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This all started with some coffee, some leftover ingredients, and shear boredom. It culminated into a new tradition -- one which I hope to pass on to guests, to friends, and of course, to family.
Many of my more consistent readers and compatriots already know both my passions for fine specialty coffees as well as my love of cuisine and the culinary arts. It is my desire that -- through this article -- you might also become acquainted with how I have melded the two together and ended with a "New Tradition."
Alongside my love for cooking and coffee I also indulge in -- and perhaps to too great a degree -- a love for chocolate. These three passions lead me to a new after-dinner treat; one that pleases the senses as well as sharpens the home chef's culinary skills. And this is exactly what I look for in new foods: something simple and yet challenging; something that, when shared with others, makes for a wonderful experience for the chef as well as the guests.
Simply, it is a light chocolate and egg white cake dipped into strong Italian coffee, or "espresso."
The two tastes compliment each other as they combine the simplicity of the two to make a simplicity of one. One act that can only be had from two distinctive parts. There is much joy found at the end of a wonderful meal, where an individual can sit and relax, and partake of two of the most common after-meal traditions: coffee and dessert.
And, like all traditions, it has the leeway to evolve into more, if you so desire. Traditions tend to have a greater significance when coupled with particular events. For my household, this new tradition is perfect for those times when close, personal friends are over. Because they know how much I love coffee and I enjoy baking. They share in not only the goodness in taste, but the significance to the host. It doesn't need to stop there. As it is a very easy tradition to learn, it becomes all that much easier to pass it along to the guest. Imparting them with the Tradition, for them to take to their homes and for their own personal enjoyment. And, hopefully, that they might pass their version along to others.
The Recipe. To start, we need coffee. While I could wax poetically about the proper brew, grind, and tamp I need only reinforce that one can not truly live this experience without a good coffee. Does this mean that you must go out and buy a new home espresso/cappuccino machine? No. Can you get by with a wonderfully strong pot of drip/pour-over coffee? I wouldn't suggest it. Instead, I stress the importance of Italian style coffee. And here's how:
The Moka pot. Found in the kitchens of Italians, adorning the stove-top, is a pot. The machine for coffee. This simple pot implores a bottom vessel for holding water, a fluted filter for holding coffee, and a top portion with a built-in screen that screws onto the bottom vessel. Add coffee, add water, apply heat, and in a few moments, you have made home-style Italian coffee. It works on the principle of energy expansion and mass transport. The water, as it is heated in the bottom vessel, expands into gas. The gas pushes the heated water up the flute and into the bed of coffee. It too expands and brews, as it is continually forced upward into the upper chamber. And while it is not truly espresso, it is a great way to make a richly aromatic and robust brew. Dark roasted coffees and blends for espresso lend themselves well to this device. They are readily available at both specialty retailers and on the WWW. Look for names such as Bialetti and Mr. Moka. Or simply do a web search for the key words: moka, pot, stove-top, espresso.
I particularly enjoy the coffee from a moka pot because it seems to make some many different blends of coffees always end up very rich and aromatic. And because it uses a larger volume of water for brewing, your demitasse is somewhat larger than shot on shot of true espresso.
The Cake. Once you have conquered the strong, Italian home-style coffee, let's turn to the cake. This is a variation between a sponge cake, a torte', and a brownie. I call it "Rotondo Luce Torta di Cioccolata." Or, "Round, Light Cake of Chocolate." Its simplicity is paralleled only by the dessert itself. See the end of this article for the recipe and instructions on how to make it properly.
Finally, the presentation. The presentation is key to this new-found tradition. Each person is served a thin slice of the warm cake with his or her shot cup of coffee. They are then allowed to indulge in dunking the cake into the coffee. This is the final step to insure a proper exposure to the treat. Alone, the cake is dry and airy. The coffee rich and strong. Together, they are sweet and moist, yet bold and robust. Hence, a compliment and balance of tastes, textures, and flavours.
While this tradition lends itself well to follow a hearty meal on cooler days, I would argue that it would be acceptable if not appreciated on any day, after dinner or supper, or as a late dessert served with a heavy and sweet liquor.
Rotondo Luce Torta di Cioccolata
From my family to yours...
4 egg whites
2 tablespoons powdered sugar, sifted
4 tablespoons baking flour, sifted
2 tablespoons unsalted butter (do not use margarine)
2 ounces unsweetened dark baking chocolate, finely chopped
1/3 cup granulated white sugar
Step 1. In a glass or stainless steel mixing bowl, whisk or beat on high with a mixer the 4 egg whites until it stiffens. While continuing to beat, gently add the powdered sugar a little at a time until thoroughly incorporated and the whites form stiff peaks. This is the beginning of a simple meringue.
Next, gently fold in the flour, one tablespoon at a time. Take care not to break down the whites.
Set aside and chill for five minutes.
Step 2. While the meringue is cooling, prepare the chocolate sauce.
In a heavy-bottomed sauce pan, over a low flame, melt the butter, chocolate, and sugar together until thoroughly melted. Stir rapidly off heat to cool.
Step 3. Prepare a shallow cake pan. Lightly cover the bottom and sides with a non-stick cooking spray. Gently dust with flour or unsweetened baker's cocoa.
Step 4. Remove the meringue and, while folding with even strokes, add the sauce quickly but gently. Incorporate fully but leaving small, lighter streaks within. Immediately fill the prepared pan.
Step 5. Cook in a pre-heated oven, at 325 degrees F, for 25 - 35 minutes. Test regularly for doneness with a toothpick or cake needle. Cake is finished when it begins to pull from the sides of the pan or when needle runs clean.