When dessert freezes over

Sorbet and granita are the perfect summertime treats, made with fruit, wine or even liqueur.

As the finale to a recent Shabbat dinner on a blazing-hot day, my friend served sorbet with fruit and cookies. Everyone found the refreshing dessert absolutely delightful. It was the perfect parve summertime dessert. Indeed, sorbet is hard to beat as a welcome culmination to any festive, summer meal. Sorbet has everything going for it: a dessert that's delicious, cooling, ready when you want it - and even fat free! Unlike sherbet, which may contain milk, cream, eggs or gelatin, sorbet needs only three ingredients: fruit, sugar and water. You can make sorbet from any single fruit or mixture of fruits, raw or cooked, as juice or as puree. Wine makes wonderful sorbet, too: red, white, rosé or Champagne. Even liqueur can be made into sorbet as long as you don't put too much - a high alcohol content prevents the mixture from freezing. Some cooks even make sorbet from coffee or chocolate. There are two secrets to silky-smooth sorbet: First, you need a syrup, made by briefly cooking sugar and water. Second, use an ice cream machine (which the French call a sorbetiere, or sorbet machine), which stirs the sorbet mixture as it freezes, thus preventing ice crystals from forming; the crystals would mar the sorbet's smoothness. Still, you can make sorbet even without a machine. It's not quite as smooth, but it is still tasty. (See the Tips below.) Another alternative is to make sorbet's sparkling Italian cousin, granita. With granita, you follow the opposite principle - you try to encourage crystals to form instead of preventing them. You make the same mixture as for sorbet, and stir the frozen mixture with a fork so it will form small, fairly even, glittering crystals. Granita, like sorbet, can be the basis of an elegant dessert. A memorable dessert I had when I lived in France was a red wine granita topped with a poached peach. Sorbet and granita make fine desserts on their own, or accompanied by pieces of tender fruit or light cake. If you'd like a richer dessert, layer the sorbet or granita in a glass with fruit and garnish it with whipped cream. SORBET TIPS: Use ripe fruit of the best quality. The amount of syrup needed depends on the type of fruit and its ripeness and on personal taste. To make sorbet without an ice cream machine, freeze the sorbet mixture in metal trays or shallow cake pans. When it is almost completely frozen, puree the mixture in a chilled food processor until smooth. Then refreeze the sorbet in its pan until firm, transfer it to an airtight container, seal it well and keep it in the freezer until ready to serve. An easier method, which produces a slushy sorbet, is to pour the sorbet mixture into ice cube trays and freeze it until hard; then blend the frozen cubes of sorbet to a slush in a food processor and serve it immediately. If a sorbet was stored several days and became too hard, soften it before serving: Chill a food processor bowl and blade in the refrigerator. Puree sorbet, about 2 cups at a time, in food processor for just a few seconds. Softened sorbet can be returned to freezer and will remain soft for 1 or 2 hours. Sorbets melt very quickly; before serving, it is best to chill the dishes and any serving utensils. PINK GRAPEFRUIT SORBET Sorbet is my favorite grapefruit dessert. Serve it on its own or use it to top bowls of fruit salad. Sorbet is best served on the day it was made, but it can be kept up to four days. If sorbet is frozen solid, soften it very briefly in the microwave or food processor. Makes 6 servings 4 11⁄2 cups sugar 4 1 cup water 4 21⁄3 cups strained, freshly squeezed grapefruit juice, preferably pink or red Combine sugar and water in heavy medium saucepan. Heat over low heat, stirring gently, until sugar dissolves completely. Stop stirring. Bring to full boil over medium-high heat. Boil 30 seconds. Pour into heatproof medium-size bowl and cool completely. Cover and refrigerate 1 hour or overnight. Pour grapefruit juice into large bowl. Add 1 cup sugar syrup and mix thoroughly. Taste, and add 1 to 3 tablespoons more syrup if needed. Mixture should taste slightly too sweet; sweetness of sorbet will be less apparent when it is frozen. Chill a medium-sized metal bowl and an airtight container in freezer. Transfer sorbet mixture to ice cream machine and process until mixture has consistency of soft ice cream; it will not become very firm. Transfer sorbet as quickly as possible to chilled bowl; it melts very quickly. Cover tightly and freeze until ready to serve. If keeping sorbet longer than 3 hours, transfer it when firm to an airtight container and cover tightly. Soften sorbet slightly before serving. Serve in thoroughly chilled dessert dishes or wine glasses. MINTY MELON SORBET For a pretty presentation, serve the sorbet in a melon half and garnish it with melon balls and mint leaves. If you prefer a sorbet with a plain melon flavor, omit the mint. Makes 6 to 8 servings (about 3 to 4 cups) 4 1 cup fresh mint leaves 4 11⁄2 cups sugar 4 1 cup water 4 1.4 to 1.6 kg. ripe melon 4 2 Tbsp. fresh strained lemon juice, or to taste Chop mint leaves. Combine sugar and water in heavy medium saucepan. Heat over low heat, stirring gently, until sugar dissolves completely. Stop stirring. Bring to full boil over medium-high heat. Add mint and return to boil. Cover and let stand away from heat for 15 minutes. Uncover and cool completely. Strain into a bowl, pressing. Cover and refrigerate 1 hour. Halve melon and remove seeds with spoon. Cut off rind and discard. Cut flesh in cubes. Puree melon in food processor until very smooth. Pour puree into large bowl. Add 1 to 11⁄4 cups syrup, according to your taste, and mix thoroughly. Stir in lemon juice. Taste, and add more syrup or lemon juice if needed. Mixture should taste slightly too sweet. Freeze it in an ice cream machine, following directions in Grapefruit Sorbet (above). Soften sorbet slightly before serving. Serve in thoroughly chilled dessert dishes or wine glasses. ORANGE GRANITA Sparkling granita is made of jewel-like frozen sweet crystals that instantly melt in your mouth. Make this granita using oranges or tangerines. To keep the natural taste of the juice, add it to the completely cooled syrup; hot syrup would slightly cook the juice and alter its flavor. Freeze the mixture in a shallow bowl; if you use a deep bowl, it takes much longer to freeze. If you like, garnish each serving with orange segments and a few mint leaves. Makes 6 to 8 servings 4 1 cup sugar 4 3⁄4 cup water 4 900 gr. oranges 4 3 Tbsp. lemon juice Heat the sugar and the water in a heavy saucepan over low heat, stirring until dissolved. Bring to a boil and remove from the heat. Grate the rind of 1 or 2 oranges into the syrup. Let cool completely. Squeeze the juice from the oranges and strain it. Add the orange juice and lemon juice to the cool syrup and mix thoroughly. Pour the mixture into an ice cube tray without dividers or another tray or into a very shallow bowl. Freeze until beginning to solidify. Stir the mixture with a fork; it will form little crystals. Return to the freezer and freeze for 30 minutes. Stir again with a fork. Keep in the freezer until ready to serve. Serve in stemmed glasses or dessert dishes. Faye Levy is the author of Fresh from France: Dessert Sensations.