While I was traveling in Italy one hot summer, I was eating their wonderful gelato and sorbet like there was no tomorrow.
When I came home, I made it my mission to learn to make it the way the Italians did. (I made it my mission to learn to make a lot of foods the way the Italians did, but that's a different post.)
Sorbet owes its silky texture to the high sugar content of the mixture. The higher the sugar content, the lower the freezing point of the mix. Part of the sugar syrup stays unfrozen, and so it "lubricates" the fruit puree giving sorbet its smooth texture and soft scoopability.
A word about equipment: I wouldn't go to the trouble of making ice cream or sorbet if I didn't have my Cuisinart ice cream maker.
This little machine has been a boon to my frozen dessert-making passion. It is so much easier than the trouble and mess of the older-style machines that required ice and rock salt. This little beauty has its own frozen drum, and you can get most frozen concoctions churned in about 30 minutes or less. I store the portable drum in my freezer so it's always ready to go when I want to make ice cream or sorbet.
I learned to make sorbet by following my favorite of my many Italian cookbooks, Italian Classics, which is part of the "Best Recipe" series by the editors of Cook's Illustrated.
They give a "master recipe" for all fruit sorbets:
2 cups fruit puree or juice
3/4 - 1 1/4 cups sugar
up to 2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon vodka or other alcohol
You can use pretty much any fruit to make sorbet. The amount of sugar and lemon juice you use depends on the fruit. Sweeter fruits require less sugar and a little more lemon juice (to temper the sweetness). You will not be able to taste the alcohol in the mixture, but the alcohol keeps the sorbet from freezing into a solid block of ice. You can leave it out if you don't want the added alcohol, but then you'll need to move your sorbet from the freezer to the refrigerator for an hour or so before serving it. Otherwise, you won't be able to scoop it. Other alcohols you might use would include flavored liqueurs or brandies. Limoncello is especially nice in lemon sorbet. Peach brandy is nice in peach sorbet. It really makes no difference, so use your imagination.
Here's what you need to do: combine the fruit puree, sugar, lemon juice, and alcohol in a large bowl until sugar is dissolved. You can test this by running your finger over the bottom of the bowl to check for any remaining sugar crystals. Pour into a small container, seal and refrigerate until the mixture registers 40 degrees or lower (6-8 hours or overnight). Pour the chilled mixture into the container of your ice cream machine and churn until frozen. Transfer the sorbet to a nonreactive container, seal, and freeze until firm (a couple of hours). Sorbet is best eaten within two or three days of making.
Here are some of the fruits I've used in sorbet:
Blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, or strawberries. You'll want to add 1/2 cup of water to about 3 cups of berries and puree it until smooth. Then strain the mixture to remove the seeds. You should end up with about 2 cups of puree. For berries, 1 cup of sugar and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice is about right.
Citrus fruits, such as oranges, lemons, limes, or grapefruit are good with about 2 teaspoons of grated zest along with 1 1/2 cups of fresh-squeezed juice. Add 1/2 cup of water to the mix. Tart citrus is good when you add 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon of sugar. For orange sorbet, use 1 cup minus 1 tablespoon of sugar and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice. For lemon sorbet, add 1 1/4 cups of sugar.
Melon sorbet requires about 2 1/2 pounds of melon flesh. Because of its high water content, you won't need to add any water. Melons are also very sweet, and so 1 cup minus 1 tablespoon of sugar and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice are about right. Compari is a good choice for the alcohol.
Mango sorbet can be made from about 3 medium mangoes, peeled and pitted. Add 1/2 cup water, 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon of sugar and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice.
Pineapple sorbet takes about 1 small pineapple, and you'll want to strain it to remove the stringy pulp. Add 3/4 cup of sugar, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice. Rum is a good choice for the alcohol.
Stone fruits such as peaches or apricots will need about 1 cup minus 1 tablespoon of sugar and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. Peach or apricot brandy is a good choice for the alcohol.
The amounts given here can be adjusted up or down depending on your personal preference and the sugar content of the fruit. Don't be afraid to experiment. Just start with two cups of fruit puree and then adjust the sugar and lemon juice within the amounts given in the master recipe.
If you are entertaining, or if you have children, it's fun to make several different flavors of sorbet, and then ask people to guess at the flavors. Use a melon baller to give each person two little scoops of each flavor. Put them in frozen martini glasses for a pretty presentation.