Sorbetto di limone

Sorbetto di limone (Lemon Sorbet)

In dessert, summer by Frank26 Comments

Along with gelato, sorbetto is *the* classic Italian frozen dessert. And perhaps the most basic. Sorbetto di limone is essentially frozen lemonade: Simple syrup is made by simmering sugar and water together, to which lemon zest is added and allowed to infuse its flavor. When this flavored syrup cools completely, it is mixed with freshly squeezed lemon juice and chilled in your ice cream maker until frozen but still quite soft.

Although, like gelato, you can enjoy sorbetto di limone as a snack—especially nice on a hot day—more often you’ll find it at the end of the meal, a cool and refreshing palate cleanser that’s equally welcome after a light fish dinner or a belly-busting mixed grill.

Ingredients

Serves 4-6

  • 1 kilo (2 lbs) lemons
  • 250g (1/2 lb sugar)
  • 500ml (2 cups) water

Directions

Start with the best quality lemons you can buy (preferably organic) and sugar:

Sorbetto di limone-1

Peel the lemons with a vegetable peeler or paring knife, leaving as much of the pith (the white layer beneath the lemon’s outer yellow skin, or zest) behind as you can manage. (The pith is quite bitter, although there’s no need to fuss about it too much; a bit of pith will give your sorbetto some character.)

Sorbetto di limone-2

Put the sugar, water and lemon zest in a saucepan and bring it to a simmer. Let it cook for 5 minutes, then turn off the heat and let the resulting syrup cool completely.

Sorbetto di limone (infusion)-3

Meanwhile, cut your lemons in half and juice them. (This quantity of lemons should produce roughly 350ml/12 fl oz of juice.)  An electric juicer certainly comes in handy, even if it’s not strictly necessary, of course.

Sorbetto di limone-4

When the syrup has cooled, add the lemon juice to the saucepan, give it a stir, and strain the mixture through a sieve.

Add the mixture to an ice cream maker and follow the manufacturer’s directions for a making a sorbet. As it begins to chill, it won’t look like much at first,

Sorbetto di limone-5

but over time you’ll see the lemon-syrup mixture begin to transform, thickening as it freezes,

Sorbetto di limone-6

until you arrive at the consistency you desire (see Notes):

Sorbetto di limone-7

Serve in cocktail glasses or champagne flutes, with sugar frosting and a thin slice of lemon if you like.

Sorbetto di limone

Notes on Sorbetto di limone

Tastes vary as to the best consistency for sorbetto di limone, but as a rule Italians serve it quite soft. In fact, I’ve had sorbetti di limone that were so soft they were positively drinkable straight from the glass. Personally, I prefer a sorbetto that is just firm enough to eat with a spoon. A soft sorbetto also means one that is not too cold, and that means you can really appreciate the taste of the lemon. If you like a fluffy and smooth consistency, you can fold in a stiffly beaten egg white or two into the lemon-syrup mixture, but I’m not very partial to the results. I prefer a denser consistency.

If you don’t have an ice cream maker, you can simulate a sorbetto with a whisk and a freezer, although it’s a rather tedious process: you place the lemon-syrup mixture in a large metal bowl in the freezer, removing it every 1o minutes or so to whisk it smooth and repeating until the mixture is frozen to the desired soft-serve consistency.

It saves you work, but you don’t really need an ice cream maker…

If you’re not up for that much fuss, you can use the same mixture to make a granita di limone, a Sicilian frozen treat, which is rather less work. We’ve featured granita di caffè (coffee granita) before, and you should follow the same method: you freeze the mixture in a ice tray or loaf pan, stirring it with a spatula every 30-45 minutes or so. Stirring rather than whisking, and at longer intervals, will produce a grainier texture, something like shaved ice. In either case, total freezing time will be 60-90 minutes.

Variations

Of course, the better your lemons, the better your sorbetto will be. Since you are using the zest, I would go with pesticide-free organic lemons. In Italy, there are no better lemons than those from Sorrento, which are famously used for making the best limoncello. Here in the US, Meyer lemons—actually an import form China—with their mild tartness, are particularly appealing. This recipe actually works for any citrus fruit—limes, grapefruit, oranges all make wonderful sorbetti.

And if you want to save yourself some effort, you can make a fine sorbetto by substituting the lemon juice with an equivalent quantity of store-bought orange juice (better if freshly squeezed, of course, but even a commercial juice would work.) Another line of sorbetti is made with puréed fruit—for more details, see our post on sorbetto di mango.

Dressing up your sorbetto

Sorbetto di limone is just fine on its own, but there are endless ways to dress it up. Sorbetto goes fabulously with fresh berries, for example, and a garnish or mint or basil is never amiss. For the adults, a drizzle of vodka added to the lemon syrup mixture before freezing lends it a certain je ne sais quoi. And, although it sounds redundant, finishing off your sorbetto with a drizzle of limoncello, preferably homemade, is also very nice. For an elegant version of a float, place a fairly firmly made scoop of sorbetto di limone in the bottom of a flute and top it up your with your favorite prosecco or  champagne. In Venice they make the sgroppino, a mixture of softened sorbetto, vodka and prosecco, whisked together until perfectly smooth.

