granita di caffè: espresso-flavoured italian ice

by Silvestro on August 2, 2010

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?


Here in Italy, una granita di caffè starts with a caffettiera,otherwise known as a ‘moka’, an aluminum or inox percolator that you load with espresso grounds and water.


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.


Once you have your coffee, you sweeten it more than you might think (‘sweet’ is harder to perceive when cold).

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.


Mix the two together while the coffee is still hot.


(I just love these pictures, the blue sky over my garden reflected in the murky liquid).


Chill well, which the fastest way is this way, by placing the mixing bowl into a larger mixing bowl of cold water. Once at room temperature, pour in a jar and place in the refrigerator.


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.


So, if anyone asks, deny all of this. The only thing better than impressing your friends is doing so without really working at it.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Carol Coviello-Malzone August 3, 2010 at 7:16 am

Several indelible memories remain from my first trip to Italy back in 1991: tagliolini with moscardini and bottarga in Rome, an enormous meringue in Florence, an almost black crusted bread in Genzano, and, in Positano, granita di caffe.
If I make it here (in Florida), I’ll be disappointed, but your post does tempt.

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Adri August 3, 2010 at 10:01 am

This post summoned up memories of a granita di caffe con panna taken on a day in Rome when the temperature hit 103 degrees. The pavement was soft beneath my feet, and the granita was much needed refreshment. Your posts are always inspiring,entertaining and informative. I look forward to attending your school one day. Thanks for all the great reading and excellent pix.

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Charles G Thompson August 3, 2010 at 10:04 pm

One of my very favorite desserts. Great post, beautiful photos and thanks for the tips as well!

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rebecca December 18, 2010 at 6:13 pm

oh my heaven in a glass so enjoying your blog

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Joan Nova December 18, 2010 at 8:04 pm

This looks wonderful. I just got a little ice cream maker as an early Christmas gift and I was planning to do a Sambucca-flavored expresso gelato as my first attempt.

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Alexia de Angelis December 1, 2011 at 6:02 am

One of my favorites.. Amazing in the summer. Sometimes with panna too 🙂

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Maximilian, Southampton, NY June 29, 2012 at 7:47 am

Che buono! Granita di caffe! Specialmente dopo cena.

Rinfresca La Bocca! E naturalmente con della panna fatto in casa!

Squisito! Una meraviglia avere in torno tutto che c’e da mangiare.

Maximilian
Southampton, NY

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