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How-To

How to Make Intensely Flavored Granitas

(You Don’t Need an Ice-Cream Maker)

Fine Cooking Issue 28
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A granita is an icy frozen dessert similar to a snow cone in texture but with the intense flavor of a well-made sorbet. In fact, the ingredients for a granita can be exactly the same for a sorbet. The key difference is that a sorbet is made smooth by spinning the ingredients in an ice-cream maker, which prevents large ice crystals from forming.

A granita, on the other hand, is intentionally made icy by being allowed to freeze with only occasional stirring so that long, delicate ice crystals are encouraged to form. This refreshing iciness keeps even the sweetest flavorings from becoming cloying. What I like most about granitas is that they don’t require any special equipment. I just combine a liquid flavoring with a sugar syrup, pour the mixture into a container, and freeze it.

Pick a favorite flavor

You can make a granita out of just about any liquid or purée. Granitas can be savory, such as those served as an intermezzo (between courses), but they’re most often sweet.

This time of year, I go for granitas made from juicy, ripe summer berries, such as raspberries and strawberries.  Berries and other soft fruits, like mango and pineapple, need only be puréed and strained and they’re ready to use. Firm fruits like pears and apples should be cooked first to soften them and release their flavor. You can cook them in a little water or wine until tender or poach them right in the sugar syrup. Even easier are granitas flavored with citrus juice, coffee, or wine.

No recipe needed. In fact, because fruits and wines all have different degrees of natural sweetness, tartness, (and, in the case of fruit, pectin), it’s almost impossible to standardize a recipe. You’re better off tasting the granita mixture as you go and accepting that the texture of your finished granita can vary—from very icy to almost creamy—from one batch to the next, even if you follow a recipe exactly.

Purée raw or cooked fruit in a food processor. Strain any fibers or small seeds through a sieve, pushing on the fruit with a wooden spoon.
Make a simple syrup. Combine an equal volume of sugar and water, bring it to a boil, and let it cool.

Mix in a sugar syrup

Sugar syrup—made by boiling sugar in water until it dissolves—sweetens the granita and gives the mixture the right consistency for proper freezing.

You can also add subtle flavor to the granita by infusing the sugar syrup, also called a simple syrup, with herbs, a vanilla bean, or whole spices.

I find that a simple syrup made with equal parts water and sugar works for most granitas. Because the sugar gives the granita a softer texture, you may want to lessen the amount of sugar in the syrup if you’re using a very sweet ingredient, such as very ripe raspberries. This is also true if you plan to add alcohol, which inhibits freezing and also softens the granita.

Add the syrup a little at a time and taste as you go. The amount will depend on the natural acidity or bitterness (in the case of chocolate or coffee) of the mixture. The mixture will taste less sweet once it’s frozen, so make it just a tad sweeter than you want the finished granita to taste.

The mixture should coat a spoon lightly. This consistency will usually give you the proper icy results. If the mixture is too thick, add a little plain water, but again, taste as you go so you don’t dilute the flavor. To give fruit or wine granitas a boost of flavor, add a tablespoon or two of lemon juice and a pinch of salt.

Add the syrup to your flavoring. If you’ve puréed fruit, pour the syrup through the strainer to extract all the flavor. Keep tasting for sweetness as you go, but remember the granita will taste less sweet when frozen.
Thin the purée with water until it lightly coats the back of a wooden spoon. Taste again and add a tablespoon or two of lemon juice and a pinch of salt to brighten the granita’s flavor, if needed.

Freeze and stir

Any kind of container will work for freezing, but a square or rectangular cake pan or plastic container will allow the mixture to freeze more quickly and will give you room to scrape out the granita.

Break up the ice crystals with a fork. Though you’re not looking for the creaminess of a sorbet, you also don’t want your granita to freeze into a rock-solid block of ice. Stirring the mixture every half hour or so as it freezes breaks up the largest ice crystals and gives you the proper crystalline structure. This stirring also keeps the granita from separating while it freezes.

Scrape and serve

Once the granita is frozen, it’s no longer scoopable. Instead, it needs to be scraped, usually with an ice-cream scoop, to shave off enough for a serving.

Granitas made with a lot of sugar or alcohol may be scraped right out of the freezer. More often, you’ll need to let the granita soften by taking it out of the freezer for about 10-minutes before serving. Scrape toward you and put the granita into chilled glasses so it doesn’t melt too quickly. You can also scrape all of the granita at once and put it back in the freezer until it’s time to serve it.

Fixing a granita that’s too soft or too hard

A granita that’s like an ice cube and too hard to scrape usually means that there was too much water in the fruit or the simple syrup. To fix it, let the granita melt until you can break it into chunks. Pulse the chunks in the food processor until crushed and then refreeze; it should be easier to scrape. If you make the same granita again, add more sugar to the simple syrup or add a little alcohol to the mixture.

If the granita mixture is too slushy and won’t freeze solid, there’s too much sugar in the fruit or too much sugar or alcohol in the syrup. Scrape the granita into the food processor, add a half cup of water, mix it thoroughly, and refreeze it.

Four easy granita ideas

You can jazz up these recipes by infusing the sugar syrup with herbs, spices, or vanilla bean; strain the syrup if you do.

  • Fruit purée granitas—Add 1/2-to 1-cup simple syrup to about 3-cups fruit purée. Add 1-to 2-tablespoons lemon juice and a pinch of salt to liven up the flavor. Freeze.
  • Wine granita—Add 1-to 1-1/2-cups simple syrup to 3-cups red or white wine, tasting as you go. Freeze.
  • Coffee granita—Sweeten 4-cups very strong dark-roast coffee with 6-tablespoons sugar or more to taste. Let it cool. You can also add a few tablespoons of Cognac or whiskey. Freeze.
  • Cocoa granita—Bring 3-cups water to a boil. In a small bowl, combine 3/4-cup good-quality unsweetened cocoa with 3/4-cup sugar. Whisk in just enough of the boiling water to work the mixture to a smooth paste. Whisk in the rest of the water. Let the mixture cool and then freeze.

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