Biscuits with Bartok 7 – Breton Prune Far (again)

Apologies for those that may have recently received this post, as Stefan’s Gourmet Blog recently recounted, I too have had problems with this specific post showing up in the Reader, though it has gone out to Facebook and Twitter. Please bear with me while I make a test of this as a scheduled post.  I know tag no’s are not the problem, and suspect it is a random issue with the platform! Thanks for your patience.

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As an appropriate welcome to the French horn to accompany the string section this week, I introduce the Breton Prune Far.  This delicious custardy pudding cake, similar to a clafoutis but with a dense, smooth, flan-like texture is best eaten cold. The recipe is a very quick and easy way to indulge in a refined ‘cake’ incorporating this most delicious of dried fruit. In fact, the French horn is really just an excuse to post about the Far, which I actually made for the musicians several weeks ago – and it is now Mozart, with cake.  I really need to change the title….

I know there are many prune dissenters out there, but I will not have a bad word said about my number 1 dried fruit. I eat it as a snack while out fishing or hill walking, add it to my breakfast muesli, or have gently stewed prunes for breakfast or as a treat with home made vanilla ice cream. So many people still recoil in horror at the thought of eating prunes. So bad is this stigma that in California, one of the key areas of production, they are alternatively called dried plums, which of course they are, but this is used to dispel the nursery food associations.

The extent of the animosity and occasional revulsion directed at the poor maligned prune seems surprisingly unjustified. I too have been scarred by the affront to prunes – embedded in lumpy, thick-skinned luminescent school custard. However, it seems a travesty not to savour the prune, resplendent in the savoury richness of aromatic lamb tagines and delicious with slow cooked braised pork belly.  Not forgetting the delights of prunes in the darkest of dark chocolate cakes, the fruit first being soaked overnight in amaretto or rum, plump and ready to bring an extra special dimension and indulgence to the cake.

Musical interlude: Mastertapes – Wilko Johnson

I’m writing this while listening to the great Wilko Johnson on Radio 4.  The new series of Mastertapes starts with tales from this great Canvey Island guitar hero. Wilko is naturally witty, warm and straight-talking and is discussing the first Dr Feelgood album, 1974’s classic ‘Down by the Jetty’, as well as his terminal illness and current musical projects. It is highly entertaining, although slightly distracting!

This is a great concept for a music series where John Wilson talks to leading performers and songwriters about the album that made them or changed them. It is recorded live and comes in 2 parts, an A-side where the performer is quizzed by interviewer John Wilson then a second programme, the B-side where the audience get to ask questions.  I recommend catching up with it online if you miss out on this first episode.

Prune cakes 007

Breton Prune Far

It may be very simple to make, but it is delicious and has a sophisticated, grown-up flavour ‘far’ removed from the nursery or indeed nursing home image the prune conjures up for many and is a patisserie cake in Brittany and Normandy.

I found this particular recipe in Annie Bell’s Baking Bible.  It is the last one in the book. I changed the rum in the original recipe for amaretto. The Far was particularly good with a strong high quality espresso, in this case, a single origin Columbian Bucaramanga which is full flavoured and complex.

Prune cakes 034

Ingredients

50g unsalted butter, melted

125g golden caster sugar

2 medium eggs

500ml whole milk

1 tbsp. amaretto

1 tsp vanilla extract

125g plain flour

125g ready soaked prunes

Preheat fan oven to 180C

Method

  • Brush a 23cm square cake tin (4cm deep) with butter and dust with caster sugar.
  • Blitz all the ingredients except the prunes in a liquidiser.
  • Pour the batter into the tin and scatter the prunes evenly over the surface. Bake for 35-40 minutes until golden.
  • Let it cool – it will sink slightly. Dust with icing sugar and cut into squares.

Prune cakes 023Prune cakes 039

Biscuits with Bartok 7 – Breton Prune Far

As an appropriate welcome to the French horn to accompany the string section this week, I introduce the Breton Prune Far.  This delicious custardy pudding cake, similar to a clafoutis but with a dense, smooth, flan-like texture is best eaten cold. The recipe is a very quick and easy way to indulge in a refined ‘cake’ incorporating this most delicious of dried fruit. In fact, the French horn is really just an excuse to post about the Far, which I actually made for the musicians several weeks ago – and it is now Mozart, with cake.  I really need to change the title….

I know there are many prune dissenters out there, but I will not have a bad word said about my number 1 dried fruit. I eat it as a snack while out fishing or hill walking, add it to my breakfast muesli, or have gently stewed prunes for breakfast or as a treat with home made vanilla ice cream. So many people still recoil in horror at the thought of eating prunes. So bad is this stigma that in California, one of the key areas of production, they are alternatively called dried plums, which of course they are, but this is used to dispel the nursery food associations.

The extent of the animosity and occasional revulsion directed at the poor maligned prune seems surprisingly unjustified. I too have been scarred by the affront to prunes – embedded in lumpy, thick-skinned luminescent school custard. However, it seems a travesty not to savour the prune, resplendent in the savoury richness of aromatic lamb tagines and delicious with slow cooked braised pork belly.  Not forgetting the delights of prunes in the darkest of dark chocolate cakes, the fruit first being soaked overnight in amaretto or rum, plump and ready to bring an extra special dimension and indulgence to the cake.

