A friend is a friend indeed when he talks you back from a late-night chocolate frenzy.
Reading a mystery book isn’t generally the place to beware of lip-smacking good descriptions of something chocolate. But there it was on the page: One of the characters had prepared a pan of deep, dark brownies, thickly frosted with marshmallow crème, then put the pan under the broiler until the topping browned and bubbled; just like a marshmallow toasting over a campfire. Yikes.
An alternative to running to the kitchen to make brownies was simple. Eat chocolate, it’s good for you. If you have some of the dark chocolate buttons they sell in bulk at Central Market, one or two usually ease the craving. I didn’t have any.
So, my friend suggested I make chocolate granita, an icy concoction, easy to make and requiring no special equipment. Granita does have calories from sugar, but it is also less likely to tempt one to sit on the couch and finish off a pint or so of chocolate ice cream. This may be because the icy crystals aren’t quite as smoothly seductive as ice cream. But in my experience, the granita handled the chocolate attack successfully.
Granita, sometimes called granita sicilliana, hails from Sicily in Italy and is in a category that includes sorbets and ices. A granita with very fine ice crystals can be made in a gelato machine. The flavors range from lemon and coffee to almond and mint. Chocolate granita is less common. Jeffrey Steingarten, who wrote “The Man Who Ate Everything,” says the Italian city of Catania is the only place in Sicily one finds chocolate-flavored granita.
Granita is easy to make at home. First, put 4 cups of water into a pan on the stove and stir in 1 cup of really good cocoa powder (I had Ghirardelli on hand), two-thirds a cup of sugar, a stingy pinch of salt and a few drops of vanilla, if you wish. Put it on the stove, whisk as the mixture comes to a simmer (watch so it doesn’t overflow the pan). Let it simmer for a minute. Then, pour it into a wide, shallow pan that will fit on a level spot in the freezer.
Bring the pan out from the freezer every 15 minutes or so and scrape the ice crystals from the sides of the pan, into the middle. When it’s not solid, but pretty firm, it’s time to have some — in a bowl or a glass.
For a slightly exotic touch, I drizzled in some rose syrup, and the combination was delicious. Other options might be instant coffee or espresso granules added to the mix of ingredients, cinnamon or canela for a Mexican chocolate flavor, or a few drops of almond extract.
I can’t kid myself — I’ll probably make the marshmallow-topped brownies. But., I’ll wait for cooler weather and when there are more people around to help me eat them. Watch for the recipe here in SavorSA. As the temperatures climb, though, I’ll be thinking granita for a chilly, easy-to-make afternoon treat.