Big Little Recipes

Have Cocoa & Sugar? Make This Fudgy Granita.

June  9, 2020

A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big everything else—flavor, creativity, wow factor. Psst: We don't count water, salt, black pepper, and certain fats (specifically, 1/2 cup or less of olive oil, vegetable oil, and butter), since we're guessing you have those covered. Today, we’re making a frosty treat to chill out with.


For me, ice cream is the post–Memorial Day, pre–Labor Day dessert. Probably because—unlike cake or cookies—it doesn’t require a fire-breathing oven.

But it does require an ice cream machine (1). Which, even if you have, requires remembering to freeze the churning bowl at least 24 hours in advance of a craving. Such is also true for sorbet, sherbet, and frozen yogurt. But not granita.

As cookbook author David Lebovitz defines this Sicilian staple in The Perfect Scoop, “granita is simply shaved ice, made from a lightly sweetened fruit puree or another liquid.” What’s more: “Of all the frozen desserts, granita is the simplest to make.”

Chocolatey granita, topped with whatever the heck you want. (Our ace food stylist Anna Billingskog wanted soft cream. And now so do I.) Photo by Anna Billingskog

This means no fussy technique, no special equipment. If you have a shallow dish (anything from a reusable container to a baking pan) and fork (yep, like what you’d eat a salad with), you’re good to go.

Here’s the cheat sheet: Stir up a liquid base, pour that into a dish, pop it in the freezer, do something else for an hour, rake the slush with a fork, do something else for 30 minutes, rake again, and repeat in 30-minute increments until the granita is frosty as a snow cone.

Your head-honcho ingredient could be strawberry, watermelon, or, wait for it, celery. Caffeinated sips like espresso and tea are also fair game.

These options are all A+, but I prefer a deeper, darker, richer granita—made with something you likely already have in your pantry right now: cocoa powder. While natural versus Dutch-process might be a big deal with baked goods, when it comes to recipes with no leavening agents, either works just fine.

Stocked with just cocoa powder and granulated sugar—plus Big Little staples water and salt—you’re halfway to dessert. One that has the chocolatey flavor of an ice cream truck Fudgsicle and flaky-pebbly texture of carnival shaved ice.

You can eat it as-is, or top with something lush. Think: heavy cream, straight from the carton or whisked until pillowy. Or crème fraîche or sour cream or whole-milk Greek yogurt. Or, to keep the whole shebang pantry-friendly, why not a long pour of sweetened condensed milk or grassy olive oil?

Whatever route you take, I hope you’ll add a honking pinch of flaky salt, too.

(1) The smart exception to this: no-churn ice cream. If you have yet to experiment, Nigella Lawson’s Genius Recipe is a great place to start.

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Emma is the food editor at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing articles about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now she lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.

1 Comment

Stephanie G. June 13, 2020
I'm not sure I would describe this as "fudgy". It's more like a chocolate snow cone.