One of the joys of cold winter months is spiced apple cider. Since I think it is never too cold outside for ice cream, I turn my spiced cider into sorbet. I do not have a recipe for this; however, it is the perfect chance to show you how to make sorbet at home without any fancy equipment or even a recipe.
Grab a good quality unsweetened apple cider and pour it in to a pot. Add an assortment of spices to your own taste: cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, star anise, black pepper, allspice, ginger, bay leaf, cardamom, coriander, orange, lemon, newt’s eye or phoenix feather. I prefer my cider heavy on the clove and nutmeg (and holding the newt’s eye and phoenix feather, they are too hard to find). Bring the cider to a boil, then lower to a high simmer and reduce it by a quarter-ish. Meanwhile, make a simple syrup in a saucepan by combining equal parts by weight of sugar and water with a splash of lemon juice and bring it to a boil. Once it comes to a boil, remove it from the heat and let it cool. When your cider is reduced to your liking, remove it from the heat and let it cool with the spices still in. The one key to the next step is that your liquids should be room temperature in order to get an accurate estimate of the sugar density.
“You said, ‘no fancy equipment’! How the heck am I supposed to estimate the sugar density?”
Aha! We will use the culinary Ikea wrench— an egg. Place an egg (in the shell) in your cooled cider. Depending how long you let your cider reduce, the egg will float either under the surface or will just break the surface. This will give you a benchmark to relate to as you remove the egg and stir in some of the simple syrup, going by quarter-cupfuls with the syrup. Measure again by placing the egg in the liquid. More of the egg should be breaking the surface. Continue stirring in syrup by quarter-cupfuls until there is a quarter-sized portion of the egg sticking above the surface of the sorbet base. The more you reduced the cider, the less syrup you will need as you have concentrated the natural sugars already in the cider. If you have gone too crazy with your syrup adding and you end up with more with more of a Sacagawea-sized portion of the egg peaking through, you can either live with it (the sorbet will be soft) or add water or some additional cider you have lying around to dilute the sugar content (this will mess up your hard fought for flavor building). I then leave the sorbet base with the spices still in it in the fridge overnight to continue the flavor building. Then, strain out the spices, churn the sorbet base and freeze it.
“But you said ‘no fancy equipment’! I don’t have an ice cream maker!”
Aha! Go a little lighter on the syrup and pour the liquid into a shallow tray and place in the freezer. Go back every hour and stir and scrape the freezing liquid with a fork. This is the granité method. You will end up with a frozen dessert of larger ice crystals than a sorbet.
Using this egg method enables you to use any fruit juice or strained purée or combination your imagination can come up with to make a sorbet that will freeze properly. And the great thing is if your estimation was a little off and the sorbet freezes too firm or too soft, just thaw it, adjust it and re-churn it.
More importantly, however, you will know exactly what is in your sorbet. Nothing artificial, nothing unpronounceable, everything real and everything flavorful.