It’s no secret that a splash of aromatic bitters adds a welcome flavor element to both seltzer and cocktails: earthy, botanical, tart. And its history as a soothing medicinal tonic is positively fascinating (more about that here). But for me, I know bitters best as a elevating ingredient in desserts, having readily sprinkled it into cookie recipes and oven-bound fruit pies. Most recently, I daydreamed of flaunting bitters in a refreshing fall sorbet, just in time for pear season.
Since pear and spice are a favorite match of mine, it made sense to reach for a brand of bitters that offers pleasant hints of clove alongside the classic bitterness akin to grapefruit peel — not to mention an almost candylike aroma. With a balance of warm vanilla and tangy lemon, the sorbet’s simple ingredients were sure to result in a scrumptious scoop. And really, a light and bright sorbet is a welcome dessert any time of year if you ask me.
While my first batches featured a paler bitters essence and the use of an ice cream maker, I eventually landed on a more robustly aromatic syrup and a simpler no-churn process — and the result is super satisfying. I had also started off without peeling the pears (the way I did here), but found that their skins led to a less than pleasant mouthfeel and flavor. Peeling the pears is worth every bit of countertop labor, I promise.
Blended when frozen, the ripe, peeled pears create a mild but full-bodied texture: a silky-smooth canvas to showcase the spirits within. With whispers of earthy spice, the sweet fruit balances perfectly with the delicate tang of bitters, and every spoonful is refreshing. The only special equipment you need is a sturdy food processor and some perseverance while using it.
Bitters & Pear Sorbet
Makes about a quart
- 1/3 cup aromatic bitters, preferably Peychaud’s*
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 3 to 3.5 pounds ripe pears (about 8 medium pears); I used Bartlett*
- 1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
- food processor with a capacity of 7+ cups
In a small saucepan, combine the first four ingredients. Whisk over medium heat until sugar dissolves, then let syrup bubble for about 15 seconds (not much longer, as it will thicken more than desired). Remove from heat. Let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate to thoroughly chill. If you wish, you can pause at this point, cover syrup tightly in fridge, and carry on with recipe up to 5 days later.
Remove stems from pears, then peel. Since the pears can be soft, I tend to quarter the pears and then carefully use a paring knife to remove the peel, rather than using a peeler. Remove any soft brown spots. It’s OK if a few little bits of peel remain. Remove and discard the pears’ cores and spines, then cut pears into half inch cubes. You want about 2.25 pounds of cubed pears.
Toss pear cubes with the lemon juice. On a parchment lined baking sheet or large platter, spread out the lemony pears so they are minimally touching, and place in freezer until frozen through (usually a minimum of 30 – 45 minutes, depending on your freezer’s temperature). Once pears are frozen, cover tightly if not using right away. You may transfer them to a ziploc bag or lidded container, keeping them in the freezer for up to two days. (Don’t try to initially freeze them piled onto one another; you’ll end up with a giant ice block.)
When ready to make the sorbet, place about half the frozen pear cubes in the bowl of the food processor, along with about half of the chilled syrup. Pulse and blend, adding more syrup if needed. Add the remainder of the pears and syrup in stages, blending in between. Stop regularly to turn off food processor and remove lid, scraping down the sides of bowl and pushing pears down gently as needed. Continue blending and pulsing until a smooth sorbet has formed. (This can require some patience and noise tolerance.)
Sorbet can be eaten right away at this softer texture, or frozen in a sealed container for a firmer, more scoopable texture. Store tightly covered in the freezer, eating within a week. If deeply frozen, you may need to sit at room temperature 5 – 10 minutes to thaw a bit before scooping.
*Maybe next time… It’s quite likely that other brands of bitters will be equally delicious, though all will have different character (more or less robust, bitter, citrusy, etc.). I’ve only tried Peychaud’s in this recipe, but feel free to use any kind whose taste you enjoy; the flavor will come through in each bite. Same with the pears: I used Bartlett, but other ripe pears will also be wondrous: Warren pears are especially silky, as one example.