Although fall is just around the corner, I'm still enjoying the summer weather we're having here in New York City. Maybe I'm in a bit of denial about the end of the season, but I'm not quite ready to move on to cooking those hearty, stick-to-your-ribs fall dishes. It's been a hot week and these granitas were just what the doctor ordered!
A granita is a frozen dessert made with water and other flavorings. It's similar to sorbet but has a coarser texture. Granitas are very easy to make and you don't need an ice cream maker. The liquid is poured into a dish and placed in the freezer. Then every 30 minutes or so, the mixture is scraped with a fork to break up the ice crystals and create a texture similar to shaved ice. It's basically like a grown-up slushy and makes an elegant, fun dessert or a refreshing snack on a hot day. It's also a perfect palate cleanser in a multi-course meal.
It's common to make granitas with fresh fruit — watermelon, berries and citrus are all popular flavors. I like to make mine with espresso. This dessert is for coffee lovers like myself. It definitely packs a punch. I prefer mine less sweet so I use only 1/3 cup sugar for 4 cups of coffee. If you prefer your espresso sweeter, feel free to add more sugar. I recently bought a box of demerara sugar, a natural, unrefined sugar common in Britain. It has a slight molasses flavor, which works well in this dish. If you don't have it, you can substitute turbinado sugar or any sugar that you have.
Because I like a slight mocha flavor with my espresso, I stir in a little unsweetened cocoa powder. Not only does it taste good, but it's good for you too. Cocoa powder, which is made from the cocoa bean, is filled with a type of plant nutrient called flavonoids. The flavonoids found in chocolate (called flavanols) have antioxidant properties that help the body resist damage from normal bodily processes and environmental contaminants. They also have beneficial effects on cardiovascular health such as lowering blood pressure and improving blood flow to the brain and heart. To complement the espresso and cocoa, I also add a secret ingredient: a bit of cinnamon.
If you're looking for a refreshing caffeine hit on a hot day, this dish is for you. Try it plain or for a slightly more decadent treat, top it with some lightly sweetened whipped cream or fat free whipped topping and chocolate shavings.
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