It’s no secret that a splash of aromatic bitters adds a welcome flavor element to both seltzer and cocktails: earthy, botanical and tart. And its history as a soothing medicinal tonic is positively fascinating (more about that here). But for me, I know bitters best as an elevating ingredient in desserts, having readily sprinkled it into cookie recipes and oven-bound fruit pies. Most recently, I daydreamed about flaunting bitters in a refreshing fall sorbet, just in time for pear season.
Since pear and spice are a favorite combination 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 are 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 were made with an ice cream maker and featured a paler bitters essence, 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 subtle 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 (see note)
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 3.25 to 3.5 pounds ripe pears: about 8-10 medium pears (see note)
- 1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
In a small saucepan, combine the first four ingredients. Whisk over medium heat until sugar fully 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 cover until ready to use. If you wish, you can pause at this point, cover syrup tightly, and carry on with recipe a few days later.
Remove and discard pear stems, then peel. Since ripe pears can be fragile, I quarter the pears lengthwise and then carefully use a sharp paring knife to remove the peel, rather than using a peeler. It’s OK if a few little bits of peel remain. Remove any dark brown and/or very tough spots from the flesh. 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 large baking sheet or platter (lined with parchment or wax paper if desired), spread out the lemony pears so they are minimally touching, and place in freezer until frozen through — usually a minimum of an hour, depending on your freezer’s temperature.
Once pears are frozen, if not using them right away, transfer them to a resealable bag or lidded container, keeping them in the freezer for up to two days. Leaving them uncovered in the freezer for too long will damage their color and texture. Don’t try to initially freeze them piled onto one another; you’ll end up with a giant, frozen 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 syrup (see note below). Pulse, adding the remainder of the syrup and pears in stages, blending in between. Stop machine regularly and remove lid, scraping down the sides of bowl and pressing pears downward. Continue pulsing, and blend until a smooth sorbet has formed.
The sorbet can be eaten right away at this soft-serve-like texture, or frozen in a sealed container for a firmer, more scoopable texture. Store tightly covered in the freezer, eating within a week. If well-frozen, you may need to let it sit at room temperature for 5 – 10 minutes to thaw before scooping.
- While I’ve only tried Peychaud’s Bitters in this recipe, other brands should be equally delicious. Each will have different character — more or less robust, bitter, citrusy, spiced, etc. Feel free to use any kind whose taste you enjoy; the flavor will gently come through in each spoonful.
- Similarly, I’ve used only Bartlett and Warren pears for this recipe, but other varieties of ripe, juicy pears are likely to be just as wondrous, bringing their own charm.
- Blending the sorbet can require some patience and noise tolerance. If the pears are deeply frozen and very stubborn about being blended, feel free to let them thaw for 10 minutes or so before trying again. Alternatively, you can gently re-warm part of the syrup before adding it to the food processor in order to hasten the blending of icy-hard pears.
- Depending on the strength and sweetness of the pears, the attributes of the bitters can sometimes become rather subtle in the final sorbet. Feel free to highlight them with a tiny pinch of ground cloves or nutmeg, or an extra squeeze of citrus fruit blended in. The sorbet is also excellent served alongside fresh raspberries or other complementary fruits.