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Sorbets, sherbets and granitas 101

Make these deliciously refreshing desserts while the sun shines.

06 Nov 2009

Water ices may be served as a stand-alone refreshment, as a dessert, or as a means of refreshing the palate about halfway through a meal of many courses. There are subtle differences between the three most common water ices, and over the years the recipes have become so entwined that it is hard to tell which one is which. In fact, one person's sorbet could very well be another's sherbet, or granita.

The main differences between water ices (which contain basically the same ingredients) lies in the freezing method, the amount of sugar you use in proportion to the liquid in the recipe, and the texture in the finished product. Sorbet is prepared with a relatively high proportion of sugar to liquid, and frozen in a conventional, beater-type ice cream maker, and has a creamy, smooth consistency. Granita has less sugar to liquid, is frozen in a large freezer-safe pan in the freezer section of your refrigerator and is stirred with a rubber spatula or raked with the tines of a fork about every 30 minutes to yield large, coarse ice crystals.

Sorbet is a type of water ice that is softer and more granular than ice cream as it does not contain any fat or egg yolk. The basic ingredient of a sorbet is fruit juice or puree, wine, spirit or liqueur, or an infusion (tea or mint). A sugar syrup, sometimes with additional glucose or one or two invert sugars is added. The mixture should not be beaten during freezing.

Sherbet in the Middle East is made from fruit juices or extracts of flowers or herbs, combined with sugar and water (and sometimes vinegar) to form a syrup that is thinned at any later time with water, ice or even snow. Syrups are traditionally made of fruit, including pear, quince, strawberry, apple, rose water, cherry, pomegranate and orange, and in the Middle East herb sherbet is made from the leaves or roots of such plants as palmyra palm and carob. There is also a honey sherbet and one made of tamarind. Outside the Muslim world alcohol such as rum or brandy, could be added. Some, especially in the Western world, distinguish between sorbet and sherbet by noting that sherbet (can) contain milk. A milk sherbet would not be as light or full of fruit as a granita or sorbet.

Granitas, as are sorbets, are characteristically light and refreshing, but intensely flavoured, and sometimes tart and sweet at the same time. Granita is an icy frozen mixture, traditionally made with coffee. To make, coffee or other ingredients are poured into a large shallow pan then frozen. To serve you use the tines of a fork to scrape the mixture up and place in goblets which creates kind of a cross between a slushy and a sorbet. Granita is served in a myriad of flavours from the more traditional coffee to more exotic such as pineapple or champagne. Herb-infused, savoury granitas such as horseradish, chilli, cucumber, and mint varieties are generally meant to be consumed much earlier in a meal's sequence. Other granitas are frozen infusions of herbs such as tea, lavender, and rose petals. Sounds much like a sherbet...

All water ices are versatile and delicious in a variety of flavours so you can serve them as a first course, an accompaniment to a fruit or leafy salad, as a dish between courses or of course, as dessert. And don't forget to try your hand at making savoury water ices; simply replace the fruit with a (salad) vegetable of your choice, or add a dash of vodka or tequila.

The fruit can be prepared in advance, and stored in the refrigerator at least a day before using. Just stir the two mixtures to blend thoroughly before pouring into a container to freeze. Water ices lose their flavour if frozen for too long.

In some recipes the fruit, flowers, herbs and/or spices are boiled in sugar water, reduced, strained, then frozen. In other recipes, especially for Middle Eastern sherbets, the ingredients are simply whisked in a food processor and served over ice, or topped with shaved ice.



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