The Search for Silky Sorbet Doesn’t Go Smoothly

QI’ve been trying to make chocolate sorbet and have been having problems with its texture. First, I tried making it with cocoa powder, water, and sugar. The result was grainy no matter how many times I sifted the cocoa powder or how many times I whisked the cocoa liquid. Not to mention how I whisked it — I used a balloon whisk once, then an electric mixer the second time. Then I followed the recipe in Linda Collister’s Chocolate. That one didn’t work, either. The small chile worked out nicely in flavor, but the texture was still grainy. Then I used the same recipe and strained the mixture then poured it into the ice cream maker. That one worked out best, but the result was barely chocolaty.
— Wilson

AThere are a couple of different issues here. First, much of the flavor of solid chocolate is carried by the cocoa butter. The fat itself doesn’t really have much taste but it brings out the deep flavors of cocoa powder.

However, as you may know, mixing a small amount of water with melted chocolate is a no-no — it will seize up most unpleasantly. It’s important that you use enough hot liquid to prevent the formation of the sticky sugar syrup that literally glues the particles of chocolate together, creating a clumpy mess.

Since you’re not choosing to use solid chocolate, and you’re not getting optimum flavor from the cocoa powder in the sorbet, what other options do you have? You might try using a form of chocolate that’s made to be dissolved in water-based liquids. Chocolate syrup, like Hershey’s — or, better still, Fox’s U-Bet — might work. You’ll have to alter the sugar content of the recipe though, since the syrup is already sweetened.

Here’s an old-fashioned trick that will help you get the right balance of sugar to liquid: Float a washed, uncooked egg (still in its shell) in the liquid; if the part that shows above the surface is the size of a dime, the sugar concentration is right; if it’s larger than a dime, the sugar content is too high. In effect, you’ve got a homemade hydrometer, which measures the specific gravity of the liquid. This is very useful when making sorbets with fresh fruit, since there’s no easy way of knowing the fruit’s original sugar content. Don’t forget to remove the egg before continuing the recipe!  hope this helps
—Gary Allen


McGee, Harold. On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. New York: Scribner, 2004.

Article © 2006 Gary Allen. All rights reserved. Visit Gary’s Web site, On the Table.


  1. Hi Wilson, Jen, and Gary. Perfectly smooth chocolate ice cream or sorbet is surprisingly difficult to obtain. Freezing exaggerates the tiniest bits of undissolved chocolate solids.

    Adding water or a similar liquid (cream, even butter) when melting chocolate will indeed prevent seizing. Twenty percent may work, but if you are melting fine quality dark chocolate which contains a higher amount of cocoa solids (usually 55-65%) you will need a little more liquid. I’d suggest starting with 25%, by weight or roughly 1 tablespoon of liquid for 2 ounces of chocolate. Cocoa powder, being all cocoa solids, would require even more liquid.

    Gary is right in his assumption that temperature matters. Whenever possible I dissolve cocoa powder in boiling water. To bring out the deepest chocolate flavor, try cooking the cocoa in the water, at just the lowest simmer, for a minute or so before adding any other ingredients.

    It may sound odd, but it does seem to matter whether you add chocolate to the hot liquid or hot liquid to the chocolate. Most ganache recipes, for example, instruct you to boil the cream and pour it over chopped chocolate. I sometimes find, depending on the chocolate and how finely it has been chopped, that this leaves little specks of unmelted (seized) chocolate. Stirring the chocolate into the hot cream, however, is less likely to create specks. I’m not sure why this should matter, but I suspect it has to do with how rapidly the cream cools off which would obviously affect its ability to melt the chocolate. Once the specks form they are not easily dissolved, even if you reboil the mixture. And, as you have discovered, straining them out reduces the chocolate flavor.

    Hope this helps. Cindi

    1. Thanks, Cindi. All of this makes perfect sense. (And yes, I have encountered those dreaded specks of seized chocolate from time to time—and found them virtually impossible to eliminate.) I’ve just chalked it as “seized chocolate is seized chocolate, and that’s all there is to it” (just as once sugar goes past the caramel stage there’s no going back—all one can do is start soaking the blackened remains out of the pan and start over again.)

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