One of the reasons I went to culinary school, after working in professional kitchens for a few years, was to have an understanding of why my recipes didn’t always work. Things would succeed if I followed the recipe to the letter, but if I played or strayed at all they would have as much chance of being a disaster as they did a winner. In culinary school I learned enough about food science to be able to play with recipes or create my own from scratch. I learned why eggs should be warm when you whip them and why you should use low protein flours for cakes and higher ones for breads. They taught me about Brix, Baume and other technical ways to measure sugar in sorbet solutions so they will freeze, but not become a solid brick of ice. After school, once I could afford it, I bought a Refractometer, which shows you the sugar content in a solution. This way I can mix up a batch of any kind of fruit sorbet, add some simple syrup and the sorbet will be a success. But, what if you are just making sorbet a couple times a year, do you really need such a geeky, expensive gadget? Not unless you are a kitchen equipment hoarder, like me.
So, then what? There is another way to have a greater chance at success than just praying for the best. You can use a method that involves floating an egg in your sorbet. Yep, I said FLOATING AN EGG, the whole thing, in the shell. It is also a very cool experiment to do with your kids. As the solution gets more saturated with sugar, the egg is buoyed to the surface. Once the egg is actually floating partially above the surface, the solution has enough sugar to prevent the sorbet from being too icy. Perhaps not as impressive as whipping out your refractometer, but pretty amazing in a Beakman’s World kind of way and it allows you to make sorbet from just about any juice. Obviously, this will not work with all fruits, banana puree tends to be too thick and the egg, no matter how sweet the solution, will float on the surface. But, for citrus and other thin juices, it is wonderful.
How to Make Sorbet with Fruit Juice
3 cups juice (your choice, just make it a thin one), chilled (if you are using lemon or lime juice, it is too intense all on its own and you should start by diluting it with some water. I usually go with 2 parts juice, 1 part water).
2 cups simple syrup (you won’t use it all, but it is better to have too much, it lasts almost forever), chilled
1 to 2 tablespoons liqueur (this is for flavor, but it also prevents the sorbet from freezing solid. Alcohol won’t freeze, so it is great insurance that you will have a soft sorbet. BUT, if you add too much sorbet won’t freeze at all and you will basically have a margarita or daiquiri!)
1 very clean egg (I wash it with dish soap and rinse several times)
How to make sorbet:
Put your juice in a container that has room to add more liquid and is deep enough that you can submerge an egg. Gently place the egg in the container. At this point it will probably sink straight to the bottom, so don’t just drop it in. If it heads to the bottom, remove it and add about 1/2 cup of the simple syrup. Stir and try the egg again.
This time when you put the egg in it should be suspended in the liquid, maybe not to the surface yet, but hovering just below. Can you see the egg in mine, I am pointing at the faint white spot under the surface. Remove the egg.
Add another 1/2 cup of the simple syrup and stir.
Place the egg in the sorbet, now you can see it starting to emerge. It needs to be about the size of a quarter above the surface to indicate that there is enough sugar in your solution.
Add it a couple of tablespoons at a time until you have the right level.
Once it is floating high enough, add the liquor or liqueur of your choosing.
Freeze the sorbet according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
I freeze a container to the put the sorbet in so it won’t melt when you take it out of the machine. Freeze it immediately.
If the sorbet hardens a bit after being frozen for a couple of days, you can temper it by letting it “warm up” in the refrigerator for 20 minutes before serving.
HINT: the greatest thing about sorbet is it can be frozen, thawed and refrozen over and over. If your sorbet has been in the freezer for a while and is losing its nice texture, just thaw it and return it to the ice cream maker to freeze it again. This way you don’t have to use gums and other stabilizers to insure a great texture.
Recommended book on Sorbet and all things tasty and frozen is by David Lebovitz called The Perfect Scoop!