Don’t try this at home: Desserts on ice

cilantro granita topped with blueberry sorbet

Don’t you hate it when cookbooks, magazines and blogs have lovely pictures of food that you can’t make at home? I assure you, not everything I make is pretty or delicious. I only reserve the best recipes for this blog, but now I’ll take you into my mishaps through this new column: Don’t try this at home. I won’t post the recipes in the recipe index because they’re so bad, but sometimes you can learn as much from your mistakes as your successes.

A while back, I received a free sample of True Blue blueberry juice. The name implied that it’s 100% pure blueberry juice. It was a great concept and tasted like real berries, but it was made from blueberry and grape juice concentrates, plus added sugar. It might as well been called “reconstituted blueberry-blended cocktail.” The selling point was also the antioxidants, but you have to drink two cups of juice (220 calories) to get the same amount of antioxidants as 1/2 cup of blueberries. No thanks. I’d rather eat a pint of blueberries for the same amount of calories and get the extra fiber. And if I’m thirsty, I’ll just drink water.

Hoping to rid myself of 32 pounds of juice (aren’t you proud that I carried it all to my door?), I boiled down several cups into a concentrated syrup. I wanted to see if it was possible to make sorbet only out of fruit juice. Since sorbets are 25-30% sugar by weight*, and the juice only had 12% sugar, I reduced it over several hours. Then I added a little lime juice to brighten up the flavors. After I froze everything, an unappetizing syrup leached out from the sorbet. It was a tell-tale sign that it had too much sugar. Either my calculations were wrong, or the liquid kept evaporating as it cooled. Also, the sorbet didn’t taste like blueberries anymore. It was astringent and drying, like grape juice. So no, you can’t make sorbet only out of fruit juice, for reasons that I’ll get into later.

While the sorbet sat in my freezer (who wants to eat sticky, fast-melting sorbet?), I made another frozen dessert from Florence Fabricant’s shiso granita recipe in the New York Times. I substituted one bunch of leftover cilantro, since it’s a close cousin of shiso. After I froze it, it looked as appetizing as wheatgrass juice. It tasted like Mexican salsa gone bad. Plus, it wasn’t sweet enough.

Here I had two desserts: one with too much sugar and one with too little. Voila, I combined them and made them semi-edible. I wouldn’t recommend that you do the same though.

Lessons learned:

  • Don’t put cilantro in dessert. Ever.
  • Don’t boil fruit juice for long periods of time. The delicate flavors will disappear, while the less desirable ones will get stronger.
  • If you want to make sorbet out of fruit juice, you need to add sugar rather than boil it to death.
  • Liquids evaporate as they cool. If you measure one cup of hot liquid and think, “Perfect! That’s the right amount!” you’ll have considerably less when you actually use it.

*Source: San Francisco Chronicle

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  1. sul3781 said,

    Great article! Thank you for doing this experiment, and I am proud of you for carrying 32 lbs of juice to your door- quite workout!

    September 13, 2007 at 12:05 am

  2. sabrina said,

    I think it looks so pretty! Also, cilantro is actually really nice with mango pudding, you should give it a try some day!

    October 4, 2007 at 6:13 pm

  3. Jessica "Su Good Eats" said,

    Sabrina, pictures can be deceiving. It tasted so bad that I’m reluctant to put cilantro in any dessert.

    October 4, 2007 at 7:31 pm

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