Have you ever entirely forgotten about a food, for years even, until suddenly something reminds you of it and you just have to have it? A recent LA Times food article on granita had us craving that icy treat for a days.
Granita is the most humble Italian frozen dessert. Unlike gelato, it is made with no cream. Different from sorbetto, which is smooth and soft, granita has a rustic, granular texture as a result of larger, coarser ice crystals. It is an unpretentious dessert that originates in Sicily, where locals have it for breakfast on hot summer days. Outside of Italy, granita is often called “Italian ice,” although the products bearing that name neither resemble nor do justice to an authentic granita.
The Times did a nice write up on this gem of a dessert, with recipes and photos for a variety of granite, from traditional cherry to more unusual flavors like green tea and cucumber (Yes, cucumber. People, please. Cucumbers are good in salads, not in your dessert.) They didn’t mention what may be Italy’s most famous granita, though, granita di caffè. We couldn’t keep our minds off of it.
A little online research later – honestly, what did we do before the internet? – and we found this expert post on granita di caffé, on a delightful blog called Memorie di Angelina. Here, we read about making sugar syrup, an essential to a properly prepared granita, and we borrowed the tip about freezing the granita in a bread pan.
We made granita di caffè for the adults, and granita di ciliegie, or cherry granita, for the kids, topping each one with a healthy dollop of whipped cream. It made for a delightful weekend!
Ingredients for sugar syrup
Sugar and water, in equal parts.
Ingredients for granita di caffè
2 cups strong, dense espresso
Sugar syrup to taste
Ingredients for granita di ciliegie
1 lb. fresh, pitted cherries
Sugar syrup to taste
Optional: 2 tsp. almond extract
Optional: 2 Tbsp. orange-flavored liquor, such as Cointreau
For the sugar syrup
Mix equal parts sugar and water in a sauce pan. We made the syrup with 2 cups sugar and 2 cups of water, and had more than we needed for both of the granite. Cook the liquid over medium high heat until it comes to a boil. Reduce heat, simmer for 5 minutes, and then remove from heat and allow it to cool completely.
For the granita di caffè
Prepare 2 cups of strong, dense espresso and pour it into a pan that can go into the freezer. As we mentioned above, we used a bread pan. Add sugar syrup gradually until your mixture reaches the sweetness you prefer.
For the granita di ciliegie
Wash the cherries, and remove their pits and stems. Chop the cherries finely in a food processor, and place them into a pan. Mix sugar syrup into the cherries to taste. If you’d like, you can add a few teaspoons of almond extract, or a few tablespoons liquor such as Cointreau, or both.
Place the pans of granita into the freezer uncovered. Check on your granita every half-hour or hour, depending on the depth of the pan you used. As it freezes, ice crystals will form around the edges of the pan. Each time you check on the granita, stir the mixture, breaking up the icy edges. Gradually, your granita will become thicker and slushier. When it reaches a soft, solid consistency, it is ready. This may take a few hours, again depending on the depth of your pan.
As long as you have been stirring periodically, you can allow the mixture to freeze solid. Before serving, allow it to thaw for about 30 minutes, stirring from time to time until the granita reaches the correct consistency. You may lose some of the icy, crystalline texture, but if you are entertaining this is a more reliable method from a timing standpoint.
Serve with whipped cream and dessert spoons.