Chocolate. Cocoa. Sugar. Salt.
This recipe was originally published in Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream by Laura O'Neill, Ben Van Leeuwen, and Pete Van Leeuwen with Olga Massov.
It's so good! It's so simple. (And it's effortlessly vegan.) As Ben Van Leeuwen will tell you, this sorbet is all about the ingredients: If you put exquisite chocolate in, you will get exquisite sorbet out.
A Bit of History
At the start of the summer of 1997, I wrote the the ice cream man a letter. I requested that he pleas driv down our stret mor offin this sumer. Thank You!! Lov MARY
Clearly, the ice cream man received my epistle, because he did drive down Byron Avenue more often. In fact, he came every single day: It was a glorious season of Chocolate Eclair Bars, Flintstones Push Pops, and Fudgsicles.
Adoration of ice cream has always been a family affair. Summers kicked off with a flurry of flavor inventing. The rhythmic churning of our ice cream cranker on the back patio punctuated witheringly hot Nashville afternoons as we readied spoons to sample the latest iteration of "Mocha Brownie Avalanche" or "Mango Madness."
Each summer we entered our newest flavor into the annual Ice Cream Crankin' flavor competition, and we came away with our fair share of blue ribbons over the years. Winning the city-wide Crankin' meant the regional dairy company would produce your flavor commercially.
This was a rite of passage in our household. Seeing pints of my own Graham Ole Opry and Nutt'ee Relations in the grocery stores was more of a landmark for me than high school and college graduation put together. In the Allen family, we settled debates with ice cream. We settled debts. We settled stomachs.
At the start of the summer of 2015, I gently broke it to my parents that I was choosing to eat, henceforth, only plant-based food. Their first concern—their only valid concern—was that I would no longer be able to share in this central family tradition.
But they hadn't been to Brooklyn yet. And I hadn't taken them to Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream yet.
Ben Van Leeuwen is a new kind of ice cream man. After a summer of steering a Good Humor ice cream truck around the neighborhoods of his hometown in Connecticut and selling conventional ice cream with dubiously long ingredient lists, he figured folks might appreciate ice cream that wasn't full of artificial flavors, preservatives, dyes, and stabilizers. It turns out he was on to something.
In 2008, before gourmet ice cream was trending, before food trucks were tweeting, Ben and his co-founders, Pete Van Leeuwen and Laura O'Neill, established an artisan ice cream company with a pair of retrofitted postal trucks.
Eight years later, Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream boasts a fleet of yellow ice cream trucks, as well as eight retail shops around New York and L.A. Not to mention that you can find Van Leeuwen pints in grocery stores across both cities.
In 2014, they added their first vegan flavors to the menu. Having sampled all—and I do mean all—the vegan ice cream brands on the shelves of Brooklyn's too-bougie health food stores, I can tell you: No one is making vegan ice cream like the Van Leeuwen team.
- 1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons (274 grams) sugar
- 4 1/2 ounces (127 grams) unsweetened chocolate (99% cacao), preferably Michel Cluizel
- 3/4 cup (60 grams) unsweetened natural cocoa powder
- 1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) kosher salt
1. In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar and 2 cups water and stir over low heat until the sugar is fully coated. Stir in the chocolate, cocoa powder, and salt until combined. Cook, stirring until the liquid is uniform, the chocolate has melted, and the sugar and cocoa powder have dissolved completely. Transfer the sorbet base to a quart-sized container, cover, and refrigerate until fully cold, about 3 hours.
2. Pour chilled sorbet base into an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions. Place the container in which you refrigerated the sorbet base in the freezer so you can use it to store the finished sorbet. Churn the sorbet until it resembles Italian ice. Transfer the sorbet to the chilled storage container and freeze until hardened to your desired consistency. The sorbet will keep, frozen, for up to 7 days.
(makes about 1 quart)
Chocolate: Eight Things Worth Knowing
- Chocolate is a fermented food. (Like wine! Like kimchi! Like kombucha!) The process of fermentation is what unlocks all the magic flavor from what would otherwise be a bitter seed.1
- Cocoa has 800 flavor compounds, which is more than any other food!2 (It is more complex than wine. More delicious too? Mayhaps.)
- Good chocolate has a high-gloss finish and a solid snap but will melt in your hand in less than a minute.3
- Cacao pods are filled with a sweet & sometimes tart ivory colored pulp called baba that surrounds the seeds. Baba tastes more like a gummy bear or lemonade than like chocolate.
- On a commercial plantation, only three out of every thousand cultivated cacao flowers are successfully pollinated. In the forest, they have a much better shot: five in a hundred are sucessfully pollinated and are thus able to produce cocoa pods. 4
- Cacao trees can only grow within 20 degrees north or south of the equator. 5
- It's estimated that the demand for chocolate will increase by two-fold by the year 2050.6
- If we want amazing chocolate to still exist in 2050, we need to be willing to pay for the true cost of cacao.
"I don't eat expensive chocolate to be fancy or waste money; I eat it because I want to support the chocolate makers dedicated to sustaining diverse and delicious chocolate." —Preeti Simran Sethi, author of Bread, Wine, and Chocolate
In their quest to find the most unbelievably delectable chocolate for their ice cream, Ben, Laura, and Pete have happened upon two of the most admirable and socially responsible chocolate making operations in the market: Michel Cluizel and Askinosie.
Both Michel Cluizel and Askinosie source their cocoa beans from farms with ecologically responsible farming practices free of chemicals and pesticides. They maintain direct trade relationships with their farms and pay their farmers significantly more than even "Fair Trade" market price; Askinosie even has a profit share system in place with its farms.
An ethically and sustainably produced crop is not only the healthiest crop for the land, farmers, consumers, it's also the most delicious. Paying a fair price for chocolate enables farmers to plant the regional varieties of cacao that make delicious, complex chocolate (e.g. Nacional, Curary, Criollo, Guiana) rather than opting for the more reliably productive clone CCN-51, a variety which produces flavor generally likened to "acidic dirt." This is what a Hershey's, Mars, and Nestlé are buying. Paying a fair price also enables farmers to harvest and ferment their beans properly, protecting the quality of their cocoa.
A $10 chocolate bar may feel like a decadent purchase, but it's chocolate! It should be decadent. It should be a splurge. How much would you spend on fine wine or a craft beer? When you spend $10 on artisanal Askinosie or Michel Cluizel chocolate, not only are you now the proud (if momentary) owner of a remarkable chocolate bar, but you are casting your consumer ballot for a fair market; for sustainable, responsible farming practices; for a better life for the people who labored to bring that chocolate to you; and for the continued existence of incredible cacao.
1 Josh Cohen, "Fermentation for Dummies," Tasting Table, April 21, 2015.
2 Sethi, Simran. Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love. New York, NY: HarperOne, 2016. Loc 1507. Electronic.
3 Weinzweig, Ari. "Chocolate." Zingerman's Guide to Good Eating: How to Choose the Best Bread, Cheeses, Olive Oil, Pasta, Chocolate, and Much More. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003. 404-405. Print.
4 United States. National Park Service. "Pollinators." National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior, n.d. Web. 10 Oct. 2016.
5 "Growing Cocoa Beans," World Agroforestry Centre, accessed October 2, 2016.
6 Bisseleua, D.H.B., Missoup, A.D., Vidal, S. (2009). Biodiversity Conservation, Ecosystem Functioning, and Economic Incentives under Cocoa Agroforestry Intensification. Conservation Biology, 23(5), 1176-1184.