I don’t remember my first taste of coffee. I remember my first taste of tea – plastic mugs of weak PG Tips served at 4pm tea at school – part of what I now recognise to be a wartime rationing themed spread. Packet mashed potato was administered with potato scoops, and slices of spam were cut from the block using a bread knife. In the late-nineties there wasn’t the excuse of recent conflict to justify the menu. But I suppose some people just struggle to move on.
Needless to say there wasn’t any coffee on offer. It was probably a good thing, as the thought of wartime-themed coffee makes me think of Blackadder:
Blackadder: Now Baldrick, fix me some coffee, and make it taste slightly less like mud this time.
Baldrick: Not easy I’m afraid, Sir.
Blackadder: And why is this?
Baldrick: ’cause it is mud. We ran out of coffee 13 months ago.
Even if there was the option of coffee, I’m sure my young taste buds wouldn’t have chosen it ahead of tea anyway. The British palate is slow to embrace bitter flavours, like coffee, olives, chicory, artichoke cocoa, ales. Most people start warming to these flavours as they grow a little older, and inquisitive palates start to adapt and seek out new tastes and sensations.
So, in the face of weak tea, coffee retained a sense of the exotic. This was heightened by my father’s ritual surrounding the cafetiere – something he’d only reach for at the end of a dinner party. I’d watch him heap generous scoops of ground coffee in the bottom, fill it with boiling water. Then I’d be given the job of pushing down the plunger. Something which was always done with the upmost sincerity and sense of importance.
Scoot forward to my early-teens, and ‘posh coffee’ moved out of the end-of-dinner-party-scenario, into the high street. Friends was drawing to a close, and the sight of a Starbucks was becoming less of a novelty. American concoctions had reached our shores, with the likes of the double caramel cream frappuccino designed to wean teens precisely like me onto the hard stuff, and it worked.
Once I’d started to enjoy the taste of the coffee itself, I reined back on the sugar, cream and caramel to reach a more socially acceptable brew, and I’ve been an enthusiastic coffee drinker ever since.. Though, I hasten to add, have managed to skirt the trend for cold-press, locally-roasted, drip-brewed rhetoric which hit East London a few years ago. Nope, I’m pretty happy with a good instant coffee most of the time, a cafetiere for emergencies and a capsule coffee for treats.
Only yesterday, I read that 400,000,000,000 cups of coffee are consumed globally each year – it’s the most popular drink worldwide. There are the sweetened coffees in South East Asia, mixed with condensed milk and even egg yolks, and the famously strong, thick coffees of Turkey. Morocco has a fragrant coffee enriched with spices, while France’s cafe au lait traditionally comes with a side of warm, frothy milk.
Surely Italy has to have one of the most entrenched coffee cultures in the world though, not only because of the puritanical approach toward the espresso, but also because of the elegant use of coffee in cooking. Most famously, there’s the tiramisu, and the affogato. But espresso shots have been known to creep into anything from a zabaglione to a pannacotta.
This recipe sneaks the coffee in between two layers of semifreddo – a famously light, Italian dessert which has the texture of a frozen mousse. The coffee layer in the middle is the latest Haagen Dazs flavour, made from Brizilian coffee with cream, milk, eggs and sugar. An delicious centre, wedged between two elegant outer layers. Note, semifreddo isn’t as robust as ice cream, and this melted quite fast – so eat quickly, not that it should be a problem!
Chocolate semifreddo and coffee ice cream loaf
Serves 8-16 (dependent on how greedy your guests are, this is rich!)
125g caster sugar (+1tbsp sugar)
200ml double cream
2/3 tub of Haagen Daz coffee ice cream
100g dark chocolate (70%)
Garnish: double cream, Maltesers
1 litre loaf tin
- Separate two of the eggs, and tip the yolks into a spotless metal mixing bowl. Now add the remaining two eggs, and then the caster sugar.
- Cook over a bain-marie. To do this, pour some water into the bottom of a pan – so it’s around one fifth full. Heat it to a rolling simmer, and then put the mixing bowl containing the eggs and sugar on top. Make sure it’s suspended above the simmering water rather than touching it, otherwise the eggs will cook too fast, and may scramble.
- Stir the eggs and sugar continuously as they cook. It’s not a bad idea here to call on an electric whisk if you have one, otherwise good old elbow grease will do. After five minutes of whisking over the heat, the eggs and sugar should have at least doubled in size (if not tripled) and turned into a thick, pale sauce.
- Plunge the bowl into a sink of cold water, and whisk for another five minutes, until the thick custard has chilled.
- Whip the two remaining egg whites, and ‘feed’ it with the remaining tablespoon of caster sugar. Next, use a spatula to fold it into the custard mixture.
- Finally, whip the double cream, and fold that into the mixture.
- Use a knob of butter to lightly grease the loaf tin (I find that it helps the clingfilm stick), and then line it with clingfilm, making sure there’s plenty hanging over the edge. Spoon half of the mixture into the bottom of the tin, and freeze.
- Meanwhile, put the remaining half of the mixture in the fridge, and take the coffee Haagen Daz out of the freezer. After half an hour, the semifreddo should be chilled enough to have a semi-solid lid, and the coffee ice cream should be soft enough to beat 2/3 tub into a roughly-spreadable ice cream. (Did you know that the optimum serving temperature for Haagen Daz is 12 minutes out of the freezer?!) Carefully spoon it over the bottom layer in the loaf tin, and use a palette knife to gently spread it flat, then return to the freezer.
- After another half hour in the freezer, melt the chocolate in the microwave. Use large, gentle, lifting motions with a handwhisk to help revitalise the semifreddo mixture, and gently incorporate the chocolate. Tip it over the Haagen Daz coffee ice cream layer to create what will be the base. Return to the freezer.
- When it comes to serving the semifreddo, plunge the loaf tin into a sink of warm water for a 5 seconds. Gently tug at the clingfilm, and lift the semifreddo block out of the tin.
[Optional extra step: whip some of the remaining cream, and pipe a line of small blobs along the top, and then top each with a Malteser.]