I love making ice cream at home. I have had a love affair with my ice cream machine ever since I took it out of the box. It's a labor of love, creating layered and often downright wacky flavors of ice cream and sorbet that can be found in no grocery store freezer. Fanciful ice creams, flavors that combine sweet and savory, sorbets the more offbeat the better. Half the fun of cooking at home is the creative licence afforded there, and that ice cream machine and I have pushed that envelope all over town. Sure, not all of the flavors have been successful, but how can I know that Jamaican Jerk Peanut Butter ice cream is a bad idea until I try it myself? On a side note, Jamaican Jerk Peanut Butter ice cream is certainly a bad idea, but I had a lot of fun finding out why, the hard way. Mishaps aside, let me share with you one of my more successful creations, Pink Peppercorn Pear Sorbet.
A note of shear honesty, I'm not as much of an ice cream guy as I claim to be. Although I love to make and share ice cream, I'm really more of a sorbet lover at heart. Maybe I'm a little lactose intolerant, maybe I'm watching my waistline, or maybe I just like the refreshing palet cleansing nature of sorbet, I don't really know. Ice cream is a great treat and fun to make, but sorbet has some unknown magical quality that makes it my go to frozen dessert. Although, as anyone else who has tried can attest, making sorbet at home can be rough or darned near impossible.
For years, I've failed at sorbet making. Following countless recipes to the word has yielded countless batches of half frozen fruit syrups and grainy Italian ices, but never the soft sorbet texture found at ice cream parlors. I tried chilling the mixtures before putting them in the machine and adjusting the sugar levels but sorbet perfection continued to elude me. Then I found out about xanthan gum.
Xanthan Gum, a flavorless and colorless polysaccharid powder, is a great ingredient used to thicken liquids. Used in soups, sauces, salad dressings, and more, xanthan gum can be found in thousands of foods in any grocery store. In culinary use, xanthan gum has properties similar to corn starch or arrowroot powder, but with some distinct other benefits. Thickening a liquid with corn starch or arrowroot requires heat to cook them, but xanthan gum can thicken without the need for heat. In addition, fluids thickened by xanthan gum are pseudoplastic, a property that discribes a substance's ability to become fluid when in motion but remain viscose when sitting still. This pseudoplastic quality makes xanthan gum ideal for making sorbet, by helping eliminate the formation of grainy ice crystals while keeping the sorbet fluid in an ice cream machine. The best part is that very little xanthan gum is needed to create the perfect sorbet texture, only 1/4 teaspoon per quart.
To add xanthan gum to a sorbet, first measure out 1/4 teaspoon per quart of sorbet. Using a small wire mesh sieve or a medium hole shaker jar, slowly dust the measured xanthan gum into the sorbet mixture while vigorously stirring. Continue until all the xanthan gum is well incorporated. Make sure to stir continuously, otherwise small lumps may form in the mixture. After the xanthan gum is all disolved, chill the sorbet mixture in a freezer until it is ice cold, then place in the ice cream machine. After following the machine manufacture's instructions, the sorbet will still seem a little soft. This is to be expected, simply transfer the sorbet into a plastic container and put back into the freezer for an hour or two, the sorbet will firm up to a perfect ice crystal free texture. Texture isn't everything in sorbet, although the flavors sure seem better when the texture is just right.
Speaking of flavors, the combination of pink peppercorns and pears might not be for kids, at least not kids that I would want to associate with. Face it, simple fruit sorbets are boring, and no one wants boring desserts. Desserts should be fun, whimsical, and refreshing, like these tropical pink peppercorns. Pink peppercorns, while not technically related to green, white, and black peppercorns, have a fruity flavor with a peppery bite. They can add a tropical peppery zing to fruits or salads, or be an unexpected extra layer in fruit sorbets. The subtle pear flavors marry well with these pink peppercorns, starting with hints of tropical fruits, then a sharp peppery bite, ending with a sugary sweet pear finish. A perfect dessert to impress dinner guests or for a tasty late night treat.
Pink Peppercorn Pear Sorbet
- 3/4 cup apple cider
- 3/4 cup water
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 4-5 soft ripe pears
- juice of half a lemon
- 2 teaspoons dried orange peel
- 1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
- 1 tablespoon pink peppercorns
- xanthan gum
Skin and dice pears then stir into a medium sized pot with cider, water, sugar, lemon juice, ginger, and orange peel. Crush peppercorns with a mortar and pestle or the side of a kitchen knife and add to the pot. Cover pot with a heavy lid and steep under very low heat for twenty to thirty minutes. Remove from heat and cool mixture in refrigerator. Place mixture in a blender, blend on high until all lumps are gone. Strain in a fine wire mesh sieve or colander. Measure mixture, measure out 1/4 teaspoon of xanthan gum per quart of mixture. Mix in xanthan gum while vigorously stirring mixture. Place in freezer until ice cold. Place in ice cream machine, follow manufacturer's instructions. Remove sorbet from machine, place in freezer for an additional hour to firm completely. Enjoy.