Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Berry Merlot Sorbet . . . with Citrus-Shortbread Cookies

They say that the Benedictine monk, Dom Perignon, compared tasting a particular wine to "tasting the stars!" Whether he ever really said that, though, seems to be up for debate. But unsubstantiated or not, that's the very phrase I remembered when the first tiny spoonful of this lusciously icy, pungently sweet sorbet hit my tongue. That may sound like corny hyperbole, but I wouldn't make something that corny up. I swear.

Now, given the typical choice between a petite scoop of premium ice cream and one of sorbet, I've historically been more likely to select the former.

That, however, was until this week when I made my first homemade sorbet. (Ice cream, I'm sorry. It's been fun, but I've found a new friend.)

There simply aren't enough adjectives to describe the glorious flavors in this recipe. Have you ever before had a reason to simmer raspberries, blueberries, orange and lemon slices, together with a split vanilla bean, sugar, and a fragrant cinnamon stick? No? Well, neither had I. Add into that concoction a generous splash of Merlot and a modest splash of Chambord, and the result is truly cosmic.

About the recipes . . .

Adapted from a recipe in pastry chef Sherry Yard's sumptuous book, The Secrets of Baking, this sorbet is an experience in itself. One might rightly say it's divine. And since divinity shouldn't have to travel alone, we're serving it up alongside citrus-shortbread moons and stars.

What with the intense sweet-tartness of the sorbet, these uncomplicated cookies provide a nice counterpoint. They come to us via Chef Todd English's book, The Olives Dessert Table.

The sorbet, which requires making a sauce/syrup first, does take some time but it's worth the wait. And I was pretty pleased with the shortbread recipe, too. The dough is extremely cooperative and easy to handle, considering it's rolled out and then cut with cookie cutters--no heroics or profanity required (you know what I'm talkin' about).

I know it's still March, but before I shut-up I just have to tell you: This combo virtually shrieks summertime. Shrieks it!

Berry Merlot Sorbet, with Citrus Shortbread Cookies

(For a printable copy of these recipes, click here!)

To make the sorbet, begin by preparing the berry sauce. The sauce recipe should yield up to about one quart (four cups). You'll need half of that to prepare one batch of the sorbet. The extra sauce can be stored for future use.

Sauce Ingredients:

1 and 1/2 lbs. fresh, or 20 oz. frozen, berries (I used half frozen raspberries and half frozen blueberries; Sherry Yard's original recipe calls for all blackberries.)
1 orange, peeled and sliced
1 lemon, peeled and sliced
1/2 cup, plus 2 Tbsp., granulated sugar (Just use 1/2 cup if you're using frozen berries, per Sherry Yard.)
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped (I used a whole bean and all of its seeds.)
2 cups Merlot wine (I used Charles Shaw Merlot, from Trader Joe's--only about $4 a bottle!)
1/2 cup water
1 three-inch cinnamon stick
3 Tbsp. Chambord (raspberry flavored liqueur)
1 pinch of salt (less than 1/8 tsp.)

Bring the berries, orange, lemon, sugar, vanilla bean and seeds, Merlot, and water to a boil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Microwave the cinnamon stick on high for 10 seconds, or heat it up in a small pan until fragrant; add it to the sauce. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer the sauce for 10 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat, cover it with plastic wrap, and let it steep for 30 minutes; this allows the flavors to infuse.

Pour the mixture through a fine mesh sieve and press out the juices into a medium-sized bowl. (Don't let the fruit get into the juice, and don't puree the mixture either. Sherry Yard notes that doing so will make the sauce cloudy.)

Place the bowl of juices over another larger bowl filled with ice, and let it cool completely.

Stir in the Chambord and the salt.

This sauce can be used immediately, or it can be refrigerated in an airtight container and kept for up to 3 days. Frozen, it will last for 3 months.

To prepare the sorbet:

2 cups of warm berry Merlot sauce
2 Tbsp. fresh orange juice
2 Tbsp. light corn syrup
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice (The original recipe says to use lime juice, but I used lemon instead.)
2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
1 pinch of salt (less than 1/8 tsp.)

Whisk together all of the above ingredients in a large bowl. This is the base for the sorbet.

Pour the sorbet base into an ice cream maker and churn the mixture according to the manufacturer's directions.

When finished, the sorbet will be quite soft and not scoopable. Pack it into a freezer container to let it firm up for at least 4 hours before serving. (Mine, in fact, was still quite liquidy after churning; there is no way it could have been scooped or served at that point. It firmed up well in the freezer, though. I froze it overnight.) The prepared sorbet can be kept, well covered, in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Citrus Shortbread Cookies

This recipe will yield about 2 to 3 dozen cookies, depending upon their size.

1/3 cup confectioners' sugar
zest of 1 lemon, chopped
zest of 1 orange, chopped
1/4 lb. of unsalted butter at room temperature (1 stick)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup, plus 2 Tbsp., All Purpose flour (I used bleached)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

In the bowl of your mixer, using the paddle attachment, mix together the sugar and the zests for 3 to 5 minutes.

Add in the butter and mix until creamed. Scrape down the bowl and the paddle, then add in the vanilla extract.

Mix just to combine. Add in the flour and salt, and again mix just until combined.

Gather up the dough and shape it into a round disk. (You do not need to chill it.)

On a floured surface, roll the dough out to a thickness of 1/4". (The book says to roll the dough to 1/8" inch, but I wanted my cookies to be slightly thicker and not completely crispy. If you want them thin and crisp, go with 1/8".) Dust off any excess flour, and cut the cookies into shapes using flour dusted cookie cutters.

Using a wide spatula, transfer the cookies onto your lined cookie sheet. Bake them just until the edges start to brown, about 10 to 15 minutes. Let them cool on the sheet.

Recipe Full Disclosure!
The sorbet recipe has been adapted from two recipes in Sherry Yard's book, The Secrets of Baking, 2003, Houghton Mifflin. The first one, for blackberry-Merlot sauce, is on page 285. The second one, for blackberry sorbet, appears on page 297; it incorporates the sauce as one ingredient. My main alteration included substituting a combination of raspberries and blueberries for the blackberries.
The citrus shortbread recipe comes from the book, The Olives Dessert Table, by Todd English, Paige Retus, and Sally Sampson (Simon & Schuster, 2000). I didn't alter that recipe, but adhered to the original.

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