Tag Archives: espresso

Strange Brew at Mercury Espresso Bar

6 Dec

For Neil and I, a cup of coffee is never just a cup of coffee. Sure, there’s utilitarian coffee-chain brew for mornings when you desperately need a jolt or a quick fix to satiate your caffeine addiction, but you pretty much know what you’re going to get; flavorless, too strong and bitter, or too weak and watery muck.

Call it coffee snobbery if you will, but if there’s any time to be picky, for us anyway, it’s with our favorite vice. We covet a truly great brew where you can taste the nuances in the beans and the layers of flavor.

We do have a drip coffee maker at home, but in the last year or so we’ve really been digging our French press and other methods like the classic Italian stovetop pot. We’re also always on the hunt for great beans and we usually grind them fresh and like to buy small batches of locally roasted ones (our current fave is Ideal Coffee’s Prince of Darkness).

We have a bunch of favorite coffee shops around Toronto, with Broadview Espresso and Mercury Espresso Bar (both conveniently in the east end) topping the list. When I saw that Mercury was offering up two completely new (to me anyway) and seemingly strange ways of brewing coffee, I knew a little taste test experiment was in order.

The staff at Mercury are more than just a bunch of hipsters jumping on the indie coffee shop train. They all seem to be really enthusiastic about coffee and very knowledgeable about various methods and beans. And they were all too happy to show us the ropes with their two unique methods of brewing coffee: The siphon and the chemex.

It was suggested that we try both methods with the same Indonesian beans so we could really taste the difference between each cup.

We started with the siphon, which brought back memories of science class and Bunsen burners.

The bottom glass bulb is filled with water and heated with a butane flame. The water boils and shoots up into the top chamber where the grinds sit, separated by a filter. The water and grinds mix, you put out the flame and freshly brewed coffee falls back into the bottom chamber.

The siphon promises a “very clean, delicate and crisp” brew, which is right on the money. The coffee was really more like tea – not watered down, just light and clean, and surprisingly sweet. Neil felt that his needed a touch of cream and sugar to round out the taste, but I drank mine black and really loved the interesting tea-like consistency.

Next came the chemex, which is somewhat reminiscent of a wine carafe and requires an exact, timed preparation.

It takes a large paper filter that’s folded over three times to form a cone that sits in the beaker. You need to wet the filter with hot water to remove any paper taste and to seal it in. It takes a coarser grind than the siphon, and the grinds sit right in the cone. You pour just a little boiled water onto the grinds to wet them, and then wait 30 seconds to let the grinds ‘bloom’ (I love that descriptive; the grinds really do puff up and bloom as they take in the water). Then, the rest of the water should be poured in very slowly and steadily over three and a half minutes.

This is serious business at Mercury; a timer was used and the chemex was never left unattended as the water was poured ever so carefully in equal amounts. Once all the water goes through, you let the coffee sit to allow for every last drop to come through.

The coffee produced by the chemex was delicious and, amazingly, so different than the siphon. It had a much more syrupy consistency – a lot darker like espresso, though not heavy. It produced a flavor that was intense but still very clean. It was strong but not overpowering and it tasted richer and spicier than the siphon brew.

Darker chemex brew in background & lighter siphon brew in foreground

It was amazing to taste two completely different flavor profiles from the same beans. The siphon brought out the honey, citrusy notes of the beans and the chemex brought out spicier ones.  Neil drank his black with a touch of sugar (like he would espresso) and I drank mine black at first and then added some milk near the end and enjoyed it both ways.

This may seem like a whole lot of hoopla for a simple cup of coffee, but it was totally worth it. We really did experience different flavors and consistencies through the different methods and found an appreciation for both.

You can try out one or both of these methods at Mercury after 2 p.m. (the busier hours are reserved for the more common lattes and americanos), and the food nerd in me highly recommends trying both out for a fun and really cool taste experience.

Thanks to the weekend staff at Mercury for walking us through each process with a ton of enthusiasm and passion!

Perfect Tiramisu, Part 2: The quest for perfection at home

6 Nov

After Chris Pengelly from The Milford Bistro generously gave me the secret to the bistro’s perfect “Swedish Tiramisu”, I had to try making it myself.

Understandably, he didn’t give me the actual recipe, but he did share the most important ingredient: Madeira wine. It’s a fortified Portuguese wine from the islands of Madeira and the bistro uses it as a replacement for the more typical Marsala wine found in most classic tiramisu recipes.

I searched a ton of tiramisu recipes online and decided to use this one from Gourmet magazine 2003 as a base, and modify it as I went.

Let me start off by saying that this seemingly easy dessert is actually quite the process. It’s not a complicated process, but a process nonetheless. I think I used every clean bowl in my cupboard to make this one dessert. And it took me about an hour to actually make from start to finish (though I was stopping to take photos along the way).

Here are the ingredients for my modified recipe:

3 large eggs, separated

Sugar, divided into ½ cup and ¼ cup measurements (* I didn’t fill my measuring cups up the whole way, I just didn’t want to use as much sugar as the recipe called for so I eyeballed a little less.)

