Ice cream is the classic choice for dessert in the summertime, yet it's not necessarily the best. You don't have to try too hard to sell me on the stuff, but, beyond being cold, ice cream doesn't have many of the attributes we tend to look for in a warm-weather dessert—it's rich and, obviously, laden with dairy. That overall heaviness means you might have to go easy on your main course to ensure you've got plenty of room afterward. But sorbet—now there's a sweet treat that was made for these sticky days and nights. Typically made with nothing more than fruit, sugar, acid (usually citrus juice), and a pinch of salt, sorbet's leanness and bright, tangy flavor leave little standing between you and refreshment.
Because it's so simple to make as long as you're using the right technique, sorbet is also readily customizable. Always start with the best fruit available, no matter what it is—strawberries, mangoes, watermelon, persimmons. If your sorbet is for adults only, adding a little alcohol, like Campari or tequila, can help keep it from becoming too icy (a happy coincidence if I ever heard of one). Here are 11 light and easy sorbet recipes that will cool your palate while keeping the spring in your step.
Deep pink, sweet, intensely strawberry-ish strawberry sorbet can come only from using the best berries. You're looking for the very small, fragrant ones from your local farmers market, not the behemoths from the grocery store. If they're a bit on the tart side, you may need to add slightly less lemon juice to the base.
The flesh of a mango is so thick and sweet, sorbet made from it tends to be surprisingly rich, despite the lack of dairy. A small amount of water blended in will help it reach the right consistency, and lime juice rather than lemon fits with the fruit's tropical origins. This basic recipe is ripe for experimentation—adding a pinch of red pepper flakes would be a great move.
Creamy Persimmon Sorbet
Here, we replace the water in our mango sorbet with strong black tea, balancing the honey-like sweetness of the fruit with pleasant malty notes and a touch of astringency. Fuyu persimmons are delicious for eating plain, but hachiyas are our top pick for sorbet.
Easy Peach Sorbet
You want to talk easy? This peach sorbet recipe doesn't even ask you to peel your fresh fruit before you dice and purée. It's the perfect use for overripe fruit, or even frozen peaches—the amount of sugar sorbet needs to freeze properly is a helpful mask for a lot of flaws. Modulate the quantity of lime juice you use here based on how tangy your fruit is.
Not only can this rich, jammy plum sorbet be made without peeling the fruit, like the peach version above, leaving the sour skins on adds enough acid to the base that you shouldn't need to use any citrus juice. A variety of plums (we used sugar plums and Italian prunes for the version in this photo) will yield a more complex flavor, and a little corn syrup in the base saves it from becoming overly icy.
Rich, Tart Lemon Sorbet
The high water and pectin content of citrus fruits means they're likely to form ice crystals in sorbet—not a great feature. Corn syrup helps produce a creamier texture and acts as a stabilizer so that this smooth, tangy sorbet will last longer in the freezer.
Tiny, aromatic clementines are the exception to the citrus rule—they make an incredibly creamy sorbet, almost like sherbet, with just a moderate amount of sugar and no corn syrup at all. The base recipe starts with chilled juice, so keep the clementines in the fridge until you juice them to reduce prep time.
Watermelon sorbet is a handy way to use up the copious fruit that a whole melon produces. It does pose a few challenges, though. First, and most obvious, it's chock-full of water, making your sorbet prone to ice crystals. A tablespoon of alcohol, like white rum or vodka, will mitigate that effect. Second, watermelon is a tad bland, so, for extra flavor, we mix in bittersweet roasted cocoa nibs—they also rather cutely resemble watermelon seeds.
Pear, Riesling, and Ginger Sorbet
Pears poached in wine is already an elegant dessert; when puréed and churned, it transforms easily into a delicious, sophisticated sorbet. We prefer an acidic, moderately sweet Riesling—you'll want one with an alcohol content of around 12%. Spicy ginger in the base pairs nicely with the sweetness of the pears and mineral backbone of the Riesling.
The beauty of really good raspberries is in how nuanced their flavor is—sweet, tart, and bitter all at once. Making sorbet out of them hides that complexity, with the sugar cancelling out that natural astringency. Here, we turn to Campari to replace some of the fruit's pleasant bitterness, and reinforce the rosy color, too.
Grapefruit, Lime, and Tequila (Paloma) Sorbet
Traditionally, a Mexican Paloma is made by spiking grapefruit soda with tequila and lime. We've found that freshly squeezed juice works better than soda when translating the cocktail into sorbet. But don't worry—the tequila is still invited! Use whatever tequila you enjoy drinking; I prefer the deeper flavor of a reposado.