As the touchy-feely, Zig Ziglar-esque, power-of-positive-thinking cliché goes: “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade; then sell it on a street corner at an insultingly inflated price to cover your operating costs.”
But what do you do when life gives you Meyer lemons? You make lemon sorbet.
In the taxonomy of frozen desserts, sorbet falls at the end of one extreme, with ice cream appearing at the other, and sherbet somewhere in between. Where ice cream is a frozen combination of dairy, sugar, and sometimes eggs, sorbet is almost always a frozen mixture of a sugar solution and fruit, although other flavors like coffee are not unheard of. Sherbet is the Borg of the lot, incorporating both fruit and dairy. Recipe after the jump…
Meyer Lemon Sorbet
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 3-4 Meyer lemons, or 6-8 less juicy ones)
- 2 teaspoons lemon zest
- a tiny pinch of salt
If you’re using an ice-cream maker, make sure the core and dasher are already in your freezer.
Combine the water, sugar, and salt in a saucepan. Place over medium-high heat and stir with a wooden spoon until the sugar has dissolved, the liquid is clear, and you no longer feel any grains of sugar scraping along the bottom of the pan. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
Amateur and professional mixologists will recognize this first step as the makings of a simple syrup, used to sweeten everything from iced tea to margaritas. Heating the sugar with the water breaks the chemical bond of the sugar molecules, allowing it to incorporate itself more fully with the water. You can also add additional flavors once it comes off the heat; a handful of crushed mint leaves left to steep makes for a nice background note in the final product.
Juice and zest the lemons.
Most of the aromatic power of citrus fruit is stored in the surface peel as volatile oils. Adding zest to recipes is like adding hops to beer; it won’t taste like much, but the aroma will act like a cattle prod on your olfactory system, amping up the overall lemony flavor.
The ideal tool for harvesting lemon zest is a Microplane grater, which is also good for grating nutmeg, shaving chocolate, and pulverizing ginger. Run the lemon gently across its little teeth, rolling the fruit as you go. If you’re using Meyer lemons, remember that their peels are a lot thinner than conventional varieties, so be careful not to dig too deep into the white pith just underneath. A good-sized lemon will yield about two teaspoons of zest.
When the syrup is cooled, mix both sets of liquids together with the zest, then transfer it all to an airtight container and chill in your refrigerator. Overnight would be best, but a minimum of four hours will do. Chilling the mixture before churning it will create smaller ice crystals, which translates into a smoother feel on the tongue.
Churn the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. For my little snowball machine, it only took about fifteen minutes for all the ice crystals to form.
At this point, your sorbet is little more than a homemade Slurpee. For a more stable, scoopable product, it needs to harden; so transfer it again into an airtight container and leave in the freezer for at least four hours before serving.
If you don’t have an ice cream maker, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. In fact, it’s a great excuse to make granita instead:
Follow the recipe as above, then pour the mixture into a large baking dish and stash it in the freezer. A 13 by 9 inch metal pan works best, but anything with a wide flat bottom and a relatively high lip will work. Let it chill in there for half an hour, then pull it out and scrape the pan, breaking up any nascent ice crystals with a fork. Stick it back in and come back every half hour or so to repeat the process. Eventually the granita will take on a fluffy, granular texture, like a Sno-Cone or Hawaiian shave ice. When there’s no more liquid visible, take it out and serve as is, or buzz it up gently in a food processor for a smoother, sorbet-like texture.
Scooping with a melon baller makes for a nice, petite presentation. Or you could just eat it straight from the bowl.