A few months before Caitlin was born, Dave and I spent a weekend in Staunton, VA. We arrived on a cold Friday night and when we woke up on Saturday morning, it was a wintery wonderland. By noon, there was over a foot of fresh snow on the ground, and the temperature was about 9°Fahrenheit.
And there we were, staying in a B&B (which meant there was no food after 10am), me in my third trimester…and I had forgotten to bring boots with me. After a very ridiculous attempt to drive to the main drag of Historic Staunton (a drive which, thankfully, did not end with us trapped in a snowbank), we concluded that we would have to hoof it and hope that some brave souls had opened their restaurants despite the treacherous weather.
Lo and behold! We found a gelato shop, The Split Banana. Who eats ice cream when it’s so cold and icy and windy that their eyelashes are practically stuck together? Us. That’s who.
It was during this frozen weekend that I discovered the best ice cream ever: it was unbelievably creamy, and smooth, and bittersweet, and chocolatey, and vegan, and perfect. According to the poor guy working the counter scooping ice cream, their chocolate sorbet was made entirely from unsweetened chocolate and sugar! I can do that!
Although it was kind of silly to be eating ice cream when we had practically turned into ice-pops ourselves, it was so worth every delicious spoonful. (Plus, I’m pretty sure we shivered off the calories.)
So let’s talk about chocolate.
Dave and I recently embarked on a chocolate-making project—we made our own chocolate! crazy awesome!—and we learned that bittersweet chocolate is often naturally vegan! The core ingredients of chocolate, after the cacao beans are roasted and then processed down into their fundamentally separate components, are cocoa powder, cocoa butter (don’t be fooled by the word “butter” because this is entirely plant based), and some sort of sweetener, such as simple syrup or agave.
Many common brands of chocolate use only those ingredients in their bittersweet chocolate, from Baker’s to Valrhona to Godiva, which means that they are dairy free! And, of course, 100% unsweetened chocolate is always comprised solely of cocoa and cocoa butter, which also makes it dairy free. However, most chocolate makers also produce milk chocolate and white chocolate in the same facilities, and therefore their unsweetened and bittersweet chocolates are not certified as vegan.
Depending on the reasons why you may be avoiding dairy, you may be able to use a common (or fancy) brand of chocolate to make this sorbet. Heck, you could even use semi-sweet chocolate, which typically does contain dairy, if you are not focused on keeping this sorbet completely free of dairy. But if you are concerned about cross-contamination due to a dairy allergy or are committed to patronizing chocolatiers and other companies who are vegan, then please look for a good-quality vegan dark chocolate to use.
I did some research and then decided to use my favorite bittersweet chocolate, Valrhona Caraïbe 66%, which does not contain milk but is not certified as vegan. I would not share this sorbet made from Valrhona with my nephew because of his dairy allergy, but I scooped it happily for my mom, who is seriously lactose intolerant.
This sorbet is very easy to make. The most time-consuming step is chopping the chocolate! Chop, chop, chop until you can’t chop no more! The finer you chop the chocolate, the more easily it will melt into the sugar syrup.
You can use different cocoa powder if you prefer (I sometimes like to use Valrhona!), but ideally you would be working with a fresh container: the older your cocoa powder is, the more likely it will be to leave a slightly cocoa-powdery taste in the ice cream.
Pour the chocolate mixture, plus another ¾ cup water, into a blender and blend for 30 seconds. Make sure you don’t leave any chocolate sauce in the pan! You want all that goodness to end up in your ice cream.
Scrape the chocolate liquid into a clean bowl and cover the bowl. Chill for 2 hours, or until completely cool. (Note: There will be about 1 qt. liquid here, and if you like, you can actually freeze it straight away. The resultant ice cream will be a bit denser and richer than its aerated counterpart, but it will still be creamy and scoopable!)
When you are ready to churn, give the chocolate mixture a quick whisk to thin it out slightly, then churn according to the instructions on your ice cream maker. This sorbet will become thicker and a bit more voluminous, but it will not be as fluffy as a dairy ice cream.
Scoop the sorbet into a wide, shallow container and cover with an airtight lid. Let it harden in the freezer at least 3 hours before scooping. Should you have more self control than I do, it will keep about 2 weeks in the freezer before it starts to get a bit freezer burnt.
Vegan Dark Chocolate Sorbet
7 oz. high-quality dairy-free bittersweet chocolate,* such as Valrhona or Godiva
2¼ cups water, divided
1 cup sugar
½ cup Dutch-process cocoa powder*
pinch of salt
½ tsp. vanilla extract
Finely chop the bittersweet chocolate. Set aside.
In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine 1½ cups water, sugar, cocoa powder, and salt. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Boil the cocoa syrup for 1 minute, whisking all the while.
Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the chopped chocolate and vanilla extract until completely smooth.
Stir in the water.
Transfer the chocolate mixture to a blender and blend on high speed for 15–30 seconds.
Scrape the sorbet batter into a large bowl. Cover and chill for 2 hours, or until completely cool.
When ready to churn, whisk the chocolate mixture to loosen, then pour into an ice cream maker. Churn according to manufacturer’s directions, about 20–30 minutes, or until significantly increased in size (this batter won’t quite double).
Transfer the sorbet to a wide, shallow container with an airtight lid. Chill in the freezer at least 3 hours before scooping.
*Note: David Lebovitz’s original recipe called for 6 oz. chocolate and ¾ cup Dutch-process cocoa, which produced a deliciously rich and dark sorbet, but also left an aftertaste of cocoa and a slight cocoa residue in my mouth. I altered the ratios to address that issue while not significantly affecting the amount of fat needed to churn the ice cream. The resultant sorbet was slightly sweeter than the original. If you would like a slightly deeper, darker flavor, feel free to test out the original ingredient ratios.