It looks like snow, but tastes downright tropical.
After my parents’ divorce in 2002, my father was forced into an age of culinary experimentation. It was around this time that he began making “coconut ice cream,” which I enjoyed at night after my sister and I went to sleep. The small bowl of dessert was a small treat at an otherwise difficult time. I have vivid memories of tiptoeing out of bed and seeing my father enjoying a bowl of ice cream in a dark room with the TV light flashing across his features. “Try it!” he would say. And I wrinkled my little nose and thought, “What is coconut anyway?”
It wasn’t until recently that I even bothered to ask my dad how he made his beloved dessert. “It’s that simple,” he told me — a simple combination of coconut milk and sugar that’s placed in the freezer and stirred every now and then so it doesn’t freeze into a solid block.
As a former pastry chef who has made countless granitas, sorbets and ice creams, I didn’t think my father’s “easiest” method would work so well. Certainly the sugar wouldn’t dissolve – at least a simple syrup would be needed to prevent graininess. But when in doubt I agreed with him and tried his way. It turns out that some things really can be that simple.
Dad calls this frozen dessert “ice cream,” but to me, it seems a lot closer to granita. The European dessert typically consists of frozen fruit juice or coffee with a flaky texture reminiscent of shaved ice. However, the high fat content of coconut milk doesn’t allow for the same crystalline texture as a granita – this version is significantly creamier, yet still light, fluffy and super refreshing. It looks like snow, but tastes downright tropical.
To make this creamy frozen treat, simply combine full-fat coconut milk, granulated sugar, and a generous pinch of salt (my own addition) in a shallow bowl, such as an 8×8 square pan. Since coconut milk tends to separate in the can, I prefer to use an immersion blender to re-emulsify the mixture and work the sugar right in the pan. A few whisking motions in a food processor or blender works as well as vigorously whisking the mixture. Next comes the important point: cover the bowl and place it in the freezer. Pull through the mixture with the tines of a fork about every half hour to break up any frozen clumps and create a deliciously fluffy, snowy texture. After just a few hours of freezing and flaking, the dessert is ready to serve.
While this coconut granita is arguably perfect on its own, straight out of the dish, it pairs beautifully with many other toppings. Consider a drizzle of chocolate sauce, dulce de leche, or condensed milk. Sprinkle with grated coconut, cacao nibs or roasted nuts. Thick slices of juicy fruits such as mangoes or strawberries provide more brightness. A dash of rum and a few pineapple slices even give the dessert a piña colada character. Serve this granita along with some topping options and leave the rest to your guests.