Coffee brewing trends, like hemlines, swing in a perpetual pendulum. As soon as you invest in the latest espresso machine, out comes a new drip pot. So it was with Atomic Age percolators, which replaced cowboy kettles, until wasp-waisted Pyrex drip pots appeared (only to be replaced by programmable Brauns). But given the faddishness in the way that we brew coffee, there is one thing that remains constant: we want to extract the flavor of our coffee beans without also releasing their bitterness.
Vicky Zeph, chef of her eponymous restaurant in Peekskill, thinks that she’s discovered the ideal coffee maker. At her home and in her restaurant (which she owns with her brother, Michael), Zeph uses an Aerobie AeroPress coffeemaker. Like the ubiquitous French press, the AeroPress is cheap (it retails for about $25) and uses a plunger, but that’s where the similarity between the two methods ends. Unlike the French press, the AeroPress limits the time that the water is in contact with the coffee beans (which reduces acid). Then—like an expensive espresso maker—it employs air-pressure to flush the water through the beans. The resulting brew is rich with fully extracted coffee flavor that lacks any acidic bite—even better, with her AeroPress, Zeph can readily control her coffee’s strength. For the recipes below, Zeph actually brews coffee concentrate (the instructions come in the package, but we’ve also included them below).
Zeph, who had given up caffeine for several years for “a lot of reasons,” was lured back into the world of the caffeinated when two things coincided. “A friend told me about the AeroPress, and a new coffee roasting company [the Bear Mountain Coffee Roasters] came by the restaurant with locally-roasted coffee. “It was too much. I’m back—but not necessarily to drink a lot. It’s enough to have just one perfect cup now and then.” And here’s one treat that you won’t find on the restaurant’s menu. At the end of the night, Zeph makes ice cubes from whatever coffee remains in the pot, and, the next afternoon, she uses the coffee cubes and a splash of cream in an intense cup of iced AeroPress coffee. If you’re only having one cup, let it be this.
AeroPress Coffee Concentrate
3 Tbsp coffee ¾ cup water
Brew coffee according to AeroPress directions.
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
½ cup AeroPress coffee concentrate
½ cup unsulphured blackstrap molasses
¼ cup pomegranate molasses
¾ cup wildflower honey
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
2¾ cups flour
1½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp allspice
1/8 tsp ground cloves
½ cup 2% milk
2 packed Tbsp grated fresh ginger root
Preheat oven to 325° F. Line a 9” x 9” x 2” baking pan with parchment paper. Combine butter, coffee concentrate, the two kinds of molasses, honey, and brown sugar in a saucepan. Warm the mixture, stirring, just enough to blend. Pour into large mixing bowl, cool, and set aside. Sift together flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ground ginger, allspice, and clove, and set aside. Add the eggs (all at one time) and the milk into the butter, coffee, molasses, honey, and sugar mixture. In three additions, fold in flour mixture. Add fresh ginger. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 75 to 90 minutes. According to Zeph, “it’s best with whipped cream, but ice cream is fine, too.”
BEAR MOUNTAIN CAKE
This is a fine genoise cake batter that requires careful measurements. Zeph recommends that, for best results, you weigh your ingredients in grams as professionals do. There are excellent scales from both Salter Bracknell and Polder available at Amazon.com for less than $40.
FOR THE CAKE
6 egg yolks (retain the whites for use below)
1 ½ cup (330 g) sugar
6 whole eggs
2/3 cup (150 g) flour
6 egg whites, whipped until they hold stiff peaks
Set oven to 350° F and prepare three sheet pans: dot with butter on back of pan and stick parchment paper to pan. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat yolks and sugar until thick and pale yellow. Add whole eggs two at a time, beating well after each addition. The batter will take at least 15 minutes of beating in the mixer. Fold in flour. Whip egg whites and gently fold into the batter. Spread the batter onto the prepared pans and bake for about 7 to 10 minutes, until firm.
MAKE CRÈME ANGLAIS
½ cup milk
3 oz heavy cream
¼ cup sugar
4 egg yolks
Seeds from one vanilla bean
In a mixing bowl, combine egg yolks, sugar, and vanilla seeds. Bring milk and cream just to a boil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Remove one-quarter of mixture and mix well with egg mixture. Return to pot, beating slowly, and cook over low heat for two minutes. Cool immediately in ice bath and chill.
