Sorbet. Sorbet. It sounds so -- so French! It's no wonder. These simple French ices became especially popular when nouvelle cuisine was launched a dozen or so years ago. They often appeared on menus as ``palate cleansers'' between, say, the Grilled Baby Rougets and the Saut'eed Breast of Moulard Duck.
Later, it became fashionable to serve sweeter varieties -- sometimes several on the same plate -- as a dessert course. Sorbets are appealing not only for their cool lightness and delicate flavor but for the soft pastel colors they often come in.
I remember being served five different flavors, scooped in careful ovals and placed like petals on a plate, at a superb restaurant outside Geneva. The flavors ranged from pineapple and raspberry to smoked Chinese tea and hazelnut.
Sorbet, ice cream, and sherbet are close members in a family of friendly but frosty desserts. Ice cream, the rich member, consists of a custard of eggs and milk or cream with sugar. These ingredients, together with a flavoring, are usually blended together as they freeze. French, or custard, ice creams are whipped before they are frozen.
Sherbet and sorbet are water ices, simple frozen desserts made of sugar syrup and fruit juice or fruit pur'ee. When egg whites or cream or milk are added to either one, they are then called cream ices or milk ices.
The simplicity of sorbet means it is very easy to make. All that is necessary is that it be stirred or whizzed up in a food processor or blender after freezing to reduce the size of the ice crystals.
Roberta Dowling, a cooking teacher and caterer in Cambridge, Mass., was forced to prove just how quickly a sorbet can be made.
A few years ago, she prepared a splendid dinner for a local gourmet society. After whipping up a Mousseline of Scallops with Saffron Butter; Stuffed Lamb en Croute with Orange-Ginger Sauce and Glazed Cumquats; and a Vegetable Printanier -- crisis!
``I wanted to make a fresh grapefruit sorbet from scratch, but there was no time to peel and section all the grapefruits and pur'ee the ingredients, so I grabbed a large can of grapefruit juice, heated it with sugar, poured it into a tube cake pan so it would freeze fast, and whipped it up in a blender as soon as it was frozen.
``Everyone raved about it. They all wanted the recipe, but I told them it was a `chef's guarded secret,' '' she says with a laugh.
It can be just that simple. But sorbet can be exotic, too. Mrs. Dowling has made green peppercorn sorbet. ``The hot peppery flavor with the cold ice can be wonderful,'' she says. Another favorite of hers is pomegranate. Commercially prepared baby food is also an unusual source of fruit pur'ee for making sorbet. Pear Sorbet With Raspberry Sauce 2 pounds pears, peeled, cored, and halved 2 cups water 1 1/2 cups sugar Juice of half a lemon, or to taste
Place pears, water, and sugar in heavy saucepan. Poach gently for about 20 minutes, or until soft when pierced with a fork. Pour poached pears and liquid into blender or food processor. Add lemon juice and pur'ee until smooth.
Pour into bowl, cover, and place in freezer. Stir once or twice before sorbet is completely frozen to break down crystals, or blend in processor after fully frozen, just before serving. Sauce 1 10-ounce package frozen raspberries in syrup Lemon juice to taste
Defrost berries and pur'ee in food processor or blender. Strain to remove seeds, if you wish. Add a few drops of lemon juice to your taste. Serve over sorbet. Four-Fruit Sorbet 3/4 cup sugar 3 teaspoons lemon juice 1 cup water 2 cups fresh orange juice 1 cup apple juice 2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
Combine sugar, lemon juice, and water in small heavy saucepan. Heat over low flame, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Bring to boil and cook until reduced to about 1/2 cup.
Pour orange and apple juices in blender or food processor. Add whole cranberries and process until mixture is smooth. Add sugar and lemon juice mixture and process until completely mixed.
Pour into large bowl, cover, and freeze until ice begins to form -- about 45 minutes. Remove from freezer and beat with electric mixer to break up ice crystals. Freeze again until solid.
Remove from freezer and let stand for 15 minutes at room temperature before serving. Serves 10 to 12. Melon Sorbet 1 ripe melon, peeled, seeded and cut into chunks, about 1 pound total Juice of one lemon 3/4 to 1 cup sugar
Place melon, lemon juice, and sugar in food processor and blend until smooth. Pour into large bowl and cover with aluminum foil. Freeze until ice crystals form. Remove and beat with mixer to break up ice. Refreeze until solid.
Makes about 1 pint.
The following almond cookie is a perfect accompaniment for a sorbet. Almond Crescents 1 cup butter 3/4 cup confectioners' sugar 2 teaspoons vanilla extract 1 cup bround blanched almonds 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
Cream together butter, sugar, vanilla, and almonds. Knead in flour until thoroughly combined. Chill several hours.
Roll dough to thickness of 1/4 inch. Cut into crescents and bake on greased cookie sheet in preheated 350 degree F. oven for about 15 minutes. Dust with confectioners' sugar. Makes 4 to 5 dozen cookies.