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How to make sorbets and granitas

Sorbets and granitas are the class act of refreshing summer desserts as well as fine dining's palate cleansers

Granitas and sorbets are best described as the grownup version of snow-cones and are really just simpler variations on sherbet. They are zero-fat, low-calorie, and can be low-carb with sugar substitutes.

You will not need a lot of ingredients to make sorbets and granitas: mainly simple syrup and a fruit or fruit flavoring. Nor will you use paper cones - these two desserts require presentation in a wine glass. Both are eaten with spoons: sorbets are smooth; granitas contain tiny bits of ice granules.

Granitas originated in Sicily and are also known as "granites," which means grainy. Sorbets, on the other hand, are French in origin; Americans use the term sherbet, which also includes cream or milk.

Sorbets also use more sugar than granitas. These European delights use fresh fruits for best results and some popular recipes include a strong espresso blend with cream.

You can experiment with any type of fruit and may even want to add a liqueur. If you are preparing sorbets for a between-course cleanser at a formal dinner, you should use less sugar and select a mild fruit such as pineapple.

The process:

For granitas - all you need is a blender, although some prefer a food processor. The original intent was to create shavings from flavored and sweetened ice blocks. Freeze the mixture in ice cube trays, then turn them out into a blender and gently mix. You do not want to overprocess, which makes granitas smooth; blend just until you achieve the grainy texture. Granitas store well in the freezer for about a week.

For sorbets - A higher sugar content will contribute to the creaminess. Process or blend sorbet ingredients until they are smooth. An ice cream freezer works best. Once the blending is complete, refreeze for at least four hours or until firm. Because sorbets have no fat, they lose texture within a couple of days, so plan to serve them promptly.

For either recipe, you can use fresh or frozen fruits or juices. With many fruits, you will need to strain out seeds and pulp.

Simple syrup recipe:

Combine 2 parts liquid to one part sweetener for granitas; one part liquid to one part sweetener for sorbets. You may choose to use a higher ratio of water and substitute artificial sweetener for a lower-carb version (the carbohydrates will be determined by which fruit you use).

Gently boil the liquid/sugar combination and then simmer for about five minutes. Allow it to cool. Make a double or triple batch and keep it in the refrigerator - in this state it will remain good for several weeks. You can infuse the liquid portion with other flavors: teas or espresso, for instance.

One easy trick that kids will love: rather than making simple syrup, simply blend or process a favorite diet or regular soda with pureed fruits and freeze in a small cake pan. Cut into manageable chunks and use a cheese grater to make the ice shavings. While this is technically neither a granita nor a sorbet, it is quick and easy and you will achieve much the same effect.

Here are a couple of sample recipes. Substitute any variety of fruits or use a combination - take several small tastings during the process to achieve the right balance of sugars and acids.

Watermelon Granita

¾ cup simple syrup
2 cups watermelon in small chunks
1 Tablespoon lime juice

Combine ingredients in a blender or processor. Mix until blended (not creamy or smooth). Place in a metal cake pan and re-freeze for at least 4 hours. Stir frequently in the first 2 hours as sides begin to form crystals. Use a fork or other sharp utensil to make shavings and turn out into wine or juice glasses. Serve with a spoon.

Cantaloupe Sorbet
(Note: for a smoother texture, make simple syrup with a 1:1 ratio of liquid/sugar)

1 cup simple syrup
2 cups finely chopped cantaloupe
1 Tablespoon lime juice
3 Tablespoons vodka (optional)

Blend all ingredients until smooth. If using ice cream freezer, follow manufacturer's instructions. Freeze for at least four hours, mixing occasionally during first two hours to redistribute frozen particles. Serve in wine glasses or fruit cups with spoon.

Hot summer afternoons seem to call for the refreshing and light fruit taste of a granita or a sorbet. Enjoy your favorite fruit in style.

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