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When the weather turns hot and sticky, I reach for horchata, a Mexican summer drink made of sweet rice, buttery almonds, and lusty cinnamon. (Yeah, the real deal cinnamon.) Horchata is as rich and satisfying as a tall glass of milk, but as refreshing as a jug of iced tea. It cools the body but warms the soul.
The leap to a horchata sorbet was an easy one. The mechanics are a little more involved. Sorbet needs plenty of sugar to stay soft at freezer temperatures, and the best horchata is only lightly sweetened. Fruit sorbets counteract sweetness with a jolt of acid, but that wouldn't jive with horchata's sweet melody. Neither would alcohol, a traditional sorbet softener. So that leaves fat, which renders sorbet scoopable and rounds out its sweetness.
Since horchata has a nut thing going on, peanut butter was my fat of choice. Add a good bit of salt and a dash of coffee grinds for depth, and you've got a dairy-free dessert that tastes like it isn't—sorbet for when fruit won't do. It's strong but not overly so, evocative of flavors forgotten and to be discovered. And it leaves you with extra horchata to sip while the sorbet churns. A gift that keeps on giving.
The strength of this sorbet is chiefly dependent on the finesse of your strainer. Once raw rice, almonds, and cinnamon have soaked in water to soften, they must be puréed in a blender, then strained out. If you neglect to use cheesecloth or your strainer does not have a very fine mesh, your horchata (and thus your sorbet) will be studded with shards of powdered rice, leaving a gritty texture. I know some people who like their horchata with some grit. But you should go into this recipe armed with that knowledge.
That one impasse aside, this recipe is an easy one. There's no cooking required, and most of the flavoring is done to taste. Though even with the fat from peanut butter, the sorbet will harden considerably in the freezer. Just set it on a counter for a bit before serving, and all will be well.
Ethan Frisch is the chef and co-mastermind behind Guerrilla Ice Cream. He's traveled around the world (30 countries, 5 continents) and worked as a pastry chef and line cook in some of NYC's great (and not so great) restaurants. He currently lives in London, where he really misses New York City tap water.
Max Falkowitz writes Serious Eats' weekly Spice Hunting column. He's a proud native of Queens, New York, will do just about anything for a good cup of tea, and enjoys long walks down the aisles of Chinese groceries.You can follow his ramblings on Twitter.
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