1 (8-oz) container mascarpone cheese or 1 scant cup (* I have a confession to make here. I screwed this up. The mascarpone I bought listed the amount in grams and I didn’t bother to do the conversion or measure it out in a measuring cup. I bought the large container of mascarpone (475 g, or what I later discovered to be 16 ounces) which turned out to be double the amount that the recipe called for. Believing that tiramisu needed to have a good amount of mascarpone, I threw in the entire container. This definitely screwed up the recipe but read on to see my assessment of the final dessert and the texture/taste.)

1/2 cup chilled heavy cream

1 cup very strong brewed espresso, cooled to room temperature (Strong espresso is essential for the full coffee flavor. I made mine in the French press.)

1 cup Madeira wine (* The original recipe called for 2 cups of espresso and just 2 tablespoons of booze. That was NOT going to do for my taste, so I decided to go with half the amount of espresso and an equal amount of Madeira.)

4 Packages of Lady Fingers (I used Milano brand Giant Lady Fingers.)

Unsweetened cocoa powder for dusting

And here’s how you do it (instruction from Gourmet’s recipe, with my additional thoughts in brackets):

Beat together yolks and 1/2 cup sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until thick and pale, about 2 minutes.

Beat in mascarpone until just combined.

Beat whites with a pinch of salt in another bowl with cleaned beaters until they just hold soft peaks. Add remaining 1/4 cup sugar a little at a time, beating, then continue to beat whites until they just hold stiff peaks.

Beat cream in another bowl with cleaned beaters until it just holds soft peaks.

all three mixtures before folding them into each other

Fold cream into mascarpone mixture gently but thoroughly, then fold in whites.

final consistency of the mascarpone cream

Stir together coffee and Madeira in a shallow bowl. Dip 1 ladyfinger in coffee mixture, and transfer to a glass baking dish.

(** Ok, this is where I will have to modify the recipe again next time I make it. The original recipe said to soak the ladyfingers for about 4 seconds on each side, which I started to do but they seemed too dry. But then when I soaked them for longer, they started to fall apart and I thought that would ruin the dessert. Next time, I’m going to soak them for as long as I can before they completely fall apart and I might even try pouring some of the coffee mixture on top of the ladyfingers once they’re placed in the dish. They were not ‘wet’ enough for our liking. Using this amount of liquid and soaking the ladyfingers for approx 5 seconds a side resulted in more of a cakey consistency, so if you’re into that, then keep it as is. Next time, I’ll keep extra espresso on hand and try doubling the liquid to 2 cups espresso, 2 cups Madeira.)

Repeat with more ladyfingers and arrange in bottom of dish, trimming as needed to fit snugly. (*I layered some of them so that they were slightly overlapping in some places.)

Spread half of mascarpone mixture evenly over ladyfingers. Make another layer in same manner with remaining ladyfingers and mascarpone mixture.

Cover with plastic wrap and chill tiramisu at least 6 hours in the fridge. (I made mine 24 hours in advance of serving it and it worked out great.)

Just before serving, sprinkle with cocoa powder.

My final assessment:

Let me start by saying that this, my very first attempt at tiramisu, paled in comparison to The Milford Bistro’s. I have a long way to go and many versions to try. But, I do think this recipe is a good start.

We invited friends for dinner and had everyone at the table give their constructive feedback.

We all felt that the flavors were very much there. One bite and you could definitely taste the strong flavor of espresso, the richness of the mascarpone (especially since I used too much! Oops!), and the booziness and special flavor of the Madeira. It tasted like a good tiramisu.

But, texture-wise, Neil and I both felt that it was a bit too cake-ey (not dry by any means but just not ‘wet’ enough). We wanted more saturation in the cookies. We also felt that we wanted it to be boozier, though our guests thought it was boozy enough. We tend to be extremists though, so maybe it’s just us.

Also, the mascarpone cream was too cheesy, which made for a very heavy dessert. At the time I tasted it, I still hadn’t realized my mistake and thought that next time I would just use less mascarpone. Well yes, next time I will follow the recipe better and definitely use less than I did (since I doubled it by mistake), though I might actually use a bit more than what’s called for (maybe a scant cup plus a few more tablespoons). We thought the texture was too thick and heavy and needed to be silkier. Less cheese will definitely help that.

And, as I mentioned above, I think next time I’ll try soaking the ladyfingers and then pouring some extra liquid right on top after they’re layered in the dish so they really soak it in. This would mean probably doubling the liquid measurements. As it was, I nearly ran out of the liquid I had.

At the end of the day, if I wasn’t trying so hard to analyze this recipe, it was delicious and a great ending to a meal with friends. It also kept well in the fridge for a few days, and the flavors seemed to have intensified over time.

I will definitely keep trying to perfect this recipe with the hopes of one day living up to the dessert that inspired this crazy tiramisu extravaganza in the first place.

If anyone out there has any suggestions, techniques or awesome alternative recipes for tiramisu that they’d like to share, please do! This process has already been sort of a ‘pay it forward’ kind of deal, thanks again to Chris at the Milford Bistro.

**** UPDATE **** Since writing this post, I’ve gotten a tip from Toronto food personality and writer Christine Picheca who told me that I used the wrong cookies! She said you have to use savoiardi biscuits which are much more porous than lady fingers so a light dip on each side (as the original recipe from Gourmet called for) would probably do the trick to get the consistency and texture that I like. Thank you Christine! I will definitely change cookies for my next attempt at creating the perfect tiramisu.

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