I've always felt that the proper treats for August were red, dripping, icy things. Things you get off the ice cream truck, like ice cream sandwiches with chewy cookie covers, tall flag-striped popsicles, and little cups of red ice drenched in a syrup you suck away, leaving clear icy crystals that crunch between your teeth and give you a sweet, piercing headache. Well, here's a red, drippy sorbet to banish the heat, but with a grown-up twist and a creamy, herbed topping.
Stone fruit is in full season right now, and I love all those little red and black plums you can find — hopefully full of sweet juice. This sorbet complements their jammy sweetness with Kirschwasser, "cherry water," the clear cherry brandy traditionally made in the Black Forest region of Germany. It has a spiked, plummy taste, like the last, pulpy strands of a cherry after you bite through the flesh and right before you spit out the pit. Fragrant and not so sweet, with a kick.
Cardamom adds hint of muskiness. And then, for creaminess and an elegant finish, layers of whipped cream with a syrup infusion of fresh lemon verbena. Lemon verbena is one of those summery smells and tastes; crushed between your fingers it smells like high June in the sun.
These two elements, the cream and sorbet, work excellently together. They have a fresh, wild taste, with a mellow headiness from the Kirsch. Do prepare to have little drips of red fruit syrup splattered on your stove and floor, and sticky spoons in the sink. But in the end you are left with a very grown-up version of a familiar summer treat: sweet, red, dripping icy coolness.
Red Plum Sorbet
Adapted from Epicurious
About 6 small red or black plums, pitted and quartered
3 bruised cardamom pods
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup Kirschwasser
In a small saucepan combine the plums and enough water to just cover them. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until they are soft — about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine 1/2 5 cup sugar and 3 cardamom pods with 3/4 cup water in a smaller saucepan and lightly simmer for a few minutes. Stir in the Kirsch. Take off the heat and let cool.
Puree the plums, skins on, in a food processor until smooth. Add the sugar syrup and puree again. Strain mixture through a fine sieve and refrigerate until very cold — preferably overnight.
Freeze in an ice cream maker for a short period — just about fifteen minutes. Put in the freezer, sealed and covered with foil or plastic wrap touching the surface of the sorbet. This is better after it has cured for a day or two.
Lemon Verbena Cream
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup packed fresh lemon verbena leaves
1 cup whipping cream
Chop and bruise the lemon verbena. Put sugar in a small saucepan with 1/2 cup water and stir to dissolve as it comes to a simmer over low heat. Let it simmer for just a couple minutes. Stir in the lemon verbena and take off the heat. Let steep for fifteen minutes, then put in the refrigerator to cool completely.
Whip the cream in a food processor, then add a few tablespoons of the lemon verbena syrup. Add as much syrup as you can without deflating the cream.
Serve sorbet and cream layered together in glasses or small bowls.
(Images: Faith Durand)