idea to first wash the fruit in a food-grade sanitiser to kill any bacteria on it. Alternatively, wipe the fruit with a lightly soaped sponge and rinse well.

2. How much fruit to use

When deciding how much fruit is needed, it’s best to categorise fruits into one of three groups:

Strong fruits Medium-strength fruits Weak fruits

Strong fruits are easily recognised because they are generally high in acid. These fruits are difficult to drink without the addition of sugars or water; think lemon, lime, passionfruit. Because they have quite a strong flavour, we use a percentage ranging from a minimum of 15% and up to 30% of the fruit in our recipe. Any less and you won’t get any flavour; any more and most people will find it too acidic or strong.

Medium-strength fruits are a little bit harder to spot, and trial and error will eventually result in you working out the correct quantity of fruit required. Fruit that fall into this category include mango and most of the berries. Try staying in the range of about 30% to a maximum of 45%.

Weak fruits are those that are usually eaten in their natural form and include orange, stone fruit, kiwi fruit and banana. The range of fruit required in a sorbet recipe is from 45% to 60% total fruit.

3. How much sugar is in the fruit it self

Every fruit carries a different amount of sugar and if we don’t allow for this sugar, it will affect the recipe because sugar is an antifreeze.

By using a refractometer, we can determine the percentage of sugar in the fruit and make an allowance for it when we are trying to calculate the total sugar percentage required in the recipe. If you don’t have a refractometer, use the internet to get averages of the sugar content of most fruits.

4. How much sugar in total is required

It’s important to understand the total percentage of sugar you want in your recipe. Sugar is an antifreeze, so the higher the sugar percentage, the softer it will be at sub-zero temperatures.

As a rule, we aim to have a range of 26% to 32% total sugars. A 26% sugar sorbet will be quite firm at our serving temperature of –12°C and a 32% sugar sorbet will be quite soft and difficult to scoop at these temperatures. The average is 27% to 29%, depending on the level of sweetness you or your customers find appropriate, but again, you will only work out what is right for you once you have made a few sorbets at the different sugar percentages.

Now that we know the four basic requirements for making a sorbet, we can talk about the types of sugars we can use and the amount and type of stabilisers we use.

Sugars and stabilisers

We know the virtues of dextrose and maltodextrin but to recap, we use dextrose when we want to make a recipe taste less sweet and softer at sub-zero temperatures and maltodextrin when we need to bind excess water.

We use stabilisers to soak up water in the recipe so that the sorbet will thicken, therefore preventing any free-flowing water (that didn’t find a home within a solid particle) from turning into an ice crystal.

Let’s compare a lemon sorbet at, say, 26% total sugar and 20% fruit content with a mango sorbet at 30% total sugar and 45% fruit content. These are two extreme examples but they will highlight why we spend so much time manipulating the recipes.

In the lemon sorbet, we instantly recognise that it has less sugar and has a total fruit content of only 20%, therefore we would expect a hard, watery style sorbet that would not be very sweet. The lemon sorbet has only 26% sugar, so we would not use dextrose, because dextrose has only about 70% the sweetness of sugar; instead we would use fructose, which has a high antifreezing effect like dextrose but is almost twice as sweet. This high antifreezing effect is important because a sorbet at 26% sugar will be hard at sub-zero temperatures, so we need something that will make our sorbet softer at serving temperatures.

We also have lots of water present in this recipe, as lemon juice is quite thin and we are only using 20% juice and a 26% total sugar content. Our total solids are low and our water percentage is high, so we then need another type of sugar that will help absorb this excess water. Enter maltodextrin, which has high binding properties and will help soak up all that extra water.

The amount of stabiliser will also need to be up to the maximum amount of .05% For the same reason as above, the stabiliser will help thicken and make the sorbet scoopable at serving temperatures of around –12°C.

So, by replacing some of the sugar with some fructose and maltodextrin and using the maximum amount of stabiliser, we can transform our cold, watery, hard and not very sweet lemon sorbet into a creamy, more scoopable and sweeter sorbet and it will still have only 26% total sugar and 20% fruit.

Remember, when you start introducing other types of sugars, try not to use more than 30%. In other words, if you need 100 g of sugar, replace it with 70 g of sugar and 30 g of maltodextrin (or dextrose).

Now …

We would expect the mango to be a sweet and full-bodied, almost creamy sorbet that will be very soft because of its 30% sugar content. In this case, we don’t need to add any sugars that will have a high antifreezing effect because we are already at a 30% sugar content, so that rules out fructose. It would be desirable to add a sugar that is not as sweet as sugar, like dextrose, but dextrose also has a high antifreezing effect, so that’s ruled out as well. A fibrous fruit like mango has about a 45% fruit content, so we have lots of solids present as well as the 30% sugar, so we don’t need any sugar with binding effects, so that rules out maltodextrin. And last of all, we would need less stabiliser as well, because there isn’t the same amount of water present as was the case with the lemon sorbet, so we can drop the amount of stabiliser to about .035%. In short, the mango recipe would simply consist of mango, water, sugar and stabiliser.

Hopefully now you can see the role that sugars play when making sorbet, and how with the same parameters you can manipulate your recipe and give it very different characteristics.

One final point on sorbets. When sourcing stabilisers, look for a stabiliser that contains xanthan gum. Xanthan gum is acid resistant (to a point) and because all fruits contain some acid, this gum will help keep the integrity of your sorbet longer than other gums.

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