My friend Anthony’s parents have a very prolific lemon tree. The last time he went to visit them, he came home with ten pounds of lemons, and promptly foisted about nine pounds off on me. I was grateful, to be sure, but it was a bit of a scramble to figure out how to use them all up before they went bad. I made a big batch of lemon curd, and a pair of lemon pies (which I neglected to photograph, whoops). That still left me with a hefty armful of lemons, slowly slumping and wrinkling and growing uglier by the day. Enter the ice cream machine.
I could have just made a simple lemon sorbet. But I wanted something jazzier, so I added a shot of elderflower liqueur. Partly, it was a practical choice: a splash of alcohol in a fruit sorbet is a quick-and-tipsy way to keep it from freezing too hard. But I was also curious how the flavors of lemon and elderflower would mingle together in a chilly base.
As it turns out, they get along just fine. The sorbet turned out really lovely, shimmering yellow with tiny saffron-flecks of zest throughout. The liqueur hummed quietly, subtly, in the background, amplifying the intense floral fruitiness of the lemon itself. It was the kind of thing I could easily imagine as a palate cleanser at a snooty dinner party, or as a bracing after-dinner treat on a sticky summer evening.
Even with the booze, this sorbet is best eaten within a few hours. The longer it sits in the freezer, the icier and harder it’ll get. I ended up leaving my sorbet for two weeks before eating it, which meant I ended up with a crackly crystallized lump instead of a lush scoopable mass. I had to chip it into glasses like a granita. The flavor was still terrific, but it didn’t have the soft spoon-sliding texture I had hoped for. If you’re going to keep the sorbet longer than a day, make sure to take it out of the freezer well before serving it, to give it time to soften and relax.
Oh, and if you don’t think a bowl and a spoon is enough fanfare, try slipping a spoonful of sorbet into a flute of sparkling wine. I know.
Lemon Elderflower Sorbet (makes about 1 1/2 quarts)
Note: The sugar here is a flexible measurement. Lemons vary in sweetness, and you may prefer a tarter or sweeter sorbet. Accordingly, you can increase the sugar up to 1 1/4 cups per batch.
2 1/2 cups water, divided
1 cup granulated sugar, or to taste (see note)
3 tbsp lemon zest (about 3 medium lemons’ worth)
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 6-8 medium lemons’ worth)
3 tbsp (1 1/2 oz) elderflower liqueur
In a small saucepan, whisk together 1/2 cup water, sugar, and lemon zest. Warm the mixture over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the sugar is completely dissolved and the syrup is clear. Turn off the heat and add the remaining 2 cups water. Let the syrup cool to room temperature, then transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for 4-6 hours, or until thoroughly chilled.
Stir the lemon juice and elderflower liqueur into the chilled syrup. Freeze the mixture in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Scrape the frozen sorbet into an airtight container, and freeze for 1-2 hours, or until it’s firm but scoopable.
To store the sorbet, press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface, then cover the container tightly. Stored this way, the sorbet will keep for up to a month in the freezer, though the texture will change and become icy after about a day.