Hot from your espresso machine
During a lunch break few months ago (this all went down in November, but I am just typing it up now) I managed to fix the leaky espresso machine that a labmate had brought in. Afterward, I started thinking more about coffee and espresso. This naturally lead to thinking about pressure extraction of other items as well. The first things that came to mind were other typical beverages; cocoa seemed like it might be interesting, tea seemed like it would be lousy and bitter (and after googling around, it seems that decent tea from an espresso machine seems to be a holy grail of sorts; it usually sucks. There’s one commercial tea called “red espresso” that’s rooibis based, so that doesn’t even really count.), some herbal infusions might be interesting. Then I tried to focus a bit.
Coffee beans get some of their flavors from oils and some from other dissolved solids. I was curious about other ground things that had similar properties. Cocoa powder again came up, but it’s too fine. It would just turn to sludge and compact without letting much of any liquid through. I needed something with larger particles that would give some structure to the stuff as the water is forced through it, like coffee does.
Having also been interested in almond cookies like financiers at the time, I had a sack of almond flour around. I realized it might fit the bill, since it is oily but also has water soluble flavors, and it also seemed like it might not pack so densely when pressurized that the water would have trouble passing through. Also, most importantly, it seemed like it could be good. I’m fond of almond milk, especially when it isn’t garishly sweetened, and this method seemed promising for extracting the good stuff.
Later at the office I fired up the espresso machine, double checked that none of my labmates had nut allergies, lightly packed the portafilter basket with almond flour, and pulled a shot. The first few drops of creamy, pale almond milk dripped out, then the flow stopped though the pump was still churning. The filter clogged. It turns out that the almonds get too soft when the hot water is pumped through them, so the channels for the water to pass through were quickly sealed up. The drips of almond milk that did pass through were something fantastic, though. It was the creamiest, most richly flavored almond milk I’ve ever had. Bad yield, but good stuff. Also, the flour in the portafilter was now a compact, moist puck of almond paste. I tired that too, and it was not bad. If the moist Manischewitz macaroons that come in a can can be called a cookie, then I feel justified in calling my puck a cookie.
So we have cookies and milk. I like it.
Later I pondered tweaks to the almond that would prevent clogging. Either I had to keep the almond from compacting somehow, or I had to add something to keep channels open despite the almond compacting. I opted for the second route, since I was using pre-ground almond flour (Bob’s Red Mill) and couldn’t control the coarseness of the almond, etc. Long firm bits of something would help create channels for the water to pass through while still capturing flavor. I wanted the addition to contribute flavor as well as being functional. Fresh shredded coconut came to mind. Both coconut milk and coconut oil have full, nuanced flavor, and the shape of the shredded pieces seemed about the right size for creating channels in the almond.
I picked up some coconut and gave it a go. I added maybe a half teaspoon of coconut to the basket along with the almond flour, making sure they were mixed together well. While pulling the shot, the milk streamed much more smoothly. It had a layer of creamy foam on top, which swirled as the cup filled and added a nice visual touch.
Eventually the filter did clog, but I was nearly done pulling the shot anyway. This milk wasn’t as creamy as the few dribbles of pure almond, but I suspect that’s simply because more water passed through this one. The coconut flavor melded nicely with the almond, and there was a slight hint of rosewater. the body was great: full, in no way watery like most commercial almond milk, but not oily or overly rich. The almond-coconut cookie I knocked out of the filter was much more flavorful than the pure almond, as well as having a firmer texture. It was a bit like a moist macaroon. I suppose both coconut and almond can be used in a macaroon, so it makes some sense.
The milk and cookie pairing was gone nearly as quickly as it arrived. I didn’t even have time to dunk. There’s a lot of room for growth here, mainly in the cookie’s texture. The flavor is great, but I’m not accustomed to enjoying this level of moistness in a cookie.
Things to try in the future:
-coarser almond flour for better channeling. Since mine is pre-ground, I’ll have to grind my own if I want coarser, and that’s a whole new bag of worms. Toasted almond flour might hold up better, so maybe I’ll try that first.
-focus on improving the cookie’s texture without diminishing the quality of the milk. Maybe finish the cookies in the oven to firm them up and enhance the flavor. Unfortunately this will let the milk get cold, but I usually take my hot cookies with cold milk anyway. There is still something to the near-instantaneous materialization of cookie and milk when the milk is pulled and the cookie puck is popped onto the table. I don’t want to lose that. Maybe finish the cookie with a flame?
-a small amount of bitter almonds added to enrich the flavor (the heat will boil off the hydrocyanic acid that makes them poisonous)
-espresso machine financiers: add a bit of powdered sugar and some brown butter solids