granita di caffè: espresso-flavoured italian ice
Everyone has that one dessert, the thing you pull out of the air when there is nothing in the house. I shouldn’t tell you this (please, let’s keep this between us), but la granita di caffè is that dessert for me. I bang one out a least a few times a week. And in the summer, it’s what’s for breakfast.
My friends rave about my granite, somehow they think that they hard to make. Nothing could be further from the truth. But hey, do me a favour: Just don’t tell anyone. I’d hate to have to bake something complex just to get the same level of praise.
Where’s the alchemy in that?
Boiling water forms enough pressure to force its way up through the grounds and through a spigot, which collects into the basin. It’s a cleaver design, one that has never really been bettered for this type of coffee. In fact you’ll find a moka in just about every book on design that’s ever been written, a device singled out as unable to be improved upon.
If you’re new to espresso, it’s just coffee beans that are roasted a little darker, which contrary to popular perception, is actually lower in caffeine than drip coffee, which typically is roasted less. Espresso is also ground a little finer, if you want to split hairs. You can make espresso at home in a caffettiera or have it in a bar, which uses high-pressured machines to force steam through the grounds. Like egg pasta versus dried factory pasta, or Keith Haring versus Caravaggio, it’s not normal to compare the two, so different that they are.
I tend to use vanilla sugar, which is just that, cane sugar that I buzzed in a food processor with whole vanilla beans. It’s costly to make, but a jar around the house can work miracles.
The Italian-American chef Mario Batali wrote me a letter a year ago or so, suggesting that his pastry chef would enjoy our programme. She came and taught me a lot about gelato and granite, but not the things you might be thinking. ‘First’, she said, ‘make sure everything is really cold’. She’d chill her work bowls overnight, freezing them in my tiny freezer, rolling her eyes as the letters would fall off the door. She wasn’t used to such small units, seemingly powered by mice, or on a good day, squirrels.
While I did change up my gelato recipe after her visit, it was her fixation on EVERYTHING being cold before beginning that was the big lesson for me. All my frozen desserts are better for it. I’ve thanked her often.
Once the granita starts to set up, scratch it with a fork. You can pour the stuff in a properly-chilled ice cream maker but that implies that you have one. Or that you were that much of a forward thinker. In a pitch, a heavy ceramic or enamel vessel will work just as well, providing it’s, well, cold enough. Three hours will work, especially if you slip some espresso to the squirrels.