Do as the Sicilians do, and enjoy your coffee in frozen form! This coffee granita is a wonderful combination of sweetened coffee flavors and icy coldness. It's refreshing and delicious.
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Italy may well be well known for its gelato (and rightly so), but in Sicily the frozen treat of choice is a little different. Given it can get pretty hot in the summer, it's almost a ritual. And there's a few things about this treat that may surprise you, too.
What is granita?
Granita is a water-based frozen treat that's a little like sorbet but often served not fully frozen. As a result, it bridges the line between drink and frozen scoopfuls. In fact some granitas are served with a straw rather than a spoon.
It can vary in consistency around Sicily, with different areas serving it smoother or grainier due to different methods of preparing it. You'll also find different flavors in different places and depending what is in season.
Other than this coffee flavor, most if not all use in-season fruits or nuts, blended up with water and sugar and nothing else. They always use natural ingredients and are generally a bit lighter on sugar than some other frozen treats. And addictively good. Lemon granita is another firm favorite.
Granita was first made in Sicily following the Arab occupation of the island. They brought with them the idea of sherbet, a drink made with fruit rosewater and ice. Over time, the Sicilians adapted the idea locally.
People would gather ice on Mount Etna and other mountains in the winter, store it in cool caves and bring it down in the summer to the hot coast.
Early granitas seem to have been more like shaved ice, being grated from these snow blocks and mixed with syrup. But over time the more modern method of combining water, sugar and fruit juices/pulp or nuts then freezing it has evolved.
When would you eat this?
Granita in Sicily is not considered a dessert but instead a snack or breakfast. This coffee version in particular is a popular way to start the day, nearly always served with a brioche roll on the side.
The Sicilian brioche is much like the French version but with some lemon and orange zest mixed into it. And rather than being a large loaf its always made into small rolls with a little "tuppo" ("top") bump on top of the main roll.
Preparing the coffee
Since this is an Italian dish, it's probably no surprise that traditionally you make this with espresso. Espresso is of course pretty strong, so it's diluted down and then sweetened. However you still want relatively strong coffee as freezing tends to make most flavors taste less strong and you still want to get that nice coffee flavor coming through.
Some recipes use instant espresso powder but I'd say make real, fresh coffee in as close to espresso-style as you can is better. So if you have an espresso machine, use that, or I currently have a stovetop "moka" which is a pretty close second. A cafetière/French press style would also be relatively good.
Then, mix the warm coffee with water, if needed, and the sugar. Warm it enough to dissolve the sugar then cool the mixture before freezing.
You'll need to take the mixture out of the freezer at regular intervals to break it up. This helps get some air in it and lighten up the ice crystals. For an even smoother end texture, you can put it in a blender at the end, but you certainly don't have to.
Although not always, the granita is often topped with some whipped cream. You then dunk the brioche in a bit of the cream and the granita, starting with the "tuppo". Might sound unusual, but it's worth a try, believe me.
It really is a delicious combination, whatever time of day you have it. I like making it with decaffeinated coffee so it's a bit more flexible when I have it and also works for the kids. Since they definitely don't need the caffeine but also can't pass up on a frozen treat!
This coffee granita has a wonderful sweet coffee flavor with all that freshness of a frozen treat. It's icy cold, light and deliciously good, whatever time you enjoy it.
Try these other frozen treats:
- Cherry ice cream
- No churn roasted strawberry ice cream
- Mango paletas (ice pops)
- Plus get more Italian recipes and snack recipes in the archives.
- ½ cup espresso 120ml (see notes)
- ½ cup water 120ml
- ¼ cup sugar 50g
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract (optional, but does help enhance flavor)
- Place the espresso and water (or strong coffee) in a small pan with the sugar and vanilla, if using. Warm gently to dissolve the sugar then set aside to cool. Once lukewarm, transfer to the fridge to chill completely.
- Once the coffee mixture is cold, pour into a shallow container such as a loaf tin and place in the freezer. Remove from the freezer roughly every 30 minutes and break up the ice with a fork - initially you more mash it from the edges, then as it freezes more you fluff it up a little to get some air between the ice crystals.
- After around 2 hours, it should be pretty well frozen. Break up the ice crystals one last time then serve, traditionally in a clear glass and often topped with some whipped cream.
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