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Saturday, October 09, 2010

Scream Sorbet

Sorbet is slowly becoming more popular. A few good restaurants would offer a selection of sorbets after a meal, yielding an intensely fruity treat that needed only a few bites to satisfy. Sorbets are big tastes, a sipper's delight rather than a gulper's. Brandies are less popular than beer, too.

With dairy-free desserts inching their way into the general market, sorbets are due. And new food processing technologies are making possible sorbets that go beyond fruit tastes into the weirder world that high end ice creams are also pursuing.

The New York Times Magazine - which did an article a few weeks ago on a man who made hibiscus beet, bourbon and cornflake, prosciutto, and chocolate smoked sea salt ice creams - has followed it up with one on a man who figured out a way to make nut-based sorbets.

Making frozen treats is as much about composition as it is equipment. "In some ways," [Nathan] Kurz says, "the other reason I started this business was that I’d been reading about El Bulli and how they were using Pacojets. Some people lust after cars, I lusted after kitchen machinery." Basically, he let a $4,000 gadget determine his fate. (He advises everyone to read about the process to understand this seemingly rash decision.) "Normally, you make ice cream in a batch freezer," he explains. "You freeze the outside and scrape along the outside as it [the ice cream] freezes. It's the same as the hand-churned thing you use at home, and it works great, if what you’re starting with is already smooth."

The Pacojet is simpler: "It doesn't include refrigeration, and part of its process is to make things silky smooth." It's true. You can add whole nuts and fruits to this machine and "still end up with a silky smooth texture." As he explains the process, "you freeze your sorbet chunky first in a one-quart container. Then the blade spins around; it goes from the top of the round cylinder down to the bottom at a rate of several thousand R.P.M. It takes four minutes to process."

He discovered that using a Pacojet meant he could add less sugar to his sorbet and yield more intensity from his main ingredient. His approach goes against everything that McGee and others who rely on the traditional methods counsel. They encourage adding water (to achieve the required puree that Kurz's equipment renders unnecessary), then lemon juice (to draw out the diluted product's weakened flavor) and finally more sugar (to compensate for all that extra volume). "We don’t add anything unless it tastes good," he says; that means they also won’t add anything that tastes like nothing, such as a stabilizer. The Scream stuff is thicker than other sorbets and made from fewer ingredients. With higher fruit content and no additives, it has the texture of gelato but is more concentrated in flavor.

His pistachio sorbet contains pistachios, water, sugar, and sea salt. Nothing else.

You won't find it everywhere, but a variety of farmers' markets in northern California carry it and he will soon open a storefront in Oakland, CA.

More importantly, he ships anywhere Federal Express offers overnight service.

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