A few months ago I was watching Chef's Table: Pastry, and was pulled in by the episode featuring Corrado Assenza—a Sicilian chef who specializes in cannoli, gelato and granita.
Prior to watching this episode, I had never heard of the Sicilian tradition of eating granita for breakfast. There are debates on whether or not lemon or almond was the best flavor but I was drawn in by the idea of eating something cold and refreshing like granita in the morning.
It's traditionally served with brioche and espresso which sounded like the perfect summer morning breakfast. Since I don't drink espresso, I completely nixed that part of it. I do like brioche but had some difficulties when I tried making it by hand so I'm not sharing that recipe. It's been a while since I've made bread and I've never attempted brioche. Perhaps I'll try it again in the near future.
The granita on the other hand was beautifully cold, almond-y and creamy. Since the Sacramento Valley and beyond is wonderfully covered with almond trees (spring is one of the most wonderful times of the year), it seemed almost a shame to not use local almonds for this frozen treat. I started with unsalted dry roasted almonds which I then blanched and turned into almond paste. This paste was then blended with a little sugar and water to create a foamy liquid which was strained and placed in the freezer. Every 30 minutes for 2-3 hours, you remove the granita and scrap it with a fork. This helps develop the unique flaky texture so it doesn't become a frozen solid brick.
I found this granita was best eaten as it started to melt and become creamy. I completely get the tradition now.
It's almost like eating ice cream for breakfast!
Yields: 6 servings
The almond paste does include raw egg white. If you are concerned about this, be sure to use pasteurized raw egg whites. And if you don't want to make your own, feel free to use store-bought almond paste. Extra almond paste can be stored in the fridge for one month and freezer for 3 months.
Homemade Almond Paste
- 1½ cups blanched almonds
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 1 egg white
- 1½ teaspoons almond extract
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ⅓ cup almond paste
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 cups bottled spring water (not carbonated)
Homemade Almond Paste
Place almonds in a food processor. Cover and process until smooth. It is okay if it doesn't come together like almond butter but it should look smooth. Add the powdered sugar, egg white, almond extract and salt. Cover and process until it comes together in a ball.
Blend together almond paste, sugar, and 1½ cups water in a blender until smooth, foamy, and white. Pour through a fine-mesh sieve into an 8-inch square baking pan, reserving any solids in sieve. Add remaining ½ cup water to solids in sieve and whisk over baking pan until most of water passes through (do not press on solids).
Stir mixture, then freeze, scraping lumps with a fork every 30 minutes, until firm but not frozen hard, 2 to 3 hours. Scrape with a fork to lighten texture, crushing any lumps. This is best eaten the day of but can be re-scraped the next day.