Last week I was invited to a somewhat unusual PR event. Unusual because it was a very small event, with just three bloggers in attendance, and particularly unusual for me because it was all about coffee and ice cream rather than chocolate.
The nice people from Philips wanted to show off their Gaggia coffee and ice cream makers, so I went along to La Cucina Caldesi to find out more. Nobody should ever turn down an invitation with “ice cream” in the title.
You might think that ice cream and coffee have little to do with chocolate, and apart from the fact that they all go together quite well, you’d be right. But I’m really interested in the whole coffee making process, because there parallels with chocolate at almost every stage.
I’m a complete novice, though. Chloe, my Faeritale Foodie friend has been educating me and helping me explore London’s coffee scene lately, but I still know very little.
Coffee is grown in similar parts of the world to cacao and in some regions, the two are grown together. I’ve spoken to chocolate makers who believe that growing coffee in close proximity to cacao, can impart a coffee flavour into the chocolate, so it was interesting to hear Paul say that coffee is similarly sensitive to soil conditions (something which made me wonder if the coffee also tastes of chocolate!)
Coffee beans are found inside cherries, in a similar way to how cacao beans are formed inside a pod. In both cases, the raw beans aren’t very appetising and require a significant amount of processing before becoming a recognisable product that you’d buy in the shops. Both cacao and coffee beans are dried, roasted and ground, with every stage of the process having a significant effect on the final flavour.
Of course, it’s much easier to grind coffee beans at home than it is to make chocolate from the bean, and Paul demonstrated how simple the Gaggia coffee grinder was to use. What struck me was how much of an impact the size of the grounds had on the flavour of the coffee.
A coarse ground coffee had lots of gaps between the particles, allowing the water to flow through quickly. Setting the grinder to a finer setting meant the water flowed through more slowly and picked up more flavour from the coffee.
Of course, all I really wanted to do was to replace the coffee with cacao beans, but luckily for the Gaggia folk, I didn’t have any to hand. Next time…
After the coffee, it was time to move on to ice cream! The room was full of awesome looking ice cream makers, and food writer and all-round kitchen goddess Jo Pratt was on hand to demonstrate how easy it was to make ice cream.
Jo showed us how to make a simple but utterly delicious caramel ice cream from scratch. Even with making a custard from scratch, adding cream and making a caramel, it only took a matter of minutes to prepare. It’s then just a case of throwing it into the ice cream maker and setting the timer. Less than half an hour later, you have amazing ice cream! Just enough time to make some delicious toasted cinnamon pecans to go with it.
But for me (not being much of a cook), the best part was that you can make ice cream using any shop-bought custard and cream. Just throw them into the ice cream maker, and add whatever flavours you like!
After Jo’s demonstration, we had the opportunity to have a go ourselves. The range of flavours we had was a bit limited, but luckily there was plenty of chocolate. I used some Monin chocolate syrup, Grand Marnier, roughly broken milk chocolate and some Jo’s toasted cinnamon pecans which I stole while she wasn’t looking.
It’s the kind of thing you can make without even thinking about it. The machine freezes the mixture while keeping it moving and makes it almost dangerously easy to make ice cream at the drop of a hat. But if you do have a little extra time, you can make something very special indeed. Between us, we made about six different ice creams, and they were all excellent.
Gaggia have generously offered to lend us one of the ice cream makers to experiment with, and I’m really looking forward to trying out some chocolatey flavour combinations, so expect to see lots of recipes very soon! I can already sense an ice-cream-maker-sized hole appearing in my bank account.
Our evening was rounded off with Paul demonstrating coffee cocktails and latte art while the rest of us ate and drank ourselves into a caffeine and sugar coma. I seem to be experiencing a lot of those lately.