So Can You Cook? 29

A Café in Your Kitchen

Tea drinking used to be ‘art’ of the average household, with its associated rituals and the fact that tea-drinking was so much a part of our English heritage, and had been around for so long.

Coffee drinking used to be considered something very European or American (I believe the Americans make the worst coffee imaginable), so was slow in its uptake here. Instant coffee has been around in various guises certainly for as long as I remember, and coffee substitutes like chicory essence even longer. There have always been acceptable instant coffees – for when you are in a real rush – such as ‘Nescafe’ (now doing amazing things with there filter coffee ranges under the ‘Nespresso’ label; see http://www’nespresso.com.au), ‘Moccona’ etc right through to the ones we like to joke about – like ‘International Roast’, which has never quite lived ujp to its name.
However, in the last 10 years filter coffee in its many incarnations of filter, plunger, vacuum, espresso etc have really come to the fore, and changed the way we not only make coffee but view the world of coffee in general. There is hardly a house without an espresso maker these days, from the low end machines for around $100 to the really kick arse top-end machines that can be $4000-$5000, and often imitating the original Italian machines. Coffee has become the new ‘art’ for moring and afternoon tea, and for after dinner drinking. Mind you, we haven’t all been totally seduced. I own a ‘DeLonghi’ espresso machine – this really space-age looking machine that sits unobtrusively on the kitchen bench, and uses the ‘Nespresso’ system of coffee capsules, which come anywhere from lighter tasting coffees to really dark, robust blends that really give you a kick start. I only have 0ne coffee a day – unless entertaining- and it is usually at lunchtime. It is always an espresso, as this is the best way to enjoy the flavour of coffee, just as black is the best way to appreciate the flavour of quality tea.
So other rituals have now come into our lives, and the rituals involving your kitchen espresso machine are important if you are to fully appreciate and enjoy your coffee. To start with make sure you’re using good quality water. Your espresso will be made up of 90% water so its taste will have a big impact on the flavour of your coffee. Additionally, the quality of your water will determine the longevity of your machine. Sydney generally has good quality water, though if you are from an area with hard water, take appropriate care. Scale can clog the various valves and temperature probes within your machine causing all kind of problems. Bottled or filtered water are generally the recommended options but rainwater also gets good results.
Temperature also plays an important part, so the easiest way to make sure that this factor is stable is to allow the espresso machine to completely heat — not only the water in the boiler or thermoblock, but also the portafilter and surrounding metal of the body (around 15–25 minutes should be sufficient).
The other check boxes for you to tick are cups, a tamper, milk jug and grinder. You often receive a tamper with your espresso machine but these are usually a cheap afterthought and rarely fit your basket. Achieving an evenly compressed and level biscuit of coffee within your basket is imperative to extract the maximum flavour out of your grinds. Investing in a good quality tamper like a Reg Barber with a base that fits your basket will help with consistency and make the entire process more enjoyable.

Along with using freshly roasted coffee (ideal is within two weeks of roasting), the other key to achieving spectacular, café quality coffee at home is the use of a burr grinder. Rather than the ‘whirley blade’ grinders (generically known as ‘spice and coffee grinders’), which actually crush the coffee beans unevenly — a burr grinder will shave the beans into clean and consistent particle sized grounds. This allows the water to pass evenly over all of your coffee. Grinding fresh, just before you need to brew your coffee, will ensure that all the volatile oils and aromatics are kept trapped within the particles rather than, after being exposed to air for more than ten minutes, evaporating into the ether.
The amount of ‘crema’ or head on the top of your coffee is also very important, and good crema comes from a combination of both good coffee, and a quality machine.
Naturally, what you eat or make with your coffee is also important, and good quality espresso coffee can make a huge difference to the quality of the treats and desserts you make.

In all the following recipes, please feel free to exchange the instant coffee for an equivalent amount of fresh, strong espresso.

Pistachio, Date & Chocolate Meringue Cake;though not made with coffee, this indulgent treat is the perfect accompaniment for a good cup of coffee. If you find the cake too sticky for your taste, leave it in the oven for a further 30 minutes. It is SOOO delicious.
3 egg whites
¼ cup caster sugar
125g pistachio nuts, roughly chopped
125g dates, roughly chopped
125g good quality dark chocolate, roughly chopped

Preheat oven to 160°C. Grease and dust with caster sugar 10 individual cake or muffin tins or one 20cm spring-form cake pan.
Whisk egg whites until soft peaks hold there shape. Add caster sugar and beat until incorporated. Fold in pistachios, dates and chocolate.
Scoop into prepared tins and bake for 30 minutes. Cool for 15 minutes before removing.
Serve with fresh dates and pistachios.

