The only kitchen appliance I’ve ever regretted buying is an ice cream maker. It was the kind with a freezable vessel that spins, allegedly churning your creations to perfection, and I spent $50 on it. Sure, technically it “worked”, but at one point I left the bowl in my freezer for an entire week and could still hear fluid sloshing around when I shook it.
Countertop ice cream makers may be bulky, inconvenient uni-taskers, but it isn’t really their fault that homemade ice cream is such a time-sink. Thermodynamics is a cruel and exacting mistress, and the average home freezer just isn’t powerful enough to produce the drastic temperature changes required for successful frozen desserts.
I rent, which means I’ve had the exact same refrigerator in my last three apartments — and wouldn’t you know, it’s the cheapest fridge you can buy wherever appliances are sold. Appliance prices track closely with power output, so aspiring homemade ice cream masters stuck with cheap rental appliances are at a serious disadvantage.
Even if I had a better freezer — or finally got around to making room for a chest freezer — I still wouldn’t get into ice cream making because store-bought stuff is so damn good. I miss Tillamook ice cream every day, but I’m still spoiled for choice.
The local store stocks a pretty good selection of ice creams, sorbets and gelato, and if I feel like something fancier, my local supermarket has a killer ice cream section. There are no fewer than half a dozen ice cream shops within a 15-minute bike ride — many of whom sell their handmade treats by the pint.
If I want ice cream, I have options, none of which involve cramming a big bowl into my freezer for a week and praying it’ll actually freeze this time.
Stocking up on staples is a great way to stretch a budget and minimise waste, so a good chest freezer is a boon to the budget-minded home cook. Sadly, common misconceptions about their energy usage and footprint size discourage the people who would benefit the most from a chest freezer — apartment-dwellers with decrepit, barely-functional appliances — from buying one.
All of this is to say that I’m anything but enthusiastic about homemade frozen desserts, so I was pretty shocked when I saw a recipe for “two-ingredient watermelon sherbet” kicking around that I actually wanted to make.
The recipe was simple, but plausible: Purée frozen hunks of melon with sweetened condensed milk and salt, freeze, and eat.
milk is a powerful emulsifier and contains way too much sugar to freeze solid, so this seemed like it could actually work. Because I’m predictable, I upped the salt and added some lemon to intensify the watermelon flavour. It ruled.
I can’t say this sherbet changed my opinion on homemade frozen desserts, but I can say it’s ridiculously delicious and all but makes itself. I love that it requires very little prior planning — and even less actual work — but doesn’t taste like you took any shortcuts.
Best of all, it perfectly captures the essence of peak-season watermelon, making it the ideal treat for deceptively hot late-summer days.
Dead Simple Watermelon Sherbet
(Barely adapted from The Kitchn)
You don’t need an ice cream maker here, but you do need a food processor or blender and enough freezer space to accommodate a sheet pan. Other than that, it’s pretty point-and-shoot: Freeze watermelon cubes, purée them with sweetened condensed milk and a bit of lemon and salt, freeze, scoop, and devour. Vegans can substitute sweetened condensed coconut milk, which honestly might taste even better.
If watermelon isn’t your thing, I imagine this would work pretty well with any frozen fruit you like, so long as it has a bit of tartness to balance the condensed milk. Blackberries, raspberries, pineapple, peaches or mango are all great choices.
Finally, if you’re after Instagram-worthy scoops, add a tablespoon or two of vodka. (I skipped the booze and had no issues with the texture.)
- Around 1kg cubed watermelon (half of a 2kg watermelon should do)
- 1 cup (about 300g) sweetened condensed milk
- ¼ teaspoon table salt
- Zest and juice of one lemon or lime
- 1 tablespoon vodka or other spirit (Optional; ensures smooth, scoopable texture)
First, clear a space in your freezer big enough to hold a sheet pan. Arrange cubed watermelon on a baking paper-lined baking sheet in a single layer; if you have too much watermelon for one layer, lay another sheet of parchment on top and repeat. Transfer to the freezer and freeze until solid. A powerful freezer can do this in three or four hours, but if yours is weak like mine, better leave them in there overnight.
When the watermelon is fully frozen, transfer the chunks to your food processor or blender. If it’s a tight fit, pulse the melon into smaller pieces before adding the rest of the ingredients. Being impatient, I dumped everything in and went to town; it worked fine, but I had to stop the processor a few times to nudge some stubborn chunks towards the blades.
Photo: A.A. Newton
Photo: A.A. Newton
Photo: A.A. Newton
Once you’ve added the condensed milk, salt, and lemon zest and juice, process or blend until you have a very smooth, light pink paste. My food processor accomplished this in about three minutes, but don’t sweat it if yours takes a little longer — this is a forgiving recipe. Besides, the smoother your purée, the softer and more scoopable your sherbet will be.
Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed, then transfer the sherbet to a freezer-safe container, press baking paper over the surface, and freeze until solid. Like the first step, this will take anywhere from two hours to overnight, depending on your freezer.
Let the sherbet soften on the counter for a few minutes before scooping if it’s totally rock hard. Serve as-is, or, if you’re so inclined, sprinkled with lemon zest.