When Providence-based blogger and writer Christine Chitnis was looking for healthy snacks to feed her two young sons, she found the best place to turn was her own kitchen. Chitnis creates and shares recipes for family-friendly snacks on her blog and in cookbooks. She has now collected 75 of her favorite recipes for ice pops, frozen yogurt, granitas, shakes, and more in a new book, “Icy, Creamy, Healthy, Sweet: Healthier, Tastier Frozen Desserts Using Whole Foods and Natural Sweeteners.“
Q. Why do you find it worthwhile to make frozen snacks from scratch?
A. As time goes on, I feel like I’m almost combatting the food culture that’s so pervasive when you have kids. It’s a lot of prepared foods and snacks. At our home we just try to eat wholesomely. We all have a sweet tooth and really enjoy something sweet at the end of the day, after dinner. I really wanted to get this book out there based on the idea of no refined sugar, the fact that you could use fruit in a variety of ways as a sweetener along with a little bit of honey or maple syrup or coconut sugar and make these really amazing treats that could actually be wholesome and pretty good for you.
Q. How do you like to sweeten without using sugar?
A. White refined sugar is just sweetness. It doesn’t have any flavor or subtleties. What I love about these different kinds of sugars — whether it’s dates or coconut sugar or honey — is they bring a lot to the table in terms of flavor. If you have these beautiful fresh strawberries and you’re pairing it with some wildflower honey, it’s going to bring a whole dimension of flavor that white refined sugar isn’t going to do.
Q. What other sweeteners do you like?
A. As we’re moving toward fall and we soon get into apple and pear season, you start wanting warmer flavors. Maple syrup is going to pair nicely with those. As you move through the seasons, you can really capitalize on different natural sweeteners and use them in a way that enhances the recipes. They all have some health benefits even if they’re small. Dates are going to provide sweetness, but there’s also a lot of good natural fiber in there. When you’re using maple syrup and honey and coconut sugar, they do have certain properties. They have magnesium or vitamins or fiber.
Q. What’s a simple frozen treat you like to make?
A. The easiest thing in the whole book would be a granita. It’s fun to see those come together in the freezer. It’s really fruit juice that you’re freezing. You’re raking it every hour to break up the ice crystals to get a nice fluffy consistency. But all you need is a freezer. It’s the easiest thing to make, yet it can be really elegant. You can serve it in a martini glass. I like to serve them in jars and put a little bit of coconut cream on top and a sprinkle of coconut sugar and a sprig of mint.
Q. What equipment do you recommend buying?
A. A lot of people think “I’ll buy an ice cream maker.” But the one thing I think you need is a good blender. With anything you’re making — a flavored ice, ice cream, frozen yogurt or sorbet, or even popsicles — I think the key is really to get a smooth and creamy base. The more chunks you have, you’re going to have this nice smooth ice cream, then all of a sudden you hit this rock of frozen fruit. The good blender is key.
Q. Homemade frozen desserts often come out too hard or icy.
A. One trick is to add a little bit of alcohol. Alcohol doesn’t freeze, so you’ll see especially for some of the fruit sorbets, I reference adding a shot of alcohol. That really helps. With the vegan ice cream, one of the issues that I tried to deal with was that when you’re making it at home, it freezes into a brick that you can’t even scoop out. I used the addition of arrowroot, which is really just a ground-up white powder from a root. It makes a gel when it combines with liquid. That really helps with the scoopability.
Q. What’s your favorite end-of-summer frozen treat?
A. I’m all about stone fruit right now. It’s such a relatively short season. I think one of my all-time favorite recipes is the roasted peaches and cream pops. It’s always a favorite. My other favorite is the Black Forest pop, which has a cherry layer, a vanilla layer, and a cocoa layer. I’m from Michigan, so we spend time up in northern Michigan. We’ve eaten our body weight 10 times over in cherries this summer.