Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Routine, Reinvented: Home Coffee Roasting and Gelato Cubano

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When I went out and got my first post-undergraduate degree job -- my first "real" job -- one of the tiny perks was the fact that, along with my wages, my employer provided me with free coffee, day or night, weekday or weekend (and trust me, I spent plenty of nights and weekends there). Now, of course, I realize that this is typical for most offices, but, hey -- I was young, and at that point, I probably could have counted the cups of coffee I had drank on one hand. The free coffee wasn't the best stuff, but it wasn't road tar either. Needless to say, by the end of my first month, I was putting back six cups a day and I was a wired, jittery mess.

Since then, I've learned how not to overindulge. In fact, although my current employer offers the same coffee service, I usually drink tea in the mornings. Still, there are few things better than a heart-rumblingly strong cup of coffee to give you a second wind, few better ways to wrap up lunch. What can I say? The coffee bean's siren song still reaches my ears on occasion.

It was on one such lunch hour that I found myself at Makkah Market, the remarkable 24-hour Halal deli at the corner of 43rd and Walnut. I usually go there to stock up on the thumb-sized dates, the fresh, cheap feta, and the wide selection of olives, but on this particular day a small green storage bin on a low shelf caught my eye: "Coffee. 2.99 per Pound."

Popping the lid off, I saw, well, this:

Pale, creamy, raw coffee beans; beautiful, just beautiful. You see, I've had my eye on roasting my own coffee for some time now -- I knew the basic principles, knew it could be done at home, but didn't feel like spending twenty-five dollars a pound for some free-trade, unicorn-fertilized, wet-processed wonder bean in the mail. Here it was, raw coffee -- fast, cheap, and, potentially, out of control.

For those of you who aren't familiar with home roasting, the process is quite simple -- all you need is a heavy pan, a very hot flame, and a good sized fan and/or oven vent (more on that in a moment).

Place one pound of beans in a large, cold pan, and crank the burner up as high as it will go.

Using a metal spatula, move the beans around to avoid scorching; you want the beans to tan evenly and at the same time. When they start to brown, as seen below, turn on your fan; the pan will start to smoke a bit, which is normal.

Once the browning process begins, the beans start to cook quite quickly -- mine roasted, from cold pan to finish, in less than ten minutes. The beauty of the home roast is that you can control it to the shade and depth that you like -- I prefer a full-bodied medium roast coffee, so I pulled mine off before it got too dark. That being said, if you want to make yourself a jet-black espresso roast, you can do that too.

Transfer the hot beans to a metal strainer (if you only have plastic, let the beans cool in the pan for a half-hour first). Using the spatula, agitate the beans more -- this will assist with the cooling process, and encourage the loose coffee "skin" to fall off and fall through the holes in the strainer more quickly (note the flecks collecting underneath the strainer in the sink).

Once you've "shelled" the beans, and they've come down to a cool temperature, seal them in an airtight container, and refrigerate. Easy enough, or what?

Now, of course, you could always grind some of those beans up and throw them in your Moka, if you wanted to.

You could brew up a very nice pot of coffee, yes, you could.

You could even pour yourself a cup and drink it, and it would be excellent.

And yet, if you're going to go to the trouble of roasting your own beans, wouldn't it make sense to do something different with it? Wouldn't it make sense to do take that base ingredient and incorporate it into a old classic?

On the weekends, when making coffee for the Pasta Burner and myself, I often will substitute out coconut milk for cream, a variation on cafe cubano con leche. Looking at my freshly roasted beans, I had a thought -- what about the same beverage, in gelato form?

Gelato Cubano
Serves four people

1 Cup Milk
2 Cups Heavy Cream, divided
3/4 Cup Freshly Ground Coffee
3/4 Cup Sugar
6 large egg yolks
1 13 oz. can Coconut Milk
1 Cup flaked or "angel flake" dried coconut

Start by heating up one cup of milk with one cup of heavy cream over medium heat. As it's warming, whisk in the 3/4 cup of sugar until dissolved.

Meanwhile, grind up 3/4 cup of coffee, and wait until the milk just starts to and steam and bubble on the edges.

When the milk reaches the desired state, stir in the ground coffee and turn off the heat.

Let everything steep for five minutes, no longer.

Pour the infused mixture through a tea sock or french press to separate the grinds from the liquid.

Rinse out the pan and return the infused liquid back into it.

Crack six egg yolks into a bowl, and, adding slowly, temper them and combine them into the influsion, whisking constantly, (Editor's Note: A visual demonstration of proper tempering can be found here.)

Meanwhile, get your can of coconut milk, and pour it and the other cup of heavy cream into a mixing bowl. Lay a fine mesh strainer (the one you used in roasting the coffee will do just fine here) over the top of the bowl. Set aside -- we'll need it in a moment.

Turn the heat under the pan back on, but leave it at a very low temperature. Using a whisk or rubber spatula, you want to stir and scrape the pan constantly, cooking the mixture until it thickens and *just* coats the back of a spoon. Don't let it go too far, or you'll end up with coffee-flavored scrambled eggs. It's better to pull it off the heat a moment too early than a moment too late.

Pour the thickened gelato base through the strainer and into the heavy cream/coconut milk below. Doing this will both remove lumps and keep the hot custard from continuing to cook in the bowl. Stir everything together to emulsify. Put the mixing bowl into your refrigerator for one hour, or until the gelato base is cool.

Pour everything into an ice cream maker and follow the manufacturer's directions. Once the gelato has become well frozen (about twenty minutes later for most machines), add in the cup of flaked coconut and let the machine mix it in for an additional three minutes. Transfer the gelato to sealable containers, and let it continue to firm up in the freezer.

And that's it! Remember that gelato should be served a bit warmer than ice cream -- when you want to serve it to your guests, remove the container from the freezer about ten minutes before you want to scoop. Don't forget to sprinkle a little extra coconut on top of each serving! The final product:

Deep, cool, creamy, not-too-sweet -- the elements of bitter coffee and smooth coconut find a harmonious balance on the palate, while the shreds of dried coconut add a pleasant textural element. This isn't the sugar-loaded coffee milkshake you'll find in most stores -- this is bold, rich gelato, meant for a mature palate, the perfect pick-me up after a summertime dinner.

Anyway, I hope that you'll give home coffee roasting a try. In particular, those of you in West Philadelphia, now that I've told you exactly where to get the beans...well, you have no excuse. Go get a proper buzz.

Music: Blur -- "Coffee and TV"

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