I love celebrating summer with a granita or sorbet made from the best fruits of the season. Both are excellent ways to enjoy the full flavor of perfectly ripe fruit picked in the height of the season. You can make your ices right away or pack the fruit in the freezer for a glimpse of sunny warmth when the nights are long and the winds are cold.
Sorbets and granitas (the same as granité) are blends of pureed fruit or fruit juice, combined with sweetened syrup. If you go by the book, there are no dairy products in either one. Sorbets and granitas can be made from the exact same ingredients, but granita contains less sugar than sorbet. Granita is frozen solid overnight, then scraped or ground into jewel-like ice crystals. Sorbet can be whisked together in the morning and turned later in an ice-cream machine to freeze it, making a silky smooth frozen treat. Sorbet is best enjoyed on the day you make it, while granita can be stored whole in the freezer for a week or more until you're ready to prepare it.
- stand-up blender (with lid) or hand blender for pureeing
- strainer or chinois for straining out seeds and bigger bits
- ladle or spatula to push puree through the strainer
- large measuring cup (optional)
- ice-cream machine or ice cube trays
- large metal kitchen spoon or food processor
Some people measure the sugar levels or density of the sorbet mixture with a refractometer or baumé meter or even by floating a raw egg in the shell (you're looking for the part of the shell that floats above the liquid to be the size of a quarter) but I don't use them. I go by taste and how much fiber the fruit has.
Big Chill Basics
Some principles apply to both sorbets and granitas. Fresh, fresh-frozen or even frozen fruit is fine. When using kiwi fruit, be careful not to over puree or the black seeds will grind up too finely and turn the puree gray. Just barely puree it, strain out the seeds and then put a few back in to give a hint that it's made from fresh kiwi.
For the liquid you can use spring water, tap water and brewed teas including naturally sweet hibiscus tea. Think of the liquid as the stock for a soup. Try to get some flavor from it if possible by infusing the liquid with fun things like vanilla beans, cinnamon sticks, peppercorns, herbs, citrus peel, lavender flowersreally whatever you can think of. To turn the liquid into simple syrup you need to sweeten it. Again, use what you like, whether it's sugar, honey or maple syrup.
I usually make my syrup with the ratio of two parts liquid to one part sweetener. Bring it to a boil then turn it off and let it cool. This can be kept indefinitely in the refrigerator. Have fun combining fruits and flavors. A little steeped rosemary and maple syrup in your simple syrup paired with blueberry puree is fantastic. Strawberries pureed with a touch of balsamic vinegar and blended with orange peel-infused syrup is another amazing combination.
I start by placing the fruit puree in a large measuring cup, then I begin to whisk in my syrup. Start with a small amount of syrup and taste along the way until you like the flavor. For sorbet it's usually no more than half as much syrup as fruit puree, less if it's a pulpy or fibrous fruit like mango and even less for granita. After I blend those two ingredients together I like to brighten the flavors (and inhibit oxidation which can cause the mixture to turn brown) of the fruit a bit by squeezing in some lemon, lime or orange juice, especially if I've started with frozen fruit versus fresh. To get extra juice out of your citrus fruits, warm them whole in the microwave for 30 seconds, then juice away.
Granita can and usually does have less syrup than sorbet because you don't need it to be so smooth. You want it to be harder and icier than sorbet. You can pour your prepped liquid into ice cube trays and freeze it overnight. Then simply pop them into the food processor and pulse until ground up. Place the crushed ice in a cold container in the freezer until ready to serve. Or just pour the prepped liquid into a shallow pan and freeze it solid. Then scrape the surface with a large metal kitchen spoon and remove the shaved ice into a container for serving later.
Here, the density created by fruit pulp and sugar really matters because that's what keeps this frozen concoction smooth. Other things can be used to keep it smooth like alcohol or egg whites, but that's more of a restaurant trick. I even have pastry chef friends who pour bottles of proscecco, a slightly sweetened (and lower alcohol content) sparkling Italian wine, right into their ice-cream machines and turn it for sorbet. Today you see all kinds of hybrid sorbets like chocolate sorbet using cocoa powder and simple syrup, or sour cream sorbet that breaks the rules of no dairy.
For watermelon granita try using currants or raisins in your finished ice to look like the seeds. Vanilla sorbet can be made with just vanilla-infused simple syrup with no puree at all. Serve it topped with boiled maple syrup for a chewy winter treat when fruit isn't so plentiful. Or, for rootbeer granita simply pour the soda into trays, freeze and grind. Serve this ice piled into tall vintage soda fountain glasses sandwiched between scoops of vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt. This has to be the ultimate rootbeer float!
Try Gale's refreshing and delicious recipes for sorbet and granita:
Pink Grapefruit Sorbet
Also try these FoodFit sorbet recipes:
About Gale Gand
Pastry Chef/Partner Gale Gand's extraordinary, artful desserts have consistently received stellar reviews at Tru. In 1994, Gand was named among the Top Ten Best Pastry Chefs by Food and Wine. Gale was the winner of the James Beard Foundation's Dolce Outstanding Pastry Chef Award for 2001. Her first cookbook, American Brasserie, was a finalist for the Julia Child Cookbook Awards. Her second, Butter Sugar Flour Eggs was a James Beard nominee for Best Baking Cookbook and her latest book, Gale Gand's Just A Bite, has also received raves. Gale also stars every day on the Food Network's show, Sweet Dreams.