This recipe starts with the funny act of putting whole apples in the freezer and ends with one of the most electric desserts you’ve ever had. In the middle, when you rip the thawed apples in half with your bare hands, you get to feel like a bodybuilder on Muscle Beach or a very strong raccoon.
In developing this technique, Nicole Krasinski, pastry chef and co-owner of State Bird Provisions in San Francisco, was inspired by her former co-pastry chef Mikiko Yui, who taught her about the Japanese trick for storing the fall apple harvest in the snow, which not only preserved them through winter but also made for extra-juicy apples.
Freezing swells the water inside the apple as it turns into ice and makes its structural cell walls burst, which means that once the ice melts, the apple is much softer and you can easily squeeze out the fresh juice without the aid of an expensive juicer. One of those handheld lemon squeezers (or simply your hands) will do the trick.
What you end up with is pure juice with a bit of body and a bright, spangly apple flavor that frames up nicely with a little maple, lemon, sparkling water, and salt stirred in before you freeze and scrape it into granita. Alone, this is as refreshing as desserts come, but served in a bowl with tart, creamy tapioca pudding and blackberries, it’s downright euphoric—bouncy spheres and melting shards, icy pink juice and biting cream, cold and colder.
Food52 Genius Desserts by Kristen Miglore
1. At least a day before you plan to serve the granita, clear a shelf in your freezer, arrange the apples on a large baking sheet in a single layer, and freeze uncovered until frozen solid, at least 8 hours.
2. The next day, defrost the apples on a rimmed baking sheet at room temperature until they’re defrosted and very soft but still quite cold, about 3 hours. Do not rush the process by heating them or leave them out long after defrosting, or else the apples will start to turn brown. If you need to leave them to defrost longer, defrost in the refrigerator instead.
3. Pour the lemon juice into a nonreactive bowl. Set a fine-mesh sieve over the bowl. Using some combination of a handheld lemon squeezer and your hands, break the apples into halves or quarters, squeeze them (be prepared for squirting juice!) through the strainer, and then stir and press on the solids to help extract as much juice as possible—you should be able to get at least 2 cups (475ml) of juice if you keep squeezing and pressing. Whisk in the sparkling water, maple syrup, and salt until well combined. Taste and adjust the flavors—the juice should seem a bit too sweet and salty, since the flavors will mute once frozen.
4. Pour the mixture into a 9 by 13-inch (23 by 33cm) baking pan and freeze, uncovered, until the liquid has an icy border, about 1 hour. Take the pan out of the freezer and scrape with a fork to loosen the frozen edges and stir them evenly throughout the mixture.
5. Return the pan to the freezer, scraping and stirring every 30 minutes or so, until you have a semi-flaky, completely frozen granita, 1 1/2 to 2 hours more. Remove the pan from the freezer and use a sturdy fork to thoroughly scrape the granita into flakes, starting with the surface and working your way to the bottom. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and freeze for up to 4 days.
6. To make the tapioca, whisk together the sugar and milk in a small pot. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, whisking occasionally to prevent burning and watching to make sure it doesn’t boil over, which can happen quickly. While whisking, slowly pour in the tapioca pearls (this will prevent them from sticking to the bottom of the pan and clumping together). Turn the heat to low and simmer until the tapioca is tender and clear, with a small white center, 12 to 16 minutes. Let the tapioca rest in the pot for 1 minute and then set the pot in an ice bath, stirring occasionally to prevent clumping—it will thicken as it cools. Once the tapioca is cool, stir in the crème fraîche with a rubber spatula. Store airtight in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
7. To serve, place a large spoonful of cold tapioca in chilled bowls, add a heaping cup of granita, and top with a few blackberries. Serve immediately.