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A&E >  Food

Granitas are an easy, grown-up variation on snow cones

As cool as ice cream but lighter and more refreshing, granitas are quite possibly the perfect summertime treat.

While they aren’t as dense or as heavy as ice cream, they still offer plenty of intense flavors. And the semi-frozen dessert is super-simple to make from scratch.

Granitas, grown-up versions of those neon-colored slushies and snow cones of childhood summers, can be made without any special equipment or ingredients. No rock salt is required. You don’t need a fancy machine, unless you count a blender – and that’s only needed if you’re puréeing fresh fruit or berries.

If you have a small saucepan, tray and a fork, you’ve got the gear. For the fixings, all it takes is water, sugar and purée, juice or another liquid – like tea or coffee.

Start with a simple syrup base – water and sugar, boiled together – then add your flavoring. Pour the sweetened mixture into the tray or another shallow container, and give it time to chill. Pop it into the freezer, and occasionally scrape it with a fork to break up ice crystals and form a granular consistency.

The name comes from Italian verb “to granulate.” Related to Italian ices and sorbets, granitas originated in Sicily but can be found throughout Italy, where flavors and textures vary from region to region. Traditional flavors include lemon, orange, coffee, chocolate and almond. But, with all of the stone and other fruits and berries of summer, the combinations are almost endless.

Cool off this Fourth of July weekend with red, white and blue granitas made from strawberries, cherries, coconut milk, blackberries, blueberries or huckleberries.

Try watermelon, cantaloupe, grapefruit, blood orange, peach, plum, pineapple, mango, kiwi or cranberry. Add lemon or lime juice or zest or fresh ginger. Or, opt for something savory, like cucumber chili with fresh mint or basil.

Coconut milk gives granitas a creamier, almost ice-cream-like texture. Fruit or berry purées give the texture a smoother, sorbet-like quality. And liquids like coffee, chai, green tea, rice or soy milk, or rosewater form flakier, chunkier, coarser – almost primitive – colorful ice crystals.

Make an adult version by spiking the mixture with vodka, gin, rum, Lillet, or white, red or sparkling wine. Liquor makes for an even a slushier consistency. So you might need both a spoon and a straw.

Strawberry-Black Pepper Granita

From “Fruitful” by Brian Nicholson and Sarah Huck

“This dessert is all about vibrancy,” Brian Nicholson and Sarah Huck write in their new cookbook. “It practically hums with flavor, from the candy-sweet berries to the syrupy balsamic to the peppercorn’s subtle warmth.”

Enhance the flavor with a dollop of mascarpone, dark chocolate shavings and, perhaps, a drizzle of chocolate vinegar.

1/3 cup granulated sugar

2/3 cup water

1 pound strawberries, hulled and divided

2 teaspoons to 1 tablespoon aged balsamic vinegar, to taste

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Pinch fine sea salt

Mint, basil or tarragon, chopped, for serving

Combine the sugar and 2/3 cup water in a small pot over medium heat. Simmer until the sugar completely dissolves and the liquid is syrupy, about 5 minutes. Cool completely.

Coarsely chop 4 cups of the berries; transfer to a food processor and purée until smooth. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl.

Stir the cooled syrup, vinegar, pepper and salt into the strained berry juice. Pour the mixture into a wide, shallow pan (a square baking pan is perfect for this), and transfer the pan, uncovered, to the freezer. Freeze, breaking up the mixture with a fork every 30 minutes, until completely frozen and crumbly, about 1 ½ hours.

To serve, finely dice the remaining strawberries. Spoon granita into dishes. Top with finely diced berries and herbs. Store any leftover granita in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

Yield: About 6 servings

Coconut-Lime Granita

From Aarti Sequeira via

The recipe calls for regular coconut milk, but reduced-fat works just fine, too – if you don’t mind a slightly lighter consistency. The lime juice and zest provide a burst of citrus flavor, countering the creaminess of the coconut milk, for a refreshing treat.

