Discover more from Buona Domenica
Granita di Caffè con Panna
Espresso + fresh cream = a perfect union
I was always going to be a coffee drinker.
On early summer mornings, my mom and her sisters would congregate in the small kitchen in Rome, drinking their cups of espresso, the windows thrown open to let in the still-cool breeze. I would sit on one of their laps—usually my mom’s or my Zia Elsa’s, the two coffee diehards in the family—and watch as they dipped a silver spoon into their cup and held it over the sugar bowl, tipping the spoon ever so slightly so that a single drop of hot coffee would land in the sugar. They would gently nudge the drop around the miniature landscape of white crystal hills and valleys until it became a tiny, nearly solid coffee-sugar ball. I would spoon the sparkling little orb into my mouth and let it melt on my tongue. That was my introduction to coffee, and I have never looked back.
I’m a daily consumer; two cups of strong American automatic drip at home in the U.S. (with half & half and a sprinkle of coconut sugar), plus an occasional afternoon espresso. In Italy, it’s a morning stovetop espresso, usually followed by a caffè macchiato and/or a cappuccino at our local bar in Penne. So it makes sense that my favorite summer treat, especially during these energy-sapping dog days of August, is iced coffee. Specifically, the classic gelateria concoction granita di caffè con panna, or coffee granita with whipped cream.
There was a gelateria around the corner from my aunts’ apartment that made the best coffee granita I’ve ever had. It was assembled with care, old-school style, with stainless steel paddles (no whipped cream dispenser like most places have now): first, the gelataio would swipe a paddle of fresh cream into the bottom of a narrow glass; then he would fill it to the rim with gleaming shards of sweet, slushy granita; finally, he paddled more whipped cream on top, covering the granita in a cap of white.
Eating it was an experience. The trick was to get both coffee ice and cream in every spoonful so you would have an icy jolt of strong black coffee on your tongue followed by the creamy fat against the roof of your mouth. The bottom of the glass always held a few drops of still-cold, melted coffee and dissolved cream, which you swirled together, then tipped back and drank. Bitter, sweet, cold black coffee + soft clouds of unsweetened cream. Has there ever been a more perfect union?
There are only three ingredients in granita di caffè con panna if you don’t count water: coffee, sugar, and whipping cream. So, as is the general rule with Italian ingredients, they need to be good; the espresso should be brewed strong, with just the right balance of sugar stirred in, and with cream as fresh as you can find. Here are some tips to help you make a granita di caffè con panna that rivals quella di gelateria:
Use good coffee (no Starbucks!). Beatrice Ughi of Gustiamo introduced me to Giamaica Caffè, which is produced outside of Verona. Their moka blend is creamy and makes excellent espresso and granita. (Slightly) closer to home, I am quickly becoming a fan of Mr. Espresso oakwood roasted coffee, which is based in Oakland, CA. Both their Neapolitan and Tuscan espresso roasts are robust and chocolatey; good for drinking and for granita.
Make sure the coffee is properly ground. For my stovetop Bialetti Moka, I use a fine grind (slightly larger than granulated sugar). Here is a detailed post from Blue Bottle coffee on how to brew espresso in a stovetop moka.
I don’t recommend substituting an American-style brew. If you don’t have either a stovetop espresso maker or an espresso machine, head to your favorite coffee bar (not Starbucks!) and buy freshly brewed espresso.
Stir in the sugar while the coffee is still hot so that it dissolves completely. Make sure the coffee is sweet enough, since the whipped cream is unsweetened.
Place a metal tin in the freezer to chill it, and cool the sweetened coffee to room temperature before pouring it into the tin. Be sure to stir it every 30 minutes to break up the crystals that form. Remove it from the freezer a few minutes before serving to soften the crystals a bit. This will keep the granita’s texture from being too grainy.
Use local cream, pasteurized rather than ultra-pasteurized. It will taste better and whip better. Whip the cream to medium-stiff consistency so that holds its shape and isn’t droopy when spooned on top of the granita.
RECIPE: Granita di Caffè con Panna
This recipe serves 4, but can easily be doubled.
2 cups freshly brewed espresso, still hot
8 to 10 tablespoons sugar
3/4 cup cold heavy whipping cream
Espresso beans for garnish (optional)
1. Place a round or rectangular metal baking pan in the freezer to chill.
2. Combine the hot coffee and sugar in a bowl, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Let cool to room temperature. Remove the baking pan from the freezer and pour in the coffee. Freeze for 30 minutes, then remove from the freezer and use a fork to scrape the developing crystals away from the sides of th epan and swirl them into the center. Continue to freeze, scraping every 30 minutes, until the mixture is completely frozen into crystals. Break up any large clumps with the fork or a potato masher. Transfer the granita to a container with a tight-fitting lid and freeze until ready to serve.
3. About 30 minutes before serving, place a metal bowl and beaters in the freezer to chill. At serving time, remove the granita from the freezer to soften slightly (about 5 minutes). Whip the cream to medium-stiff peaks using the chilled bowl and beaters. Spoon a couple of tablespoons of whipped cream into each of 4 small tumblers or wine glasses. Fill with granita, and top each serving with more whipped cream. Garnish with coffee beans and serve.
Readers: Do you have a favorite coffee dessert? Tell us about it in the comments.
More on Coffee
If you’re interested in learning more about coffee history and culture in Italy, here are a couple of links:
The History of Authentic Italian Coffee, via The Italian Tribune
The History of Coffee Culture in Italy, via Wanted in Rome
A Guide to Italian Coffee Culture, via Eataly
More coffee + cream recipes:
Crema al Caffè, a classic Italian beach club treat, via Giallo Zafferano (in Italian)
Panera (pronounced PAH-neh-rah), a divine airy coffee semifreddo found only in Genoa, via A Small Kitchen in Genoa
PICTURE ITALY: Gran Sasso d’Italia, 2022
As always, thank you for reading, subscribing, and sharing.