This pistachio sorbet recipe uses the same technique as my previously described chocolate sorbet. I’ve come to realize that high-performance blenders like Vitamix and Blendtec are particularly well-suited to making nut-based sorbets. They can blend nuts to a smooth consistency, and they can easily make a sorbet/“ice cream” without needing an ice cream maker.
If you’ve never tried a nut-based sorbet, you’re in for a treat. The oils in nuts give the sorbet a creaminess that makes it more like an ice cream than a traditional fruit-only sorbet.
I’ve noticed a growing interest in nut-based dairy-free ice cream. Some people are lactose intolerant, some are avoiding animal products, and others just love nut flavors. Locally I know of three operations making and selling nut sorbets by the bucketful: Mr. Dewies, Genuto, and Scream Sorbet (unfortunately now closed). I talked with Scream Sorbet former owner Nathan Kurz, and he was kind enough to share his pistachio sorbet recipe. In his operation they were more precise and used a refractometer to measure sugar content because it can vary between batches of pistachios, and he wanted to achieve perfect/consistent results.1 For the home kitchen a rough approximation is sufficient.
Pistachio Sorbet Recipe
1 ⅔ cup water (390 g)
1 cup unsalted pistachios (130 g)
½ cup sugar (98 g)
½ tsp salt (2.8 g) 2
Makes about 4 medium servings. (This sorbet is dense and flavorful, so the servings are not large.)
For maximum freshness I think it’s best to buy raw nuts and then roast them yourself. I recommend gently roasting the pistachios. Here’s the process I used: heat oven to 300 °F, put the nuts in on a single layer on a cookie sheet, and then switch off oven and leave nuts in for 12 minutes.
Add all ingredients to blender, blend on high for longer than normal to make the nuts completely smooth: about 2 minutes. Mixture will heat up, which I believe helps make it smoother. Pour into ice-cube trays and freeze solid.
I waited overnight, but as long as you have a cold freezer, a couple of hours is probably enough. Finally, pop frozen cubes into blender and blend a second time on high. (For thick mixtures like this it’s important to use the blender at the top speed to maximize air-flow through the motor and avoid overheating.) At first it will be difficult to blend, but by using the Vitamix tamper (or the Blendtec Twister Jar) it will soon start to circulate. Stop blending as soon as it has gotten a chance to circulate for a few seconds. You should see what Vitamix refers to as the “four mounds.”
The consistency will be thick and scoopable, but blending does warm it up a bit, so it’s best to serve it right away before it melts. If you’re serving it in bowls that hold heat (such as ceramic or glass), I recommend pre-chilling the bowls in the freezer. Likewise, if you will be saving some in the freezer, pre-chill your storage container and scoop it in right away. Any parts of the sorbet that melt and re-freeze will form larger ice crystals and the texture will not be as smooth. In principle you could re-blend it, but it’s easier to just keep it frozen. Enjoy your Vitamix pistachio sorbet!
Shelled vs in-shell pistachios
I bought shelled pistachios to avoid having to shell them myself. You might save a little money by buying in-shell pistachios, but keep in mind that the shell accounts for about half of the weight. I’ve seen in-shell pistachios priced at half the cost of shelled, in which case you wouldn’t save any money. Some people like to have to go through the process of opening the shells so that they don’t eat as many while snacking, but for a recipe like this shelling is a bit of a hassle.
Finding high-quality nuts is important for this recipe because that’s where all of the flavor comes from. Nathan recommended Inzana Ranch, and I’ve been extremely pleased with their pistachios, walnuts, and pecans. If you are in the Bay Area, look for them at select farmers markets, and if you are somewhere else and haven’t found high quality nuts, Inzana also does mail order.
If you want to jazz up the color you could add a small handful of baby spinach to make it more green.
I suspect that you could also make this type of sorbet in a single blending step by adding some form of sugar syrup and ice cubes instead of water, but I also suspect that the result would not be as smooth. Update: I did this with peanut butter, honey, and ice cubes, and it worked well, although I think it helped that I started with nut butter and not whole nuts.
1. Scream Sorbet used PacoJets for all of their recipes. I’m sure you could tell the difference in a side-by-side comparison, but in my opinion the blender version comes out quite well. If you have a refractometer, the recommended Brix reading for this recipe is 28.8. If you get really into using refractometers, Nathan recommends this deluxe digital model.↑
2. Don’t skip the salt. If you want you could reduce to ¼ tsp, but I wouldn’t recommend going lower.↑