Sorbets, ices and ice creams

Sorbets, ices and ice creams

Justin North
18 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
Steve Brown

Frozen desserts have got to be one of the all-time favourite sweet treats all around the world, and part of the pleasure is that they come in so many different flavours and forms.

From the purity of a scoop of vanilla ice cream in a cone, to an intensely tangy sorbet or the sophistication of a moulded iced extravaganza, as far as I’m concerned they are all irresistible.

The first frozen desserts were water ices – sorbets – supposedly created in China and then in the Middle East from sweet fruit juices or wines that were frozen with snow. History books tell us that the great traveller Marco Polo brought the technique from China back to Italy in the thirteenth century, starting that country’s long-held passion for gelati. The fashion for iced desserts was sparked in the dining rooms of Paris when Catherine de Medici married the soon-to-be king Henri II. By the eighteenth century, the popularity of ‘ices’ had spread to the streets – most famously in the Parisian Café Procope, where more than 80 different flavours were reputedly served.

The idea of freezing custards emerged towards the end of the eighteenth century. The greater substance and body that eggs, milk or cream gave to the recipe meant that these frozen desserts could be moulded into all sorts of extraordinary shapes. Richest of all were the parfaits, which traditionally have an absurdly high ratio of egg yolks to cream. Coupes, bombes, iced soufflés – all of these were created during the ‘belle époque’ when a chef’s main aim in life was to make a name for himself with some new creation.

These days we can all make our own frozen creations in the comfort of our kitchens. Good-quality ice-cream machines – sorbetières – are readily available from most department stores. In my book these are well worth the outlay for the incomparable result you will achieve.


The simplest frozen desserts of all, water-ices or granitas are really refreshing on hot summer days.

They are made from fruit juices or a light syrup that’s flavoured with sweet wine or liqueurs and, unlike smooth-textured ice creams and sorbets, they should be crunchy to eat. They are simplicity itself to make: the base liquid is poured into a shallow container and they are lightly beaten with a fork as they freeze, to break up the crystals. They have a light, yet icy texture.


A level up in sophistication from the water-ice, sorbets really must be churned in an ice-cream machine to ensure they have a fine, silky-smooth texture.

Because they generally have no fat content, sorbets are very much the darling of modern-day health-conscious restaurant menus, and they offer huge scope for the creative cook. It can be a little tricky to achieve that perfect smoothness, which depends on using the correct proportion of sugar to other ingredients. Sorbets are at their best when freshly made as the flavours start to lessen after a few days. They should be allowed to soften at room temperature for about 10 minutes before eating, to really bring out the intensity of the flavours.

The simplest sorbets are made from pure fruit juice, mixed with a little stock syrup and glucose, which prevents the sorbet becoming icy and helps achieve the desired velvety smoothness.

Use the mandarin sorbet recipe opposite as a base and experiment with other fresh juices as the fancy takes you. My other favourites are ruby grapefruit sorbet, blood orange, lemon, lime and tequila or even passionfruit-orange. The quantity of stock syrup needed may vary slightly, depending on the sweetness and acidity of the fruit juice. Add the syrup to the juice gradually, tasting as you go until you achieve your preferred level of sweetness.

Ice creams

By definition, commercially manufactured ice creams must have a minimum dairy fat content (usually 10%) to give them that desirable cold, rich creaminess.

But slightly belying their name, they are not simply frozen cream, which would be too heavy and dense. Most ice creams are made using a base of crème anglaise, a custard made from eggs, sugar and hot milk. This crème anglaise is the base for myriad flavours, which can be achieved through infusions (of herbs or spices), by adding fruit purées, melted chocolate or liqueurs. And then you can have fun by adding texture, in the form of crumbled biscuit or meringue, crunchy praline or flaked chocolate.

The secret to achieving a velvety-smooth texture is, once again, an ice-cream machine. As the mixture churns, air is incorporated into it – on a commercial scale, the amount of air is much larger than in domestic machines, and basically, the cheaper the ice cream, the more air there is in it. Homemade ice creams are much denser and richer than commercially manufactured ice cream.

Frozen parfaits

If you don’t have an ice cream machine, don’t despair. There are still a number of frozen desserts that can be made very successfully without one, and the parfait is a prime example.

Parfaits – or semi-freddos, to give them their Italian name – are not churned, but frozen in individual moulds or a large mould. These days, moulds come in all manner of fancy shapes and sizes, from cones to spheres to triangles, but most popularly, parfaits tend to be frozen in large, terrine-style moulds. They are turned out and cut into slices just before serving.

The base for a parfait is usually a sabayon or pâte bombe, which provide a stable foamy base. Both are made in a similar way, with egg yolks and sugar whisked together over a pan of simmering water to cook the foam. Whipped cream and flavourings are folded into the foam base to make it delicate, yet rich and creamy.

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