Sometimes it seems that there are as many types of coffee in Italy as there are pastas. And just like pasta, Italian coffee is an art form with many customs and traditions. Whether it’s a caffè corretto thrown back like a shot, a cappuccino and brioche for breakfast or a granita di caffè con panna to cool off from the hot midday sun, in Italy there is a coffee drink specific for every time and mood. It would be fair to say that Italians are passionate about coffee. So much so, you would think they had discovered it. They didn’t.

Around 600 CE Ethiopian goat herders noticed their hyperactive goats were eating leaves and berries from a strange tree with glossy green leaves. Coffee was discovered and cultivation soon spread to Yemen. Around 900, Arab physician, Rhazes, first mentions coffee in print but as a medicine. Around 1400 Ethiopians were roasting, grinding and brewing coffee beans. Coffee as we know it was born.

When coffee was first shipped from the Middle East to Venice, it caused a uproar and was almost banned from entering the port. Coffee houses were already established in Istanbul, but the fate of this drink was in the hands of Islamic preachers, who at first considered it on a par with alcohol. Eventually, it was accepted under Islamic law and trade began in the 16th century. Coffee houses in Venice sprung up and very quickly the black drink, which was until now solely consumed as medicine, achieved status and it became a luxury item, out of reach for most of Venetian society. However, as coffee plantations became established within the European colonies in South America and Asia, availability increased, the price decreased and, as it became more accessible to the poorer population, it’s popularity increased.

With over two hundred coffee houses along its canals, the reputation of this new drink soon spread to the neighboring cities of Verona, Milan and Turin. Coffee consumption soon spread to Rome, Naples, Bari and Sicily. The spread nationwide escalated and it wasn’t long before every household in Italy became familiar with the drink, eventually evolving in a culture that is still relevant today.

Perhaps one of the most recognizable images that depicts the importance of coffee in Italian society is the ‘macchinetta’. The famous aluminum stovetop percolator, designed and produced by Bialetti in 1933, can be found in most Italian kitchens. However, times change and now electric coffee machines stand on bar counters that force scalding water over ground coffee beans to create a rich, frothy drink.

In Trentino ask for a ‘Cappuccino Viennese’ and you’ll be served a creamy coffee with chocolate and cinnamon. In the Marche region, stop for a ‘Caffè Anisette’, an aniseed-flavored espresso, in Naples enjoy coffee flavored with hazelnut cream and in Sicily, a ‘caffè d’u parrinu’, is coffee flavored with cloves, cinnamon and cocoa powder.

The Italian Coffee

Like many hot coffee drinks, The Italian Coffee is defined by a single liqueur. In this case – Strega, an Italian digestif. Strega brings a distinct herbal blend to coffee with hints of juniper, saffron and mint. When made with dark roasted beans this drink makes an excellent after dinner cup of coffee.

Ingredients

  • 1 oz Strega liqueur
  • Hot black espresso coffee
  • Whipped cream for garnish
  • Nutmeg for garnish

Directions

Pour the Strega into a glass coffee mug.

Fill with hot coffee.

Top with whipped cream

Garnish with grated nutmeg.

Handmade Cappuccino

Makes 1 large mug

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces water
  • 1/4 cup espresso ground coffee
  • 8 ounces milk
  • Sugar (optional)

Directions

Pour the water into the bottom chamber of a stovetop espresso pot. Fill the filter basket that fits over the water with the coffee, tamping down gently. Place on the stovetop burner over medium-low heat. Watch carefully and remove from the heat as soon as all the water has boiled through the filter into the top part of the pot.

Meanwhile place the milk in a 16-ounce coffee mug. Heat in the microwave until hot but not starting to bubble on the sides. (Alternatively, you may heat the milk on the stovetop in a small pan, then transfer to a mug.)

Hold the handle of a small 4-inch whisk between the palms of both hands. Put the whisk in the hot milk and twirl rapidly back and forth until foam appears on the top, about 20 seconds. Pour the coffee into the mug. Sweeten if desired and serve immediately.

Chocolate Espresso Cake

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 1 cup brewed espresso coffee
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 13 x 9-inch baking pan.

Combine the first six ingredients (flour through salt) in the large bowl of an electric mixer. Add buttermilk, eggs, coffee, oil and vanilla. Beat 2 minutes with the mixer at medium speed. Pour into prepared pan.

Bake 35 to 40 minutes, until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let cool in the baking pan on wire rack.

This plain chocolate cake is very moist.

Optional: Frost it with sweetened whipped cream with a teaspoon of cinnamon added to the cream or use your favorite chocolate frosting.

Coffee Granita

Ingredients

  • 2 cups (16 oz.) freshly brewed espresso coffee
  • ½ cup sugar

Directions

Put espresso and sugar into a medium bowl and stir with a wooden spoon until sugar dissolves completely. Let rest until room temperature.

Pour coffee mixture into a medium baking dish and transfer to the freezer. Using the tines of a fork, stir the mixture every 30 minutes, scraping edges and breaking up any chunks as the mixture freezes, until granita is slushy and frozen, about 4 hours.

Divide granita into individual serving glasses or transfer into a plastic container, cover, and freeze until ready to serve.

Espresso Souffle

If you want your soufflé to rise above the dish, you can make this in a 4-cup soufflé dish. Make a collar by wrapping a strip of buttered parchment paper around the outside of the dish and securing it with a string. Serve this soufflé with vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt.

Ingredients

  • Butter to coat baking dish
  • 1/2 cup sugar, divided
  • 3 tablespoons espresso brewed coffee
  • 5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 6 egg whites
  • 4 egg yolks

Directions

Preheat oven to 400F.

Thoroughly butter a 2-quart soufflé dish or 6 (8-ounce) ramekins and sprinkle with 1/4 cup sugar.

Combine espresso and chocolate in a glass bowl. Microwave about 1 minute; stir until chocolate melts.

Whisk egg yolks into chocolate mixture.

Beat egg whites in a clean, dry bowl with a mixer until frothy. Gradually add remaining 1/4 cup sugar, beating until soft peaks form.

Stir about 1 cup egg white mixture into chocolate mixture. Fold remaining egg white mixture into chocolate mixture.

Spoon into the prepared souffle dish. Place on a baking sheet and bake 30 to 40 minutes (soufflé dish) or 20 to 25 minutes (ramekins), until soufflé rises. Serve immediately.

Espresso Pudding Cake

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/3 cups hot brewed espresso coffee
  • 2/3 cup packed light brown sugar

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Coat a 1 1/2 to 2 quart baking dish with cooking spray.

Whisk all-purpose flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.

Whisk egg, milk, oil and vanilla in a glass measuring cup. Add to the flour mixture; stir with a rubber spatula until just combined. Scrape the batter into the prepared baking dish.

Mix hot coffee and brown sugar in the measuring cup and pour over the batter. (It may look strange at this point, but during baking, cake forms on top with sauce underneath.)

Bake the pudding cake until the top springs back when touched lightly, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool for at least 10 minutes. Serve hot or warm.

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