FOR THE BUTTERCREAM:
2 sticks unsalted butter, very soft
2 cups crème anglais (recipe above) or—if you’re lazy—melted, good-quality vanilla ice cream
½ cup AeroPress coffee concentrate (to taste)
Place butter in a stand mixer fitted with a whisk. While whisking, slowly add crème anglais and whisk until smooth. If buttercream does not come together to make a smooth frosting and separates into a watery mess, gently reheat the mixture and whisk again. Add AeroPress coffee concentrate to taste.
2 cups heavy cream
4 oz butter
12 oz chopped bittersweet chocolate
Heat the cream and butter until boiling. Pour the mixture over chopped chocolate and gently whisk until it’s smooth. Let cool and start to harden to spreadable consistency; if in a hurry, you can cool over ice.
MAKE COFFEE SYRUP
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 cup AeroPress coffee concentrate
Bring water and sugar to boil. Add coffee concentrate.
TO ASSEMBLE CAKE
You will need five sheets of cake cut to the same size. Cut the three sheets in half to get six half sheets (according to Zeph, it’s always good to have extra for patching). Place one sheet of cake on plate of some kind. (Alternately, you can use the back of another sheet pan.) Using a pastry brush, brush coffee syrup over cake. Apply 1/3 of the buttercream onto the brushed cake layer. Add another cake layer and brush with coffee syrup. Apply an even, thin layer of chocolate ganache. Add another cake layer and brush with syrup. Spread that with half the remaining buttercream. Add another cake layer and brush with coffee syrup. Add thin layer of ganache. Top with the last cake layer, brush with syrup, and finish with a smoothed layer of buttercream. Refrigerate. When well cooled, cut finished cake into 3” x 5” squares, trimming edges to get perfect slices. Zeph advises, one suspects, with the weariness of experience, “Try not to eat too many trimming scraps all at once.”
ITALIAN COFFEE CUSTARD
(Zeph’s adaptation from a Nick Malgieri recipe)
MAKE THE CARAMEL
½ cup sugar
½ tsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp water
Heat the sugar and lemon juice while stirring in a heavy bottomed saucepan until the mixture is deep caramel color. Quickly add water to stop browning. Pour into 1-½ qt Pyrex baking pan and tip to coat the bottom. Set aside.
MAKE THE CUSTARD
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk
1/3 cup sugar
8 whole eggs
Preheat oven to 300° F. Combine cream, milk, and sugar and bring to a boil. In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, mix eggs, rum, and coffee concentrate. Pour warmed cream mixture over egg mixture, combine, and pass through a strainer. Pour into prepared Pyrex pan. Fit Pyrex pan into a larger pan, and fill the exterior pan 2/3 full with boiling water. Bake for one hour, or until custard is set.
MEXICAN CHOCOLATE PUDDING
2 cups milk
2 tsp ground ancho pepper (Buy whole, dried ancho peppers. Slice each pepper in half, discard its stem and shake out seeds. Discard seeds. Grind dried chilis into a powder in a spice or coffee grinder.)
3 Tbsp sugar
1 cinnamon stick
2 Tbsp cocoa
2 Tbsp cornstarch
¼ tsp salt
3 Tbsp sugar
1 egg plus 2 yolks
¼ cup milk
6 oz bittersweet chocolate
2 Tbsp butter
½ cup AeroPress coffee concentrate
1 ½ tsp. ground ancho pepper (to taste)
¼ tsp cinnamon
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine milk, ancho chili powder, sugar, and cinnamon stick. Scald and set aside to infuse. In a food processor, process cocoa, cornstarch, and salt. While the processor is running, add sugar, egg, yolks, and milk. Remove the cinnamon stick from the hot milk infusion, and, while the processor is still running, add the infused milk in a stream. Return the mixture to the milk pot and whisk the mixture, over medium heat, until it is thick. Return the mixture to the food processor and, while pulsing, add chocolate, butter, coffee concentrate, additional ancho, and cinnamon to taste. Pour into ramekins, refrigerate, and serve topped with whipped cream. In the restaurant, the dish is served with a drizzle of cajeta, Mexican goat’s milk caramel. Zeph says, “It’s nice to have a cookie too. Puddings always need a bit of crunch.”
Julia Sexton is a Westchester-based food writer whose CRMA award-winning Eat.Drink.Post. blog appears at westchestermagazine.com.