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Growing Up Italian: Caffe’latte, a Big Bang Theory

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When one is born Italian, he/she is supposed to like coffee, wine and animal organs (in this order) as if it were part of the natural genetic patrimony. Caffelatte (Milk and coffee) is what I grew up having  for breakfast as a child.

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Caffettiera MOKA : coffee maker and espresso.

Coffeeee???!! Asks those I share the information with, now concerned for my extravagant childhood. Yes, as a child, I had a  dab of espresso in my morning milk- Plasmon Biscotti to go with it. That was the breakfast of champions. Every day, every morning. Never got tired of it.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, my Mom used to say. Actually the Caffelatte evolved into Cappuccino-more coffee, less milk- and then into straight shots of espresso with the progressing years. Now, in my late 40’s  it’s maturated into a pure coffee addiction.

If you think about it, you will find it as old news, since there is plenty of caffeine on many of the soft drinks available these days.

Caffelatte was also turned into a “Caffe’latte Theory” by the famous Physicist Stephen Hawking. To make us understand-in simple words- how the universe was formed and where we are going, Hawking reportedly said that in the beginning it was either Coffee OR Milk. Each a separate entity. Slowly the two merged, and in the end the Universe will be an enormous Caffe’latte…the more we try to keep the Coffee and the Milk separated, the more we increase the level of confusion in our lives because:  “We could take a glass of coffee and add some milk and watch is swirl. Eventually the milk and coffee become blended together to give that lighter brown liquid color. However, imagine trying to figure out how the end result happened by trying to rewind the entire process to the quantum level from a position of not ever seeing the milk being added to the coffee. Even if we could make the right predictions on the evidence, we could never fully understand how the entire process occurred right down to the quantum level. So yes, there is a certain amount of uncertainty, and there will always be since we aren’t going to actually go out in the field and test a Big Bang ourselves”

Among one of my fondest sensory recalls is the smell of fresh coffee made with a classic stove top Caffettiera Moka. It was what I would wake up to, in the morning. The golden rules of coffee making with the “Moka” machine are simple, not bendable, and when followed to the “T” will deliver you a great coffee.

  1. Never wash the stove top Caffettiera with soap and water. Just rinse it with water.
  2. Never press the coffee too much. Also the coffee should not be too fine.
  3. Don’t add too much water or too little.
  4. Listen to the coffee: when it’s about done, remove it from the heat and close the lid.

If you have ever used one of these devices, you sure know what I’m talking about.

My Zio Fabio should be very familiar with #3 since I clearly remember when one of our morning coffees ended up plastering the kitchen ceiling. The Caffettiera exploded because someone forgot to put water in the reservoir.  Great fun recalling the accident now, not so much back then.

Coffee is also the main ingredient of the first dessert I ever made.

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The little girl Encyclopedia. One of my first books.

Growing up Italian in the 60’s meant that a little girl was raised to be a perfect hostess, housewife, seamstress, nurse, chef….so yes, of course we needed an Encyclopedia!

The “Little girl Encyclopedia” taught us how to crochet, knit, dress for the season, make crafts…and of course…cooking!

I must have read the book (Encyclopedia) a million times, cover to cover.

Yes, I know how to crochet and knit, even if I don’t do it as often as I would like.

I like to dress in a fashion that is age appropriate and would make my mom proud.

As far as cooking goes, well…you know…that is the thing that stuck with me the most.

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Coffee smudges frozen in time: back to the 70s.

The book is still in existence, 40 years later. I found it in the attic after my mom’s passing and I brought back with me to America. It’s now part of the book collection of another little girl who is being raised Italian-American here in Eugene. A window on a childhood that used to be. The cover still marked by a zillion-dirty-fingerprints. The pages coming undone at the seam, and traces of food on recipe pages.

The one recipe that I made for 40 years still bears the traces of the coffee I spilled during one of my “performances” in the 70’s.

Oh, yes, should I mention that the “Encyclopedia” did not have any photographs, just sketches and drawings. Ohhh the NON-smart, mobile, google, techno days bliss!

Anyway, the very first dessert I made with the coffee frosting recipe was a Porcupine.

Yes, you heard me…a Porcupine. A domed yellow cake, smothered with the coffee buttercream on which my sister and I skillfully planted pinenuts  we collected from local Pine trees. To us, it was totally a Porcupine. Looking back, I don’t think I would find it as cosmetically appealing these days.

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Chocolate Jelly roll filled with Crema Moka
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Chocolate cake with Crema Moka Frosting and Filling
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Hazelnut roll filled with Moka Cream

The recipe is still  a go-to. Easy, quick and delicious. I use it to coat fancier cakes and cupcakes. I never mention the history behind it because it also brings back a lot of emotions.

It is comforting, though, to know that someone else appreciates my upbringing enough and wants to share it with a new generation of Italian girls, who also are growing up with the latest technology. Old and new can co-exist. Also, old can be newer than new.

To someone who has never seen a stove top Coffee Maker, and wonders why is not appropriate to wear shorts in December, I guess the “Encyclopedia” could look like some pre-historic document about a flamboyant childhood, a long time ago, when kids did not have a microwave and had to cook their own dinners, from scratch.

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The cover of the original 1970 Encyclopedia. More fingerprints than CSI could handle. Little dirty hands….

To me, it is a reminder that what I am today is the fruit of a seed that has been cultivated for almost half a century. A coffee bean seed, maybe?

Today I’m sharing with you what I believe is a great buttercream frosting. We call it CREMA MOKA in Italy, because the coffee used to make it is made in the Caffettiera stove top maker- aka Moka machine. I have used salted butter for a salted version of it (not the best), I have used powder coffee when the espresso was unavailable. It is extremely versatile and easy. So easy …a child can do it!

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THE original recipe. I made it better 🙂

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Rosa’s delicious frosting for Coffee lovers

Makes enough for 12 Cupcakes (very rich)

Ingredients

  • 10 Tbs of sugar
  • 200 gr Butter (about 2 sticks minus 2 Tbs) at room temperature-unsalted
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • a pinch of salt
  • 4 Tbs of ristretto espresso at room temperature

Directions:

In a small bowl whisk the egg yolks and a pinch of salt. Set aside.

Let the coffee cool.

In the bowl of a stand up mixer beat the butter to creamy, and add the sugar. Beat until the mix is light and fluffy and if you rub the mix between your fingers you don’t feel the sugar grains.It will take several minutes, up to 20 depending on the size of the mixer.

Add the egg yolks, mix and add the coffee one tablespoon at a time, slowly. It’s ok if the mix will curdle a little, keep going. Switch to a whisk attachment. if needed. In a few minutes it will all become soft and fluffy. Keep mixing on medium high speed.

Keep scraping the sides of the bowl if needed.

Frost your favorite cake and cupcake. It will harden as it sits in the refrigerator.
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Until next time, Enjoy and Mangia!

Special Thanks to my Friend Jackie Lazzaretti who is the safe keeper of my childhood book, and memories.

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