Here we are, knee-deep into July, and I’m taking a break from the overflow of zucchini coming from my garden to share another ice cream. No, it isn’t zucchini ice cream—pretty sure nobody would even try that—but it is unusual, and technically not ice “cream” at all. Nope, it is a sorbet, with plenty of real dark chocolate, and though it does not have a bit of dairy product (nor substitutes), there are two surprise ingredients that give it tremendously creamy texture.
I’ve been seeking ways to update old favorites for better health, and that means eating lighter and limiting saturated fats. I was pretty excited last month to discover that I could use the fat-free version of sweetened condensed milk to create an ice cream that is equally creamy to its full-fat counterpart (check out my Reduced-Guilt Vanilla Ice Cream if you missed it). But this time, I wanted to go a different direction, using no cream or dairy whatsoever. I’ve made sorbets plenty of times, but they always had fruit juice or puree in them, and I knew this would not. I’ve made chocolate ice cream several times as well, but those recipes all involved melting solid chocolate with cream or milk, so that was a no-go. Last summer, I made a luscious chocolate syrup that became a ribbon through my S’mores Ice Cream, but I wasn’t sure how to make a larger batch of that while avoiding “icy” texture that is common to sorbet. Somehow, I needed to merge these ideas in a way that would still give me the creamy texture I crave in frozen dessert.
My deep-dive into this dark chocolate sorbet was largely inspired by a dessert I saw on another blog earlier this year. Back around Valentine’s Day, one of my blog buddies (Dorothy, from The New Vintage Kitchen) shared a recipe she had made for her husband, called “love your heart chocolate pudding.” I was enthralled by Dorothy’s adaptation of one of her husband’s favorite dessert treats (using avocado in place of saturated fats), and it had reminded me of a similar product I’d seen many years ago at Whole Foods—a dark chocolate gelato, made with avocado. Attempting my own version of this has been on my culinary bucket list for a long time, and this was exactly the inspiration I needed.
Armed with information on a number of different methods, I set out to mix and match my way to this recipe. When it came down to it, this sorbet was surprisingly easy to make, and I’ve got the scoop for you, right here in the middle of National Ice Cream Month!
One of my favorite resources for ice cream ideas is a little spiral-bound book I picked up years ago on the clearance shelf at TJMaxx. It includes an entry for “bittersweet cocoa sorbet,” which was a syrup-only base, described as intensely bitter on the chocolate front—more than I was aiming for, anyway—so I considered it a starting point and made several adjustments to the recipe to tone it down and make it my own.
For my simple syrup, I dialed back the cocoa by half, increased the sugar (mine was turbinado) and used one less cup of water. Sweeter is better, especially if I want my husband to enjoy it with me; I also knew that heavier concentration of sugar in the simple syrup would make it freeze softer. Thank you, Alton Brown, for your wisdom over the years.
To underscore the richness of the cocoa, I applied three specific ingredients: real vanilla paste for complexity and balance, espresso powder to deepen the chocolate flavor, and a pinch of salt to bring out the best of everything. I am a firm believer in using a touch of salt in every dessert.
The syrup itself was heavenly, with a deep flavor of dark chocolate. But the real magic happened in the blender, when I combined the chilled syrup with two healthful ingredients—frozen banana and avocado! I use frozen ripe bananas in all my smoothies, and it does an amazing job of adding body and texture to the mix. I wasn’t sure whether the flavor would overwhelm the chocolate flavor, and I’ll share my thoughts about that at the end. The avocado was soft and ripe, and I placed it in the refrigerator the night before, to help me stay on schedule for freezing my sorbet mixture right away.
After one minute on the “smoothie” setting of my blender, I had my results. Admittedly, I was not emotionally prepared for the thick, silky texture of this sorbet base! It literally had the viscosity of prepared pudding, and it was luxurious and delicious, even in this unfrozen state.
My hunch is that I could have transferred this blended mixture directly into my insulated container and sent it straight to the freezer. The base definitely increased in volume in the blender and I think it would have frozen into a dense, almost-custardy sorbet. But my ice cream maker was already set up and ready, so I proceeded to freeze it as I would any ice cream. Near the end of churning, I poured in just a splash (OK, two) of Godiva chocolate liqueur, to help keep the sorbet from freezing solid. Disregard the grainy appearance in these photos; it honestly does not have a grainy mouthfeel at all—just creamy, smooth and very chocolate-y, like a frozen Dove chocolate melting on your tongue.
So, let’s talk about the banana. I had some hesitation about how much flavor it might impart to my dark chocolate sorbet, and the answer is—quite a lot. I don’t mind the flavor, and the chocolate does shine through prominently, but the next time I make this sorbet (and trust me, there most definitely will be a next time), I will ditch the banana in favor of a second ripe avocado. It was the avocado fruit that lent the smooth creamy texture, and that makes sense, when you consider than an average avocado has 29 grams of healthy fats. There is absolutely no flavor of avocado in this sorbet, so I figure the tradeoff would only improve the richness of it.
As for this banana-forward batch, my husband suggested we play that up by nestling a scoop of our dark chocolate sorbet into a banana split with some fresh strawberries, and now I think I know what we’ll enjoy for dessert this weekend. 😉
Dark Chocolate Sorbet
- 3 cups water
- 1-1/2 cups turbinado sugar
- 1/2 cup dark unsweetened cocoa (I used a combination of Hershey’s dark and King Arthur’s double dark dutch cocoa)
- 1 Tbsp. real vanilla paste (or 1 tsp. real vanilla extract)
- 1-1/2 tsp. espresso powder (optional, but it intensifies the chocolate flavor)
- pinch of kosher salt
- 1 ripe banana (peeled and frozen ahead; omit for a second avocado if you wish)
- 1 ripe avocado (put in refrigerator the night before)
- 1 Tbsp. chocolate liqueur or vodka, optional for improved texture when frozen
- Combine water and sugar in a deep saucepan over medium heat. Stir until sugar is dissolved.
- Sift cocoa powder to eliminate clumps. Add to simple syrup and whisk until blended. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently. The syrup should reduce slightly and have a thicker consistency when finished.
- Remove syrup from heat. Stir in vanilla paste, espresso powder and salt. Cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate until cold.
- Set up ice cream machine. Gently stir the chocolate syrup to reincorporate ingredients that may have settled.
- Add syrup to blender, along with frozen banana (broken into chunks) and avocado flesh. If your blender has a smoothie setting, use that to mix the sorbet base. Otherwise, pulse a few times to combine and then use the blend and/or puree settings until the mixture is completely smooth with no lumps.
- Pour mixture directly into ice cream machine and follow manufacturer’s instructions for freezing. Add liqueur (if using) in the final minute.
- Transfer sorbet to an insulated container for freezing. Place a piece of waxed or parchment paper directly on the surface of the sorbet to minimize ice crystals.