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It's National Espresso Day -- how are you celebrating? I'm a big fan of espresso -- it's hard not to be when you grow up in an Italian family. Espresso was our traditional after dinner drink. There's no better way to extract the smooth, sweet, dark flavors of coffee. But as much as I love drinking espresso, I also love what the concentrated coffee beverage does when you combine it with other ingredients -- especially dessert. Who doesn't adore tiramisu, with its espresso-soaked ladyfingers and sweet, smooth cream? It's purely decadent -- and incredibly calorific. Since I constantly struggle with my weight -- and the weight usually wins -- tiramisu is not something I can enjoy often. If you're looking for a deliciously decadent espresso dessert that doesn't carry the calorie load of tiramisu -- though it's not low calorie by any means -- you might try this espresso velvet parfait recipe that I developed for a National Espresso Day celebration dinner a few years ago.
It combines squares of concentrated, melt-in-your-mouth espresso gelatin with airy poofs of whipped coffee that come as close as you can to the sensation of velvety crema without making an actual cup of espresso -- and it's cold! Top it with whipped cream for a cappucino-style parfait. I give instructions for making coffee with a colador because I really like the way the sweetness infuses the coffee when it's brewed together in the pan, but you can use coffee made any way that you want, and play with the amount of sugar to make it to your taste. Also, I made it in pans and cut it into squares, but you can make a pretty, showy parfait by layering the coffee gelatin and "crema" directly in parfait glasses and letting them jell that way. Either way, it's deliciously pretty and simply coffee-licious.
1 cup coffee, cooled
1 cup coffee, hot
1 package unflavored gelatin
2 tablespoons sugar
1 pint whipping cream
coffee colador (strainer)
8x8 baking pan
I like to make my coffee for this with a colador -- a Puerto Rican coffee sock -- but you can use coffee made however you like it the best. To make it my way:
Bring 1 1/4 cups of spring water to just under a boil in a non-reactive saucepan. Add 1/4 cup finely ground coffee and stir continuously for about 3-5 minutes. Keep the water at a simmer -- if it starts to boil, remove it from the fire and continue stirring. Strain the coffee through a colador and set it aside to chill.
Pour the cooled coffee into a bowl and sprinkle one package of unflavored gelatin over the top to soften. I use Knox gelatin, but there are others available in your supermarket aisle.
While it's softening, make another cup of coffee as above, stirring in 2 tablespoons of sugar while the coffee is brewing. Strain the mixture through a colador. and add the hot coffee to the cooled coffee and gelatin.
Stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved. Pour half of the coffee gelatin mixture into a flat pan (an 8x8 square baking pan works fine, but feel free to improvise) and put it into the fridge to set.
Pour the remaining coffee gelatin into the blender or a mixer bowl and whip until it's a light, frothy foam. Spoon the foam into a second pan, or carefully spoon it over the partially set gelatin in the first pan. Put it in the refrigerator, and allow it to chill for at least 4 hours.
Just before serving, cut the gelatin into 1/2" squares with a warmed knife and pile the squares of espresso and "crema" in dessert glasses. Top with freshly whipped whipping cream, flavored with sugar and coffee to taste.
That's it. It sounds complicated, but it's really amazingly simple to make. It will take you all of 10-15 minutes to get the gelatin to the refrigerator, and another five to arrange prettily in glasses. And do use pretty, transparent glasses -- the shimmering blocks of coffee are as delicious to look at as they are to eat.
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