Espresso martini granita delivers cooling relief with a buzz
Italians may be most famous for gelato, but that creamy dessert has a Sicilian cousin with an equally loyal following, and unlike gelato, you can easily make it at home.
It's no wonder the granita was born in Sicily, where temperatures can be scorching. Despite having only a few ingredients, this icy dessert delivers lots of flavor, making it ideal to make on a lazy summer day. The classic granita is simply a fruit puree that, as it freezes, is raked with a fork to create sparkling shards of flavored ice you pile high in a bowl.
The next step? Enjoy eating your granita, happily sipping what melts while you eat.
Residents of the Sicilian provinces of Catania and Messina are arguably the most famous granita makers. But this semi-frozen dessert is found all over Italy.
The texture and flavor vary slightly from one location to another. For example, as almonds are one of Sicily's staple crops, almond granita (granita alle mandorle) is found throughout the island. Other popular flavors are espresso, lemon, pistachio and strawberry, but you'll also find less common ones, such as kiwi. That's because the options are limited only by your imagination and, perhaps, by which ingredients are on hand.
Italians love their espresso, and many start their day with it. So it's no surprise that the espresso granita, made with strong, freshly brewed coffee and sugar, is one of the country's most popular flavors. It provides a quick cool down with the bonus of a caffeine energy boost.
In the summer, Sicilians will often order an espresso granita and dunk a fluffy brioche bun in it for breakfast (yes, dessert for breakfast, isn't that grand?). It's also a popular afternoon treat, consumed alfresco with friends. Often, espresso granita is presented with whipped cream beneath and on top for a creamy start and finish.
That's great for the morning, but what about after the sun goes down? This summer, I decided to get creative and serve my guests an espresso martini granita, a summer cocktail with all the feel and fun of a granita, but with a splash of vodka and Kahlua, too.
Inspired by the popular cocktail, this dessert is so simple, inexperienced cooks with few tools and small kitchens can succeed with this pretty-enough-for-company dessert without breaking a sweat.
In Italy, pastry shops and cafes often rely on a Mantecatore al Bastone mixer, a traditional machine for making granitas that mixes the ingredients while simultaneously freezing and adding air. The results are fluffy, icy magic in a glass.
At home, we can achieve respectable results by simply mixing the ingredients in a shallow tray, which then goes in the freezer, and giving the mixture a periodic fluffing with a fork, to simulate the fancy machine's process.
Once the icy shards have formed and the granita's consistency is where you want it, a chilled martini glass, lots of whipped cream and a hot day are all you need to enjoy this lovely, spirited refresher.
- - -
Espresso Martini Granita
Active time: 15 minutes; Total time: 3 hours
If you are looking for a refreshing summer dessert that requires minimal effort and equipment, granita fits the bill. While granita is often made with fresh fruit, such as strawberry or watermelon, Italians have also been known to serve a variation made with espresso. Along with a cool-down, it also delivers a jolt of caffeine. For a lovely and boozy version, the recipe below adds coffee liqueur and vodka, transforming this popular dessert into a grown-up treat.
Make Ahead: The granita takes about 3 hours to fully set.
Storage Notes: Freeze, covered, for up to 1 week. Before serving, flake again with a fork.
2 cups (480 milliliters) hot espresso (may substitute regular coffee; decaf is OK, too)
1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
1/4 cup (60 milliliters) vodka
2 tablespoons coffee liqueur, such as Kahlúa
1/2 cup (120 milliliters) heavy cream
Espresso beans, for garnish (optional)
In a large liquid measuring cup with a spout, stir together the espresso, sugar, vodka and coffee liqueur until combined. Pour the mixture into a 9-by-13-inch dish and transfer to the freezer for 1 hour.
Remove from the freezer, stir with a fork to break up the forming ice crystals and return to the freezer. Check the granita every 30 minutes, scraping with a fork each time, until it becomes icy all over, about 2 hours.
When ready to serve, in a cold, dry bowl, using a handheld mixer (or in a stand mixer bowl with a whisk attachment) beat the heavy cream on high speed until stiff peaks form, about 2 minutes.
Place a few teaspoons of the whipped cream on the bottom of a martini glass (or use another type of glass if you don't have martini glasses). Spoon the granita on top and top with additional whipped cream. Garnish with a few espresso beans, if using.
Repeat with remaining granita and cream, and serve immediately.
From food writer Anna Francese Gass.