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Espresso Granita with Whipped Cream

Updated February 23, 2016
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This granita is the sweetest thing we make at Zuni, and yet it is surprisingly refreshing. This effect requires fiercely rich espresso. Weaker espresso will make an insipid, pale, sugary granita not worth the effort. Our espresso is made with equal parts dark-roasted Costa Rican, Papua New Guinean, and Colombian beans. Our machine doses ¼ cup water per espresso; we use ¼ ounce ground espresso bean (1-½ tablespoons, very tightly packed) per dose. Don’t use instant espresso, or any sort of brewed coffee.

Chopping the granita:            

I know of no mechanical chopping system that will produce a granita with the elegant texture of a hand-chopped one. We chop with a pair of stainless steel pastry scrapers. They are easy to maneuver, and the relatively dull edges tease the crystals apart without slicing them up. (You can make do with one scraper; it will just take longer.) A knife blade produces finer, denser texture.

Once the juice or purée has set a very thick crust but has not quite frozen through, usually about 1 to 2 hours, give it a preliminary round of chopping: Place the pan on a cool surface in a cool room. Use the scraper to cut through and lift the layer of coarse-crystal ice, amalgamating it with the unfrozen core. A few cuts and folds are usually sufficient. Cover the pan and return to the freezer. Check hourly, and when the whole is firm to the touch but still yields easily to a stab with the scraper, it is ready for the final chopping.   Set the pan on a cool surface and methodically chop the crystalline blocks into a regular flaky, granular mass. This can be tedious, but is easy—as long as you have not let the liquid freeze too solid. If it is rock hard, it will take more brawn to cut through the chunks, and you may overwork some bits are you try to split the harder pebbles. At the opposite extreme, in rare instances where the mixture is fairly sweet, or where the purée was thick, the liquid may never fully freeze hard, and it will chop to a rich, grainy-slushy texture. Such “defective” granitas can be exquisite.   Transfer to the chilled container, snap on the lid, and place in the freezer.

5 to 6 servings

CostInexpensive

Moderate

Total Timehalf-day

Make Ahead RecipeYes

OccasionCasual Dinner Party, Cooking for a date, Formal Dinner Party

Recipe Coursedessert

Dietary Considerationegg-free, gluten-free, halal, kosher, peanut free, soy free, tree nut free, vegetarian

Five Ingredients or LessYes

Mealdinner

Taste and Texturecreamy, crunchy, sweet

Type of Dishfrozen dessert

Ingredients

  • 1 cup sugar, or to taste
  • 2 cups espresso, room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons water    
  • About ½ cup cold heavy cream
  • About 2 teaspoons sugar

Instructions

Dissolve all but 2 tablespoons of sugar in the espresso and taste. It should taste too sweet; if not, gradually add some or all of the remaining sugar, until it does. Add the water. Pour into a stainless steel pan or glass dish in which forms a pool about an inch deep. Freeze until solid. Due to the high concentration of sugar, this may take up to 8 hours.

Choose a glass, plastic, or stainless storage vessel, about 3 cups capacity, with a tightly fitting lid. Make sure it is dry, snap on the lid, and place in the freezer.

Place the pan of frozen espresso on a cool surface and chop (See notes).

Ten to 15 minutes before serving, turn the container upside down in the freezer. (The espresso syrup sometimes drains from the ice crystals, like syrup in a snow cone; turning it upside down will redistribute the syrup.) Place 5- to 6-ounce serving bowls or glasses in the freezer to chill. I like to use clear, narrow, fluted stemware to show off the layers and crystals.

Combine the cream and sugar and whip very stiffly.

To serve, layer the granita and whipped cream like a parfait in the chilled glasses. There should be nearly as much whipped cream as granita. The surface of the cream will freeze where it is in contact with the granita, and the succession of voluptuous chewy and slushy textures is delightful.

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