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Matthew Fort: Breakfast in Sicily is like no other


I’ve always thought of myself as quite a simple breakfaster. On home turf, it’s toast and jam in the week; kippers on Saturday; sausages on Sunday; the Full English if away from home. I’ve enjoyed pancakes, bacon and maple syrup in the USA and I was very taken with the Mas Huni, the traditional breakfast of the Maldives. It consists of shreds of sun-dried and lightly smoked tuna, grated coconut, chilli and finely chopped red onion served with chapati and rihaakuru, a dipping sauce made of very reduced fish soup (not unlike piscine Bovril), loaded with chilli and lime, mango or tamarind - if you're interested. In Italy, I remember sfogliatelle washed down by a ristretto or caffè con crema zuccherato in Naples very fondly, and a croissant oozing pistachio cream in Caltanissetta, Sicily, with lip-smacking pleasure.

But of all the breakfasts in all their variety that I’ve eaten in all corners of the world, nothing comes close to the brilliance, the beauty, the sheer bliss-inducing perfection of the granita di caffè con panna e brioche of Irrera 1910, Messina, which it was once my delight to kick off each day.

NB: The '1910' appended to the name Irrera is the date when the great pasticceria was founded following the terrible earthquake and tsunami of 1908 when the city was almost entirely destroyed along with 100,000 of its inhabitants. 

Imagine a stubby glass tumbler with a layer of intense, unsweetened coffee sludge at the bottom. On top is a layer of white, airy, slightly sweetened whipped cream. On the side is a glossy, round, well-tanned brioche bun with a plump brioche nipple on top.

You break off a chunk of the brioche. It’s just a shade denser and bouncier than the French version and still warm. You push it gently down through the cloud of whipped cream to the coffee sludge below, where it soaks up just enough to flavour the dough. Carefully you withdraw your prize, turning it slightly to scoop up a blob of cream and slip it into your mouth.

Close your eyes for a moment. There’s the eggy, yeasty base of brioche, warm and resilient. There’s the neutral, sweetish breeze of cream drifting along. And there’s the clean, astringent sharpness of the coffee squeezing onto your tongue and down your throat. Three temperatures, three textures, three flavours fused in perfect harmony. In each mouthful.

Result? Rapture. A suspension of time and place, and a happy synthesis of senses. And then sadness that such a sublime experience is over.

A word of warning - resist the temptation to have another. One granita di caffè con panna e brioche is never enough, but two is always too many.

Matthew Fort is a renowned food writer and critic. He has been a judge on the BBC’s Great British Menu since the series began in 2006 and was The Guardian’s food and drink editor for ten years. His great love affair with Italian gastronomy and culture has inspired three out of four of his books. We welcome Matthew as an ambassador for Piano Coffee.