Lemon Granita

We can't think of a better way to cool off.

three cups of lemon granita on marble with a striped yellow napkin
Photo: Photographer: Antonis Achilleos; Prop Stylist: Christine Keely; Food Stylist: Chelsea Zimmer
Active Time:
30 mins
Total Time:
5 hrs 15 mins
Servings:
6

Ditch the ice cream and the popsicles: This summer, we'll be cooling off with this easy, low-maintenance Lemon Granita.

"The balance between sour citrus and sweet sugar is what makes this recipe a winner. The [combination of] water, sugar, and lemon juice is just right to provide subtly-contrasting flavors without any element overpowering the granita. The mint adds another dimension of freshness," says recipe developer Aysegul Sanford of Foolproof Living.

The texture of this Lemon Granita is light like a snow cone, melting while you eat it to yield a texture similar to frozen lemonade. Stirring and scraping the granita while it freezes prevents the development of large ice crystals. Using a glass dish helps with even freezing—if you use a metal pan, the edges will freeze much faster than the center.

This Lemon Granita is a perfectly refreshing treat to help you cool down on a hot summer day.

What Is Granita?

This frozen dessert hails from Sicily, where granita was originally made with snow from Mt. Etna topped with flavored syrup. Nowadays, "granita" refers to a mixture of water, sugar, and flavoring, all frozen until it reaches a snow cone-like texture. Lemon is one of the most common flavors; other popular flavors include coffee and almond.

lemon granita
Photographer: Antonis Achilleos; Prop Stylist:Christine Keely; Food Stylist: Chelsea Zimmer

How to Make Lemon Granita

Step 1: Start by prepping your lemons. Use a peeler to scrape 10 lemon peel strips away from whole lemons; the strips should be 1 to 3 inches wide.

Next, juice 3 lemons until you have 1 cup of fresh juice. If you have extra lemon peel, make some thinner strips and set them aside for garnishing.

lemon wedges boiling in a saucepan
Photographer: Antonis Achilleos; Prop Stylist: Christine Keely; Food Stylist: Chelsea Zimmer

Step 2: Next, add 3 cups of water, 1 cup of granulated sugar, and the 10 lemon peel strips to a medium saucepan over medium heat. Let the syrup cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar melts and the syrup reaches a simmer (this should take about 5 minutes).

lemons in a fine mesh sieve
Photographer: Antonis Achilleos; Prop Stylist: Christine Keely; Food Stylist: Chelsea Zimmer

Step 3: Pull the saucepan off of the hot burner and pour the syrup into a large bowl through a fine-mesh strainer. Discard the lemon peels, and allow the syrup to cool to room temperature. Once it's cooled (after about 15 minutes), whisk the lemon juice into the syrup until it's fully combined.

barely frozen lemon granita
Photographer: Antonis Achilleos; Prop Stylist: Christine Keely; Food Stylist: Chelsea Zimmer

Step 4: Use a rubber scraper to transfer the syrup from the saucepan to a glass baking dish (2.5 quarts is the recommended size). Freeze for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the edges begin to set. Use a fork or a whisk to "fluff" the granita by scraping, stirring, and breaking up larger clumps of ice.

frozen lemon granita in a glass dish
Photographer: Antonis Achilleos; Prop Stylist: Christine Keely; Food Stylist: Chelsea Zimmer

Put the dish back in the freezer, and repeat the "fluffing" process every 20 minutes. You want the ultimate texture of the granita to be halfway between a sorbet and a frozen lemonade, and it should take about 4 hours of freezing and fluffing to get to that point.

Before serving, give the granita a final fluff with the fork or whisk. Scoop it into serving glasses, and garnish with lemon peel and mint leaves.

How to Store Lemon Granita

Lemon granita doesn't contain dairy, so its lifespan in the freezer can be fairly lengthy. Owner and recipe developer Kate Shungu of Gift of Hospitality tells us that, "When covered tightly [in an airtight, freezer-safe container], Lemon Granita will keep in the freezer for up to two months."

