Ice creams and sorbets

Ice creams and sorbets

Leiths School of Food and Wine
9 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing
978 184949 550 9
Peter Cassidy

Ice creams and sorbets are often served as an accompaniment to another dessert that is really the main event. However, many of these recipes can happily take centre stage as the perfect way to showcase the best of fruit in season, or to enjoy a rich, sweet treat. There are a wide variety of fruit salads and compotes in the first chapter that make perfect partners to some of these ice creams. For extra texture, add a sprinkling of praline or serve a crisp tuile on the side.

Ice cream making methods

Ice creams can be made in several different ways. The most common method is a custard-based ice cream where a crème anglaise (or custard) base is flavoured, then churned to break up rocky ice crystals as it freezes, and to introduce some air which will make the ice cream smooth, creamy and light.

Meringue-based and mousse-based ice creams are made by folding lightly whipped cream and all manner of flavourings into Italian meringue or a mousse base. In both methods, air bubbles are introduced when making the base, resulting in a light textured ice cream. Sometimes these ice creams don’t need to be churned, as so much air is already incorporated. A parfait is just such an un-churned ice cream, light because of all the air whisked into it.

As the name suggests, an all-in-one ice cream is made with a creamy mixture that is churned without having to make a custard, mousse or meringue base first. They are very simple to make but must have quite a high fat content to achieve a similarly creamy texture to the alternative ice cream methods. The all-in-one method is often used for frozen yoghurts.

Sorbets and granitas

Sorbets are the most widely made water ice, and are made by churning and freezing a flavoured syrup or fruit purée so that the ice crystals become very small and the sorbet feels smooth on the tongue as you eat it. Sometimes liquid glucose is added too, which helps to keep the sorbet soft and smooth, as well as stabilising the sugar syrup.

Granitas are made with slightly less sugar and are not churned or blended. They have an even texture of coarse crystals which are created by forking or breaking up the mixture several times during the freezing process.

Churning and freezing

Churning gives a smooth ice cream or sorbet by breaking down the crystals, and it also incorporates some air into the mixture, which gives the ice a lightness.

If an ice cream or sorbet mixture is frozen without being churned, the water in the mixture freezes into large crystals which makes it appear rocky, rough and heavy when eaten. It also makes the ice cream or sorbet difficult to scoop. There are several ways to prevent this happening and give a smooth, scoopable texture.

Churning means stirring or blending the mixture as it freezes to break down large, crunchy ice crystals into tiny ones, giving a smooth texture. The easiest way to do this is by using an ice-cream machine. There are many different models to choose from. Some simply plug in and freeze your mixture while a paddle stirs continuously and breaks down the crystals as they form. Some machines require the bowl to be frozen and then an electric paddle is fitted into it, and some even require you to turn a handle by hand.

If you plan to buy a machine that does not freeze the ice cream itself, check that you have room in your freezer to accommodate the bowl, which may be quite bulky. They vary greatly in price and can deal with different volumes of ice cream, but all should be able to produce a well textured ice cream.

If you don’t have an ice-cream machine, you can still make a delicious ice cream or sorbet, it just takes a little more effort. Freeze the mixture in a shallow container until it is half frozen, so you can still press a teaspoon into the mixture although it is no longer liquid. If you have a food processor, turn out the half frozen mixture onto a board, cut it into chunks with a large knife, and pulse it quickly in the processor, in batches, without allowing the mixture to melt completely, then return it immediately to the container and the freezer. Allow the ice to freeze again then repeat this once or twice more for a really smooth textured result.

If you do not have a food processor, freeze the mixture in a shallow container until large crystals start to form around the outside of the container but there is still some liquid in the middle. Remove the container from the freezer and whisk vigorously with a balloon whisk, without allowing the mixture to melt completely, then return to the freezer. Repeat this process 2 or 3 more times. The result will not be as smooth as using an ice-cream machine or food processor.

Ice cream and sorbet texture

Achieving a good texture

There are other factors besides churning which affect the texture and set of an ice cream or sorbet. By set, we mean how firm it is when it has been frozen. Ideally it will freeze almost hard but have softened sufficiently to scoop easily if transferred from the freezer to the fridge about 20–30 minutes before serving. If it is too soft, it will melt before it can be scooped and served.


All sweet ice creams and sorbets need sugar, both for seasoning and to soften the set. Sugar prevents the ice cream or sorbet from freezing completely solid, thus making it soft enough to scoop. However, too much sugar can prevent it freezing at all. Taste the mixture while you are making it when it is at room temperature, but be aware that when it has frozen, it will taste less sweet, so be generous with the sweetening. If you make an ice cream or sorbet that won’t set however long it is frozen and churned, taste it to see if it is over-sweet. If it is, it will need to be diluted with water or another liquid from the recipe before it will freeze.


A little alcohol adds a punch of flavour, but, like sugar, prevents the water in the ice from freezing solid, and too much alcohol prevents it from freezing at all. Unless it is heated to a high temperature and for a long period during the cooking process (which would drive off the alcohol), the alcohol is still present and can interfere with the ice freezing.


Fat is generally present in ice creams and not in water ices like sorbets, although some sorbets do have a little, such as the buttermilk sorbet. Fat in the form of cream, crème fraîche or even Greek yoghurt, helps to produce a rich smooth texture, but if the fat content is too high, the texture becomes unpleasant and almost chalky, and it will crumble when you try to scoop it.

Serving ice creams and sorbets

Although ice creams and sorbets can be stored in a freezer for up to 3 months and still be eaten safely, they are best eaten less than 24 hours after making, as this is when the texture and flavour will be at their best.

Transfer the ice cream or sorbet from the freezer to the fridge 20–30 minutes before you want to serve it to allow it to soften a little, making it easier to scoop.

If you are serving balls of ice cream to a number of people, it is a good idea to prepare them in advance, thus removing the stress of scooping while everyone is waiting to eat. Cover a metal tray in cling film and chill in the freezer for at least 30 minutes. Meanwhile, remove the ice cream or sorbet from the freezer and leave it out for 20 minutes to soften a little. Scoop the ice cream into balls, placing them on the chilled tray as you make them. Return the tray to the freezer as soon as possible to prevent the ice cream balls from melting. When you are ready to serve, simply remove the tray from the freezer and place a ball of ice cream or sorbet on each plate.

A useful tip is to sift a little icing sugar onto each plate to stop a ball of ice cream slipping around.

Recipes in this Chapter

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