Sorbetto di limone (Lemon Sorbet)

Total Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Yield: Serves 4-6

Sorbetto di limone (Lemon Sorbet)

Ingredients

  • 1 kilo (2 lbs) lemons
  • 250g (1/2 lb sugar)
  • 500ml (2 cups) water

Directions

  1. Start with the best quality lemons you can buy (preferably organic) and sugar. Peel the lemons with a vegetable peeler or paring knife, leaving as much of the pith (the white layer beneath the lemon's outer yellow skin, or zest) behind as you can manage. (The pith is quite bitter, although there's no need to fuss about it too much; a bit of pith will give your sorbetto some character.)
  2. Put the sugar, water and lemon zest in a saucepan and bring it to a simmer. Let it cook for 5 minutes, then turn off the heat and let the resulting syrup cool completely.
  3. Meanwhile, cut your lemons in half and juice them. (This quantity of lemons should produce roughly 350ml/12 fl oz of juice.) An electric juicer certainly comes in handy, even if it's not strictly necessary, of course.
  4. When the syrup has cooled, add the lemon juice to the saucepan, give it a stir, and strain the mixture through a sieve.
  5. Add the mixture to an ice cream maker and follow the manufacturer's directions for a making a sorbet.

Notes

Tastes vary as to the best consistency for sorbetto di limone, but as a rule Italians serve it quite soft. If you like a fluffy and smooth consistency, you can fold in a stiffly beaten egg white or two into the lemon-syrup mixture.

If you don't have an ice cream maker, you can simulate a sorbetto with a whisk and a freezer: you place the lemon-syrup mixture in a large metal bowl in the freezer, removing it every 1o minutes or so to whisk it smooth and repeating until the mixture is frozen to the desired consistency.

If you're not up for that much fuss, you can use the same mixture to make a granita di limone: freeze the mixture in a ice tray or loaf pan, stirring it with a spatula every 30-45 minutes or so. Stirring rather than whisking, and at longer intervals, will produce a grainier texture, something like shaved ice.

In either case, total freezing time will be 60-90 minutes.

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Comments

  1. And then you suggested vodka…. It’s a steamy week here in the Twin Cities. This is just the thing. I always went for those lemon Italian ices in the carts in NYC when I lived there.

    1. Author

      Indeed, a nice lemon sorbet really is just the ticket on a hot, steamy day—which it is here, too, today! And I remember those Italian ices carts, too. Bring back such fond memories!

  2. Another one of my favorites, Frank!! I have two Meyer lemon trees, but did not know that they are an import from China! Wow. I love them for everything as they are so much better than regular (store-bought) lemons. I actually have a recipe similar to this dessert that I will be posting soon, I don’t have a name yet, though. A frozen limoncello granita?

  3. I can totally taste the limone via your lovely photos! The pool doesn’t hurt either. I’ll have to make some to go with the raspberries from my garden. Ciao, Cristina

  4. Ok Frank. Now you’re just teasing us with that poolside sorbetto! I don’t know what I want first? – jump into the water or that refreshing sorbetto!

  5. looks good. I love sorbetti: right now I have sorbetto fragola and sorbetto mango in my freezer. I learnt good lessons from the Serious Eats series on ice creams and sorbets: it’s about the ratio of sugar to fruit pulp and the use of corn syrup (which does not play a crucial role in my diet so it is ok for me to use it occasionally) + I also started using natural stabilizer sometimes (carragheen and similar) and they do make a difference as for smoothness. I recommend also adding a small amount of alcohol (vodka, gin): again: it lowers the the freezing point and it gives the impression of a creamier, less icy finish. I also use dextrose sometimes (again, to reduce iciness), but then everything becomes too technical (it does work, however)

    I like your idea of steeping the zest in water. we do not have great lemons here in the uk, still it is one of those iIalian recipe that can be easily replicated (I have seen sorrento lemons for sale: one needs a mortgage, of course)
    ciao, stefano

    1. Author

      You’re lucky to have access to Sorrento lemons, Stefano. You can’t find them here for love or money!

  6. Frank – that really reminds me of the Italian ices we used to get in the Italian market in Philadelphia. The lemony taste could not be beat. I will have to grab some organic lemons and make a batch.

  7. penso che il sorbetto al limone sia il finale perfetto per una cena di pesce, è gradito da tutti e lascia la bocca piacevolmente pulita e fresca , buon weekend Frank

  8. The lemon sorbetto looks ever so inviting poolside on that lovely mosaic tiled table. Infusing the simple syrup adds yet another level of lemon to the finished sorbetto, something I had not thought about.

  9. I wish I could be there to enjoy the delicious drink. Unfortunately we don’t have an ice cream maker — too much of a temptation!! We love our ice cream and gelato. But this drink would be too hard to pass up. Where there’s a will there’s a way …:-)

    1. Author

      There certainly is, just requires a little patience and elbow grease, as you know… 😉

  10. What does 1/2 sugar mean? Is that 1/2 cup sugar? Not familiar with metric
    measurements, btw.

    Love your website,

    Lynn

  11. This looks pretty incredible Frank! I can just imagine the lovely flavor. And yes, I would definitely make sgroppinos with the sorbet!

  12. Your sorbetto di limone looks so refreshing, Frank! Your photos are fabulous! I love the one with the sorbetto in the cocktail glasses with the pool in the background. 🙂

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