This gorgeously vivid plum sorbet is my new preferred dessert for when I want to indulge while still feeling virtuous. With his characteristic tinkering scientist mentality, Dylan has come up with a fantastic new twist to improve our sorbets and ice creams.
Typically, the texture of frozen desserts is best when they have some sort of stabilizer added. For many ice creams, the egg yolks serve this purpose. But egg yolks have their drawbacks: 1) the custards are a pain to make and 2) those of us with high cholesterol slink in fear from egg yolks. As an alternative, some ice creams use cornstarch, which works pretty well to give you a homemade frozen dessert with a nice, smooth texture. But Dylan’s new method, using xanthan gum, produces such a gorgeous texture that you cannot believe you’ve made it at home. The plum sorbet is so smooth and the fruit flavor really shines through- even after a couple of weeks in the freezer, there’s not a hint of iciness and it scoops like butter (so to speak).
So what is xanthan gum? It’s a polysaccharide commonly added to things like ice cream, salad dressing, sauces, gluten-free baked goods, and even toothpaste (imagine that!) in order to keep the mixture even. Read more here, if you like, but suffice to say, that having made many, many batches of ice cream and sorbet at home using many different methods, the Superspark household thinks that xanthan gum makes the one with the best texture, bar none. In fact, our first experiment with the xanthan gum was nothing more than blending up some mangoes, adding the xanthan gum (which is sold as a powder), and then popping it into our ice cream maker. The result was sort of like a very chilled, firm creamy mango pudding, with not a trace of iciness. Fabulous! (And it works equally well with ice creams- our Oreo was divine!) We got our xanthan gum at Whole Foods (under the Red Mill grains label), so it should be pretty widely available. Dylan says a bag costs about $10, but given that you use next to nothing for each batch of ice cream, it’s a bargain.
Apologies for the very vague recipe below. Unlike me, Dylan is a fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants cook, meaning that he doesn’t both to make note to what he’s doing or exactly how much of anything he’s adding. But I thought this secret was worth sharing with the ice cream lovers out there anyway- hopefully the more adventurous among you might try using the “recipe” below and venturing out on your own. Let me know how it goes!
(As a side note, as if to show just how timely this recipe is, in today’s NYT Food Section, everyone’s favorite food scientist, Harold McGee writes about ice cream texture and though there’s no mention of xanthan gum, there is a recipe for cornstarch-based ice cream.)
plums (as many as you have- we used maybe 20 tiny ones and made a big batch)
sugar to taste
about 1/4- 1/2 tsp xanthan gum
1. Put whole plums into a large pot and simmer until soft. When the plums have softened, let them cool, then remove the pits and push them through a food mill to remove the skins.
2. To this plum pulp, add 1/2 tsp xanthan gum and sugar to taste. We used fructose (one of Dylan’s new whims), but sucrose, your ordinary granulated sugar, will work just fine. As a general rule, once frozen the dessert will taste less sweet, so err on the side of making your mixture a little sweeter side.
3. Put the mixture into your ice cream maker and follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Enjoy!