Somewhere between sorbet and a sno-cone, a granita is the perfect refreshment when you're hot, cranky, and looking for an excuse to stick your face in the freezer every 30 minutes.
Much simpler than churned ice creams and sorbets, granitas (or "granités") can be prepared with no special equipment. All you do is put a sweetened liquid or puree in a shallow container, pop it in the freezer, and occasionally scrape it up with a fork to form its granular to flaky consistency. This is frozen dessert at its most primitive, so the process of making it is really simple.
My preferred method for making granitas is to start off by cooking up a batch of simple syrup. It just takes a few minutes of heating up water and sugar (usually between 1 to 2 parts sugar to 1 part water) together until the sugar dissolves. With the syrup on-hand, I can make a granita base without turning on the stove. Simple syrup keeps for quite a while in the fridge and having it around is also very useful in making summer cocktails.
With all the ripe summer fruit around, there was no shortage of possibilities. I could hardly stop myself from stuffing my freezer (and my face) full with granitas. When it was too hot to venture to the store, I even found the makings of granitas in my pantry.
I initially went for intense flavors and smooth, dense textures, thinking that a watered-down base would be flavorless. Some of these flavor-packed granitas came out really delicious, but I loved the flaky ice crystals and refreshing lightness of the less concentrated granitas. After all, that ability to refresh is the main appeal of a granita, isn't it?
Learn how to make granita using the syrup sweetening method, and feel free to adjust it to your liking—either flaky and light or smoother and dense. Check out the slideshow »
Here are the granitas I made, roughly in order from lightest to richest. I didn't get around to savory granitas (that's a whole other world of possibilities: cucumber, basil, chicken consommé?) or spiked granitas (though I will say don't go too heavy on the booze or your granita won't freeze properly). I'll leave it to you to chime in with suggestions on these as well as your favorite sweet granitas.
Watermelon granita with chocolate chip "seeds." Very light and refreshing. 1 1/2 cups of a watermelon puree, 1/4 cup simple syrup (1 part sugar to 1 part water), and the juice of one lime. The chocolate, stirred in at the end, sweetened it up a bit more, but a little more syrup would not have been a bad thing.
Blood orange granita with whipped crème fraiche. Without any fiber, pulp or fat in it, this was one of the flakier, icier granitas. The flavor of blood oranges is pretty intense and came through clearly sweetened with a more concentrated syrup (2 parts sugar to 1 part water). 2 cups of store-bought blood orange juice with 3 tablespoons of rich simple syrup tasted just right (you may want to use more or less depending on the sweetness of the juice and your tooth). Lightly sweetened whipped crème fraiche added a nice creaminess to this bracing granita.
Mocha Granita. Like a Starbucks frappuccino only it doesn't slap you in the face with sweetness. Rather than using syrup, it seemed easier here to just dissolve 1/3 cup sugar in 2 cups of hot and very strong coffee. I poured the sweetened coffee over 1/4 cup of finely chopped bittersweet chocolate. When the chocolate was melted, I whisked the mixture until it was smooth and froze it.
Coconut granita. After trying both light and regular canned coconut milk, I liked the creaminess of the full-fat version, especially when combined with lime juice. This was 1 can of coconut milk (13.5 fl oz), 1/3 cup or so simple syrup (1 sugar: 1 water), and one very juicy lime. I used canned organic sweet corn as a garnish. It didn't have the same salty-sweetness of the conventional brands, but a few grains of coarse sea salt sprinkled on top more or less made up the difference.
Strawberry granita. I used frozen strawberries and a little lemon juice here. With all the seeds and strawberry fibers, this made a very thick puree. A diluted simple syrup (less than 1 part sugar to 1 part water) ended up producing the most refreshing and light granita. I tried aged balsamic vinegar with it (pictured here), but liked it better with just a little bit of mint chiffonade or without any garnish.
Blueberry granita. I followed a tip from Madeleine Kamman's The New Making of a Cook and sweetened fresh blueberry puree with blueberry preserves. Packed with lots of blueberry flavor, it was also packed with fragments of blueberry skins. Next time, I'd strain the berry purée through a chinois first.
Roasted plum granita with ricotta. Breaking my own no-heat rule, I pitted, halved, and roasted plums at 400°F for 20 minutes. Then I pureed them, and added a rich simple syrup before freezing. The result was this very intense, jammy and sorbet-like granita. The ricotta, with a lemon zest stirred in, provided the necessary balance. Not a granita I'd make for refreshment, but delicious at the end of a meal.
About the author: Kumiko writes the blog Recipe Interrupted. She believes that having a few cooking techniques under your belt can help make home cooking creative and easy, and is excited to share these basics here on her regular column Technique of the Week. A graduate of Brown University, the Institute of Culinary Education, and a mother of two hungry girls, Kumiko is always trying to keep her Brooklyn kitchen smelling of something good.