Ice Desserts You Can Whip Up In a Snap

Sorbets and granitas have the distinction of being the first frozen desserts ever created, predating their richer, more popular cousin ice cream.

Legend has it that the Roman Emperor Nero ordered snow brought from the mountains and sweetened with fruit juice. Legend, as often turns out, was wrong. The less romantic but more likely creator of ices was 17th-century French confectioner L. Audiger.

While most of us will never serve this refreshing summer dish to the likes of Louis XIV, sorbets are an elegant and - thanks in part to Melanie Barnard of Bon Appetit magazine - easy end to any meal.

Ms. Barnard had always enjoyed homemade sorbets but wasn't nearly as fond of making them. (While not difficult, traditional recipes can be a tedious process of preparing fruit and cooking a heavy syrup of sugar and water.)

When she was asked by the International Association of Culinary Professionals to come up with new and inventive uses for canned fruits, she thought, why not: Barnard chucked an unopened can of fruit in her freezer.

She came back the next afternoon, plopped the fruit into her food processor, added a little lemon juice, and hit the start button. The result: a smooth, fresh-tasting, frozen dessert. "I thought: Wow! This is 30-second sorbet," she said.

Barnard went to the store and "bought every conceivable kind of canned fruit." They all came out beautifully, but Barnard's favorites were fig and apricot.

The secret, she says, is buying fruit in heavy syrup, which gives canned-fruit sorbet a perfect texture.

Light syrup will work, but the consistency is icier - more like an Italian granita than a true sorbet. She also recommends running the frozen can under hot water for a minute to make it easier to slip the fruit out and chop into one-inch chunks.

Now Barnard keeps her freezer well-stocked with canned fruit. If company drops by, she whisks a can out and, "Voila, fruit sorbet in nothing flat."

A recipe for fresh mango sorbet is included below, for those who find the idea of shopping for canned fruit horrifying when there are mountains of fresh peaches, berries, and - well, mangoes - to be had. The lemon-lime granita is not strictly a sorbet, but it was so cool and icy we couldn't resist.

So, if you've got a can opener, a can of fruit, and a food processor or blender, you've got dessert.

Pia Colada

1 20-oz. can crushed pineapple in heavy syrup

2 tablespoons canned cream of coconut

Freeze unopened can of pineapple for at least 18 hours.

Place can in hot water for about one minute. Remove lid and pour any liquid into a food processor or blender. Open other end, slide the fruit out, and chop into 1-inch chunks.

Place the pineapple chunks in the food processor along with the cream of coconut and process until smooth, about one minute.

Serve immediately, or transfer sorbet to a plastic container, cover, and freeze.

Fig Sorbet

1 17-oz. can of figs in heavy syrup

Freeze unopened can of figs for at least 18 hours.

Place can in hot water for one minute. Remove the lid and pour any liquid into a food processor or blender. Open other end, slide the fruit out, and chop into 1-inch chunks.

Place the figs in a food processor or a blender and blend until smooth.

Serve immediately, or transfer sorbet to a plastic container, cover, and freeze until ready to serve.

Apricot Sorbet

1 16-oz. can apricot halves in heavy syrup

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Freeze unopened can of apricot halves for at least 18 hours.

Place can in hot water for one minute. Remove lid and pour any liquid into a food processor. Open other end, slide the fruit out, and chop into 1-inch chunks.

Place the apricot halves in the food processor with the lemon juice and blend until smooth.

Serve immediately, or transfer sorbet to a plastic container, cover, and freeze until ready to serve.

- Recipes courtesy of Melanie Barnard

Mango Sorbet

2 large ripe mangoes

6 tablespoons sugar

1/4-cup light corn syrup

Cut four lengthwise slits through the mango skin. Peel off the skin and discard.

Slice the flesh from the large flat pit. Place mango in a food processor fitted with the metal blade or in a blender. Puree until smooth. Add the sugar and corn syrup and process to mix well.

Pour the pure into a bowl and refrigerate until cold, about one hour.

Place mixture into an ice-cream maker and process according to the instructions.

Transfer the sorbet to a plastic container; cover, and freeze for at least four hours.

- Recipe from "Ice Creams and Sorbets," Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Library, 1996.

Lemon-Lime Granita

For a festive presentation, serve granita or sorbet in chilled, stemmed, clear glasses.

2 cups water

1 cup sugar

1/3 cup fresh lemon juice

1/3 cup fresh lime juice

4 lime slices

In a medium-sized, heavy saucepan, combine the water and sugar. Place over medium heat and stir until sugar dissolves, about three minutes. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and let cool.

Stir in the lemon and lime juices and pour the mixture into a metal bowl.

Place in freezer and whisk every 30 minutes until semifirm, about three hours.

Cover and freeze without stirring until frozen solid, at least eight or as long as 24 hours.

About one hour before serving, place serving glasses in freezer.

To serve, using a fork, scrape the surface of the granita to form ice crystals. Scoop the crystals into the frozen glasses.

Garnish with lime slices and serve immediately.

- From 'Ice Creams & Sorbets,' Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Library, Time-Life Books

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