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Saturday, March 25, 2017

Sorbet - Sorbet. Sorbets on French Menus.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
Cranberry Sorbet with Clementines and Mint.

The sorbet in France.

France traditionally served sorbets twice during a meal to stimulate the appetite and clean the palate between courses; the purpose was to prepare the diner for different tastes. Nevertheless, modern French cuisine today often forgoes the sorbet that was usually included in the price; many sorbets have become a dessert or part of a dessert. Those who choose from a dinner menu and include at least the sorbet served before the main course will find the taste of their main course sharpened.  Of course, the serving of a sorbet or two during the meal also allowed the chefs another ten minutes to organize the serving and carefully timed service is a central part of French cuisine; serving all the diners at the same time is essential.

Sorbet is a type of water-ice served frozen. The sorbet will be made from sweetened water with frozen fruit puree or fruit juice and often includes a wine or liqueur. (The addition of alcohol reduces the melting point of ice, changes the taste and in many instances gives the sorbet a more delicate taste. Sorbet is usually considered the ancestor of ice-cream and is often confused with a granité the drink (sometimes called sludge). The general rule that distinguishes sorbet from ice-creams or a granité is that a sorbet never contains milk. N.B. That rule is, unfortunately, already being broken.
A strawberry sorbet with shortcake
and a poppy seed and sugar biscuit.

Sorbets when offered between courses on French menus.
Sorbet au Citron Vert – A lime sorbet

Sorbet aux Poires – A pear sorbet
A sorbet sampler.
Coulis Citron Vert et Sorbet Pamplemousse – A lime puree served with a grapefruit sorbet.

Sorbet au Suc de Fleurs de Pissenlits – A sorbet flavored with the juice of dandelions.
Cointreau and blood orange sorbet
Sorbet Citron Arrosé de Vodka – A lemon sorbet with a vodka accent.
Sorbet Citron et Basilic et Liqueur de Citron – A lemon sorbet flavored with basil, the herb, and enlivened with a touch of a lemon liqueur.

Sorbets as desserts on French menus:

Délice Poires Amandes, Biscuit Épicé et Sorbet Poire – A  délice notes a treat or a delicacy; often the chef’s view of his or her latest creation. Here this treat is made with pears and almonds, spiced biscuits and a pear sorbet.
Gazpacho de Légues et son Sorbet – A vegetable Gazpacho served with a vegetable sorbet. N.B. Légues is shorthand for légumes, vegetables.

Les Fraises de Marzan Confites, Meringuette, Sorbet Yaourt de Brebis - A preserve or jam made from the much-appreciated strawberries of Mazan in the department of Morbihan, Brittany. Here the strawberry preserve is served with a meringuette, that is a small cake made only with beaten egg whites and sugar and here it is served together with a sorbet made from sheep’s milk yogurt.  Mazan is a center for the farming of many different berries as well as strawberries. The strawberries most often seen in Mazan are the Plougastel strawberries that originated around the town of Plougastel just over the border in the department of Finistère. This menu-listing breaks completely with the history of sorbet that had always been milk free; a sign that reminds us that French cuisine does not stop progress.
Sorbet "Watermelon Cake".
Lime sorbet, watermelon sorbet, the "seeds" are miniature chocolate chips.
Salade de Poulpe, Mini Légumes et Sorbet Betterave – Octopus salad served with miniature vegetables and a beetroot sorbet.
Sorbet Mandarine, Citron Vert, Passion, Coulis de Fruits Rouges, Chantilly – A tangerine, or mandarin, sorbet prepared with limes, passion fruits and a puree of red fruits served with Chantilly cream.

Tartare de Fruits Frais et son Sorbet Kalamanzi  - A Tartar of fresh fruits served with a Calamansi Sorbet. The calamansi is a citrus fruit from Asia especially appreciated in the Philippines. The fruit has a flavor somewhere between orange and lemon.

Sorbets Mélanges – Assorted sorbets, this would usually be a desert.

A Sorbet Mélange, a pear and yellow plum sorbet.

China was making sorbets and ice cream and probably water-ices in the seventh century BCE. Then Rome began, about the first century CE, doing the same with ice brought down from the Apennines to Rome. That required horsemen and mules with changes of riders and animals every 40 km (25 miles) along the 200 km (125 miles) road to Rome. The changing of riders and pack animals ensured that a least half the ice was still frozen when it arrived in Rome. This was the time of Nero, and at that time nothing was too much for the Emperor and his inner circle.

The French word sorbet comes from the Italian sorbeta, and the word sorbeta came from the Arabic word sherbet.  However, the sorbeta was in production long before the first sherbet and a sherbet was a very different creation to a modern sorbet.  The introduction of sorbet to France came from the Italians, and the Italians would also bring the first coffee and later the first ice-cream seen by the public in France.  According to tradition ice-cream was introduced to France by Francesco Procopius from Palermo, Italy.  Procopius’s coffee shop Café Le Procope opened in Paris 1686 and remains the oldest coffee shop still open in Paris today; though, now it is mostly a high-class restaurant. When sorbets first appeared in France in the latter part of the 17th-century, they would be served as a palate cleanser or as an iced drink or as an ice suitable for eating and drinking. Sorbets served between courses came with the changes in Haute Cuisine in the late 18th century; for that we may thank the most famous chef of the period Antonin Carême and also his friends.  For those interested in the American Revolution and the French Revolution, you may sit in Café Le Procope and enjoy a coffee and an ice-cream when the restaurant is not serving lunch or dinner. Possibly you will be sitting right over the spot where John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Pain, Benjamin Franklin, Voltaire, Danton, Marat or Robespierre may have sat.

Ice Cream and Granité is based on milk and cream with air copiously whipped in while a traditional sorbet has neither milk nor cream and very little extra air.  The method of sorbet preparation makes for a dense and full-flavored product. Granité is an Italian style of sorbet (Granita in Italian) that has not been churned; it's roughly mixed by hand with a fork or by a machine so it freezes as it forms larger granular ice crystals. The result makes a granité coarser and crunchier than a sorbet: that is apart from a granité nearly always being served as a drink.
Chestnut Profiteroles, Clementine,
Pinetree Sorbet and Chocolate Sauce

These differences in production and the fact that sorbets contain much more fruit than an ice-cream gives a sorbet its pronounced fruity flavor. Despite that, new uses for sorbets are being created; for example, changes in the traditional Tru Norman, a Normandy tradition of a shot of Calvados served between courses to aid the digestion. Today many modern Norman meals while shaming the traditionalists has the shot of Calvados replaced by a Tru Norman Sorbet made with crushed apples, water, sugar and a touch of Calvados.

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Bryan G. Newman

Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2017

For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman


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