Please pardon this interruption of my regularly scheduled hamantashen posting. I’m pausing to bring you… a little sliver of Italian summer. Among our very last recipes for Baked Sunday Mornings is Almond Granita from BAKED: New Frontiers in Baking, which is not a recipe I would have made on my own. As I’ve said countless times, I’ve been so grateful to BSM over the years for pushing me to try so many new and different things, and granita falls into that category. There’s nothing wrong with granita; it just wouldn’t have been on my radar as something exciting to make. And certainly not *almond* flavor, of all the granita flavors that could be made, because I’m not generally a fan of almond-flavored things. But I’m sooo happy to have been very wrong!
If I’m being honest, I’d like to be double-fisting an Aperol Spritz with this granita, preferably under an umbrella in an Italian piazza on a warm day… but it’s early March and not warm and Italy is under coronavirus quarantine at the moment. So yeah, I guess on the balcony of my suburban apartment will do. Sans electric orange beverage. Sigh.
Never had granita before? I would liken it to a fancy-pants slushee… although Italians would probably slap me for that comparison. Basically, you make a flavored base liquid and pour it into a flat pan, then freeze it and scrape the developing ice flakes periodically until the whole pan is a pile of fluffy flakes– in other words, you don’t want the liquid to freeze solid.
I was initially going to skip this recipe because of my almond flavor aversion, but when I looked closer, I saw that it uses mostly real almonds and only a touch of almond extract. Actual almonds are fine, so I decided to go ahead with the recipe and substitute vanilla bean paste for the almond extract.
The granita base is made by grinding blanched almonds, sugar, almond extract (or vanilla), and cinnamon in a food processor, then adding a bit of hot water while the machine is running, which forms a smooth, thick paste like almond butter. Then you add more hot water to thin it out, pour it into a baking dish, and finally add cold water to thin it further and cool it down.
After an hour in the freezer, take it out and scrape the frozen bits from the pan edges to the center; continue doing this every 30-45 minutes. I made it in the evening, and in the first few hours, there was still a lot of liquid in the pan. I wondered if it was supposed to be that way? It tasted good at least, though it wasn’t particularly attractive.
Unfortunately, it was too late in the evening to photograph it in natural light, so I put the pan back in the freezer overnight with the intention of revisiting it the next day for its close-up. However… it was frozen pretty solid after being left undisturbed for so many hours! I left it on the countertop while I went to the gym and hoped it wouldn’t be a puddle when I got home.
To my happy surprise, the granita was perfect for scraping after about 1.5 hours at room temperature! It had softened just enough that I was able to make a big mound of fluffy flakes in the middle of the pan and there was no liquid at the bottom. I scooped it into an ice cream dish and sprinkled on some slivered almonds. The most Italian way to eat almond granita is on brioche like this— I wish I’d had time to make a batch of brioche, but alas, I was elbow-deep in hamantashen all weekend.
I was pleasantly surprised with this dessert! The almond flavor was warm and pleasing (probably helped by the cinnamon), and I liked the addition of vanilla. I would still prefer a creamy frozen dessert to an icy one, but I appreciate that it’s uniquely Italian, which always holds a special place in my heart. In fact, I liked it even better just a little melted because the liquified almond milk gave it a creamier texture.
This is a wonderful option for a light, gluten-free and dairy-free, and not-too-sweet dessert, especially in warmer weather. You can find the recipe for Almond Granita at Baked Sunday Mornings and see who else made it too! 🙂
© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2020.