That said, granita's texture can become compromised after a long period of freezer storage, as the ice crystals become more prominent and harder to break down.

"The longer it sits, the more likely it is that you'll have to refresh the granita by putting it in an immersion blender," says Chef Julia Chebotar of Health Chefs by Tina + Julia. Even after zapping it in an immersion blender, a "dried-out" granita will likely have a watered-down flavor, as opposed to the bright and lively flavor of a fresh granita.

To keep your Lemon Granita in its most enjoyable state, store it "in the freezer for no more than one week," Chebotar recommends.

How to Serve Lemon Granita

In Sicily, granita is commonly eaten for breakfast, either sandwiched in or served alongside a pillowy brioche. Another breakfast-appropriate way to serve Lemon Granita (which can also work beautifully as a healthy dessert or as an afternoon snack) is "to serve Lemon Granita over a vanilla yogurt," says Kentucky-based dessert chef Jason Smith of HUNGRY.

Because Lemon Granita is so fresh-tasting and lightweight, "I like to serve it right after dinner—before the dessert course—for a refreshing palate cleanser," Chebotar says.

If you'd like to serve Lemon Granita as a dessert, try this very in-season option from executive pastry chef Anne White of Oak Steakhouse in Highlands, North Carolina: "Serve over a fresh summer fruit salad (peaches, nectarines, pineapple, oranges, mango, fresh chopped thyme) for a cool, refreshing treat!"

Another dessert idea for this Lemon Granita from Smith is to put a scoop atop "a nice piece of vanilla butter pound cake that's been cubed and toasted on the grill."

Tips for Making a Great Batch of Lemon Granita

To make the best possible version of this bright summer treat, try these tips:

Replace regular lemons with Meyer lemons.

Meyer lemons are sweeter and less bracingly acidic than standard lemons, and they feature an aromatic, almost floral flavor. Using them instead of regular lemons will make for a sweeter granita with a more intriguing blend of flavor notes. Founder Nathan Moskowitz of Nate's Cookies in North Carolina also says that using Meyer lemon in this recipe is "a great way to introduce a different variety of lemon that is unfamiliar to a lot of home cooks."

Add almond extract.

Shungu suggests hearkening back to the Sicilian granita tradition and "adding a quarter teaspoon of almond extract to the recipe. The nuttiness really complements the bright citrus flavor nicely."

Lemon zest will boost the citrusy flavor of Lemon Granita.

"I would add some lemon zest to the mix to bring out some more citrus flavors," Sanford says. "This will ensure the lemon can't get lost and also lets you use the entire fruit, making for a waste-free recipe."

Editorial contributions by Taylor Tobin.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups water

  • 1 cup granulated sugar

  • 10 (1-x 3-inch) lemon peel strips, plus 1 cup fresh juice (from 3 lemons)

  • Thin lemon wedges

  • Fresh mint

Directions

  1. Cook water, sugar, and lemon peel strips in a medium saucepan over medium, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved and syrup starts to simmer, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, pour through a fine mesh strainer into a large bowl, discarding peel. Let syrup cool to room temperature, about 15 minutes. Whisk lemon juice into cooled syrup.

  2. Pour mixture into a 2½-quart glass baking dish. Freeze just until edges start to set, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Remove from freezer. Using a wire whisk or fork, scrape up and stir frozen parts, breaking up large ice crystals. Return mixture to freezer, and repeat scraping and stirring process every 20 minutes, until consistency of mixture is in between that of a frozen carbonated beverage and that of sorbet, about 4 hours.

  3. To serve, fluff with a fork, and spoon 1 cup granita into each individual serving glass. (For a smoother texture, remove from freezer 5 minutes before serving, and pulse with an immersion blender until it reaches the consistency of soft snow.) Garnish with a thin lemon wedge and fresh mint.

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