Coffee Bean and Cherry Biscotti;
85g plain flour
85g self-raising flour
60g polenta
85g caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
50g dried cherries
50g chocolate-coated coffee beans
30g blanched almonds

Preheat oven to 160°C and grease a baking tray.
Sift together the plain and self-raising flours, polenta and sugar into a large bowl and make a well in the centre.
Beat together the eggs and vanilla extract and pour into the dry ingredients. Add the cherries, coffee beans and almonds and stir. Knead gently until the mixture comes together into a sticky dough.
Shape the dough into a log about 20cm x 20cm x 2cm and put onto the prepared baking tray. Bake for about 30 minutes or until golden.
Remove from the oven (leaving the oven on) ands leave to cool for about 5 minutes, then transfer to a chopping board and cut into slices about 1cm thick. Arrange the slices in a baking sheet and bake for a further 15-20 minutes, turning halfway through until crisp and golden.
Remove from oven, transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool.
Makes about 20

Squidgy Coffee bars;
150g butter, softened
100g caster sugar
100g light soft brown sugar
1 tablespoon quality instant coffee dissolved in 1 tablespoon just-boiled water
1 large egg
225g self-raising flour
60g dark chocolate chips
70g blanched hazelnuts, roughly chopped
70g fudge, roughly chopped

Pre-heat oven to 190°C. Grease and line a 20cm square cake pan.
Beat together the butter, caster and brown sugars until smooth and creamy. Beat in the coffee, followed by the egg. Sift over the flour and fold in, then fold in the chocolate chips, hazelnuts and fudge.
Spoon the mixture into the prepared cake pan, spread out evenly and bake for about 25 minutes until golden and risen. Leave to cool in the tin for about 5 minutes before cutting into 12 bars.
Leave to cool for a little longer in the tin, then lift out and carefully peel off the lining paper.
Makes 12 bars

Cappuccino Cheesecake;
150g chcolate-covered digestive biscuits (or whatever you fancy)
60g butter, melted
500g mascarpone (a thick, sweet Italian cream from the supermarket)
125ml crème fraiche (a sweet version of sour cream, from the supermarket)
3 tablespoons quality instant coffee dissolved in 3 tablespoons just-boiled water
125g caster sugar plus 1½ tablespoons for the topping
4 eggs, beaten
240ml sour cream
cocoa powder, to dust.

Put the biscuits in a food processor and blitz until crumbs, then combine with the melted butter.
Tip the mixture into a 20cm spring-form cake pan (greased) and smooth out to make an even base. Cover and chill for 30 minutes.
Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.
Beat together the mascarpone and crème fraiche until smooth, then stir in the coffee and sugar. Stir in the eggs until well mixed.
Wrap the base and sides of the tin in two single layers of foil, then pour the mascarpone mixture over the crumb base. Put in a roasting pan and pour water around the cake tin so that it reaches half to two-thirds of the way up the sides. Bake for about 50 minutes or until set but still soft.
Meanwhile, stir the remaining 1½ tablespoons sugar into the sour cream. Remove the cheesecake from the oven, gently spoon over the sour cream, spreading it out evenly, then return to the oven for 10 minutes.
Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely, then cover and chill for at least 4 hours or overnight. To serve, carefully unmould and dust with cocoa powder.
Serves 8 (or 4 very greedy piggy’s)

Rich Almond Tiramisu;
300g mascarpone
3 tablespoons caster sugar
2 eggs, separated
300g Amaretti morbidi (soft Amaretti) biscuits
120ml cold espresso
about 1½ tablespoons Kahlua
cocoa powder and finely grated chocolate, to sprinkle

Put the mascarpone, sugar and egg yolks in a bowl and beat together until creamy.
In a clean, grease-free bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold a couple of spoonfuls of the egg whites into the mascarpone mixture, then fold in the remaining egg whites, one third at a time.
Put a couple of spoonfuls of the mascarpone mixture into the base of 4 serving dishes or glasses and smooth the surface. Working carefully, soak about half the amaretti in the coffee for a minute or two until saturated but not collapsing. Puit a couple on top of the mascarpone, then sprinkle ¼ – ½ teaspoon Kahlua over each serving.
Continue layering with more mascarpone, coffee-soaked amaretti and Kahlua, finishing with a layer of mascarpone. Dust with cocoa powder , then cover and chill overnight.
To serve, sprinkle with more cocoa powder and grated chocolate.
Serves 4

HINTS COLUMN
• Buy the best quality chocolate you can afford for cooking. It DOES make a difference!
• Add a pinch of salt to everything you cook – including sweets and chocolate. It helps to enhance the flavour of foods, which is why you ALWAYS see chef’s adding salt to dishes.
• To make caramel from condensed milk, cover the unopened tin in water, bring to the boil, then simmer for 3 hours. This produces an imitation of a South American sweet called dulce de leche. DON’T LET THE PAN BOIL DRY!
• Use dried herbs at the start of cooking (due to their intense flavour), and fresh herbs at the end.

Tim Alderman
Copyright 2014

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