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup water

1 (13 1/2-ounce) can coconut milk

Zest of 1 lime

Juice of 1/2 a lime

2 tablespoons shredded coconut (either fresh or the unsweetened desiccated kind)

Coarse sea salt

Place an 8-inch square baking dish in the freezer to chill while you make the simple syrup. Combine sugar and water in a small saucepan over low heat until the sugar is dissolved and syrup is at a gentle boil. Remove it from heat, and allow it to cool.

Pull chilled baking dish out of freezer, and pour coconut milk into the dish. You may need to whisk it to smooth out any lumps.

Whisk in the simple syrup, lime zest, lime juice and fresh coconut until well combined. Place dish in the freezer, and let it chill for 1 hour.

Take dish out of the freezer, and using a fork, break up the ice crystals forming around the edge of the dish by dragging them into the more molten center. Return to the freezer and repeat this process every hour or so, smoothing out the granita before you return it to the freezer. The whole process should take about 3 hours. When you’re ready to serve, allow the granita to sit at room temperature for about 5 minutes so it softens. Spoon the mixture into a small bowl or glass, and top with a little coarse sea salt.

Note: Pour syrup into a shallow bowl so it cools more quickly.

Yield: About 6 servings

Variation: For a Coconut Rum Granita, replace lime juice and zest with 6 ounces of rum. Serve with fresh pineapple, if desired.

Lillet-Orange Granita


1/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup water

1 teaspoon grated orange zest

2 cups chilled fresh orange juice

1/3 cup chilled Lillet Blanc

Bring sugar, water and zest to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Chill in an ice bath until cold. Stir in orange juice and Lillet.

Pour into an 8- to 9-inch glass baking dish and freeze until partially frozen, about 45 minutes. Scrape and stir with a fork, crushing any lumps. Continue to freeze, scraping once or twice, until evenly frozen and fluffy, about 1 1/2 hours more.

Note: Granita is best the day it is made but can be made 1 day ahead. Scrape again just before serving.

Yield: 4 servings

Coffee Granita

From Alton Brown via

2 cups lukewarm espresso or strong black coffee

1/2 cup sugar

2 tablespoons coffee flavored liqueur

1 teaspoon orange or lemon zest

Combine all ingredients and stir until sugar melts. Pour mixture into 9-by-13-inch metal pan and place on level shelf in freezer for half an hour. (Mixture should only come about 1/4-inch up the side of the pan.) Remove and use a dinner fork to scrape any ice crystals that have formed on the side or bottom of the pan. Return to freezer and repeat scraping every 20 to 30 minutes for 3 to 4 hours. Once mixture is thoroughly frozen, fluff with a fork and allow flakes to “dry” in freezer another half hour before serving. When served, the granita should look like a fluffy pile of dry brown crystals.

Scoop into goblets and top with barely sweetened whipped cream, add additional citrus zest if desired.

Yield: 6 servings

Sweet Chai Tea Granita

1/2 cup sugar

4 cups freshly brewed chai tea

1 cup rice milk

Dissolve sugar in hot tea, then pour into a chilled glass baking dish or other shallow tray or pan. Add rice milk and stir until well mixed. Place in freezer for 45 minutes to an hour, then scrape any ice crystals that have formed along the sides and bottom of the dish. Return to freezer and repeat scraping every 20 to 30 minutes for 3 to 4 hours. Scoop into glasses or shallow dessert bowls and top with barely sweetened whipped cream, with a light dusting of cinnamon and nutmeg, if desired.

Note: Soy milk or regular milk can also be used. Coconut milk would add another layer of flavor.

Yield: About 6 servings

Passion Tea Granita

1/3 cup sugar

4 cups freshly brewed Passion tea (such as Tazo)

Zest of 1/2 lemon

Juice from 1/2 lemon

Dissolve sugar into hot tea, then pour into a chilled glass baking dish or other shallow tray or pan. Add lemon juice and zest, and stir until well mixed. Place in freezer for 45 minutes to an hour, then scrape any ice crystals that have formed along the sides of bottom of the dish. Return to freezer and repeat scraping every 20 to 30 minutes for 3 to 4 hours. Scoop into glasses or shallow dessert bowls and garnish with fresh mint, if desired.

Yield: About 5 servings

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