I used to get really annoyed by people who talked about their fancy ice creams and frozen lah-di-dahs that they were making in their ice cream machines. Of course, that was because I didn’t own one myself.
This didn’t mean I couldn’t make frozen desserts at home, though. Armed with nothing more than a fork, a freezer and a little imagination, I turned out quite a few batches of granita over the years. And using this low-tech method of frozen dessert production, I managed to hold out for a long time, until I hit a really good sale and went to the store with a gift card in hand. But it’s still fun to make an occasional batch of granita and nice to enjoy its decidedly different texture.
A few weeks ago my recipe for Tomato Basil Balsamic Sorbet was picked up by the New York Times (when you go to the article link click on the bottom left hand photo of sorbet for the recipe; it’s slightly jumbled but all there). I wanted to share the good news, belatedly. And to let you know that even if you don’t have an ice cream maker, you can still use this sorbet recipe and make granita. Here’s how:
After you’ve mixed all the ingredients, pour the mixture into a long, flat pan or dish and place it in the freezer. Wait for an hour, then remove it, take a fork and start scratching the semi-frozen mixture from the edges of the pan inward–since freezing starts around the edges–and breaking up the ice crystals that are forming. Put it back into the freezer, wait a half hour, and repeat. Do this a few more times, waiting 30 minutes between each round of breaking up the ice crystals, until you have a pan full of frosty dessert. It will take somewhere around 2 to 3 hours of freezing and scraping (depending on the chill factor in your freezer) and make somewhere around 4 to 6 servings, depending on your appetite.
Here’s another granita recipe I’ve recently devised. I call it Smoky Joe, a coffee granita with the smokiness of a peaty scotch. Consider it a multitasking dessert that also serves as an espresso, a scotch and a cigar, all in one!
While you’re brewing a pot of strong coffee, make some simple syrup with 4 ounces of granulated sugar, measured by weight, and 4 ounces of water, measured by volume. Combine the sugar and water in a small sauce pan, heat on the stove top and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved.
Measure out 15 ounces of the brewed coffee and 4 ounces of the simple syrup and let them cool. (Keep the rest of the simple syrup in a sealed container in the fridge and use it for making cocktails or other desserts.) Mix the cooled coffee and simple syrup with 1 ounce of good smoky, peaty scotch (I like Laphroaig), ½ tsp. pure vanilla extract and ¼ tsp. ground cardamom.
Use the method I’ve described to scratch up an icy, smoky, coffee dessert for yourself. Be sure to scrape all the way down and stir to distribute the cardamom, most of which will settle on the bottom of the dish (if only all sediment were so tasty!).
One of the really cool things about granita is that it’s so easily tweakable. If you don’t go for the smoke, you can omit the scotch and use another flavoring instead, like Frangelico or Amaretto. Or maybe just a little almond extract or chocolate flavoring. As long as you keep the balance between liquid, sugar and alcohol, it will freeze properly. If it doesn’t, just stir in a tiny bit of water or other non-alcoholic liquid. If it freezes too solidly, it needs a tiny bit of alcohol or simple syrup (or just simple syrup if you don’t want to use any alcohol). This method works with fruit juice, green tea, you name it. The sky is pretty much the limit, so get creative and have fun!