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An attempt at Sorbetto: a recipe recreation that went horribly wrong

Submitted by Vettoria di Gio... on November 12, 2011 - 12:23am
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I've been reading Lancelotti's book, Lo Scalco Prattico, quite a lot lately as I'm working on the menu for the Canterbury Faire Feast which I'm cooking in February. Lancelotti's book consists entirely of menus, so is useful in working out what sort of food tends to be served, where, and how.

One of the items that I've come across is "sorbe", which is consistently served in the final credenza (sideboard) course - a course that typically is made mostly up of fruits, nuts, cheeses, and sweet dishes. My usual recourse to Florio leads me to think that Lancelotti is probably referring to what Florio lists as "sorbelle" - "the fruit Saruice-berie". However, what caught my eye was the entry below this, labelled "sorbétto", which he says is a Turkish drink made of lemons, sugar, amber and musk. Some further reading of the chapter on sherbet in Laura Mason's Sugar-Plums and Sherbet revealed that it could also contain rosewater.

I thought that the tricky bit would be obtaining some sort of amber and musk that I could use in a drink. In the end, I found some scented oils to try using.

I decided to try making a version using an adapted modern lemon cordial recipe. It turns out that there are mainly two versions of lemon cordial on the internet: one is made with only lemon juice and sugar, the other is made with the addition of citric and tartaric acid and epsom salts. I managed to find a third one, which included water in the mix, and decided to run with that. The basic syrup was really straightforward to make, except instead of using boiling water and dissolving the sugar in that I used a 50/50 mix of water and rosewater, and brought it to a boil with the sugar and lemon zest already added, dissolving the sugar in the process. So far so good.

I added the lemon juice as well, and came out with a very sweet cordial concentrate with a delicate rose flavour.

Then I added the musk and amber. Just thinking of this fateful step has made me reach again for the chocolate.

Firstly, the house instantly stank like a bad perfumerie. I could smell it, and it was strong - bear in mind please that my sense of smell is mostly non-functional to the extent that I can walk into a fish shop and not think there is any smell.

Giving it the benefit of the doubt, I dipped my finger in and tasted it. It was pretty vile. However, since the cordial was actually a concentrate I decided that I shouldn't give up on it immediately but ought to at least try a glass. I diluted some of the liquid and managed half a mouthful. It tasted at best as though I were drinking poison; a fairly overbearing combination of perfume factory and soap. Water is not enough to rid one's mouth of the taste. Orange juice is also not strong enough. Chocolate appears to do the trick, however, it is necessary to redose with another square every time the dreaded scent again becomes discernable. Needless to say, it has all been thrown out. However, I am considering pouring bleach down the drain after it in an attempt to get rid of any lingering vapours. It's pretty rare for me to have a recipe fail, and even rarer for it to be so hideously awful.

If I make it again, I'll stop at the point where I add the lemon juice to the mix.

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