Musical interlude: Mastertapes – Wilko Johnson

I’m writing this while listening to the great Wilko Johnson on Radio 4.  The new series of Mastertapes starts with tales from this great Canvey Island guitar hero. Wilko is naturally witty, warm and straight-talking and is discussing the first Dr Feelgood album, 1974’s classic ‘Down by the Jetty’, as well as his terminal illness and current musical projects. It is highly entertaining, although slightly distracting!

This is a great concept for a music series where John Wilson talks to leading performers and songwriters about the album that made them or changed them. It is recorded live and comes in 2 parts, an A-side where the performer is quizzed by interviewer John Wilson then a second programme, the B-side where the audience get to ask questions.  I recommend catching up with it online if you miss out on this first episode.

Prune cakes 007

Breton Prune Far

It may be very simple to make, but it is delicious and has a sophisticated, grown-up flavour ‘far’ removed from the nursery or indeed nursing home image the prune conjures up for many and is a patisserie cake in Brittany and Normandy.

I found this particular recipe in Annie Bell’s Baking Bible.  It is the last one in the book. I changed the rum in the original recipe for amaretto. The Far was particularly good with a strong high quality espresso, in this case, a single origin Columbian Bucaramanga which is full flavoured and complex.

Prune cakes 034

Ingredients

50g unsalted butter, melted

125g golden caster sugar

2 medium eggs

500ml whole milk

1 tbsp. amaretto

1 tsp vanilla extract

125g plain flour

125g ready soaked prunes

Preheat fan oven to 180C

Method

  • Brush a 23cm square cake tin (4cm deep) with butter and dust with caster sugar.
  • Blitz all the ingredients except the prunes in a liquidiser.
  • Pour the batter into the tin and scatter the prunes evenly over the surface. Bake for 35-40 minutes until golden.
  • Let it cool – it will sink slightly. Dust with icing sugar and cut into squares.

Prune cakes 023Prune cakes 039

London: Unabashed Food Hedonism

I spend most of my year cooking home grown food or foraged wild meat and fish at home on North Uist, therefore, when we do get away for a trip, there tends to be a focus on eating the best food we can access/afford wherever we head. This could be Michelin star dining; The Kitchin and Martin Wishart in Edinburgh being our two Scottish favourites, or, as in our trip to London this week, more relaxed, less austere and affordable eating experiences.

I love cooking and preparing food but even I need a break from cooking from scratch on a daily basis. The perfect antidote to ‘Cook’s Fatigue’ is to recharge the batteries with a visit to London, one of my favourite cities in the world and, of course, I had accumulated a list of places I had to eat and some foody items I had to purchase while there. Some of you who read my blog will not be surprised to learn this predictably included a visit to Ottolenghi and Wahaca but this also extended to indulging in some street food and Portuguese food nostalgia, both of which I have been dreaming of for some months.

Bear with me, this is inevitably a long post, so feel free to cut to the chase of the tagine recipe.

Our reason for visiting London was primarily work-related in that The Man Named Sous, (elevated to his real name Eric for this post, given the redundancy of his nom de blog for our London trip) was displaying instruments at the British Violin Making Association annual violin makers event.  I was certainly required as a porter for the event, as we arrived from Edinburgh by train with various instruments including cello, violin and viola.

He had been working very long hours to finish a new cello for this event and another last week in Glasgow where it and other instruments he made were played in the Violin Makers Scotland showcase concert at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. So new is the cello, pictures of it have been posted in his Facebook page, but have not yet made to his website, Eric Jackson Violins (shameless plugging here, but I am proud of his skill to produce very fine instruments as well as his commitment to his profession).

The event at Old Sessions House, Clerkenwell Green was a success and it was good for both of us to catch up with people we had not seen for a few years, such as flatmates Eric shared a house with while studying at the Newark School of Violin Making. After the event, we had a few pints in the delightful The Crown Tavern across the road from the venue with violin maker and musician pals and rounded the night off with a curry at Cafe Saffron, Aylesbury Street, which was excellent, good value and service too.

We were staying at a friend’s flat in Highgate, North London, except our friend was not there but in transit back from Algiers, although we did make the acquaintance of his Hungarian friend also staying at the flat. It was nice to be able to spend time with him of an evening, exchanging tales of London, Hungary and the Hebrides, and he also cooked us up a fine Hungarian Goulash as well as kindly gifting me some Hungarian sweet paprika, which I had long ran out of, but used to pick up when I worked in Hungary during my PhD.  I included some of this distinctive spice in my tagine recipe at the end of this post.

paprika

After so much intensity and immersion in the violin making world, we delighted in spending a couple of well-earned days snatching time to explore some of London’s culinary and cultural offerings, although, must it be said it was a bit manic, cramming as much in as we could in so little time.

Street food is currently very much in vogue in the UK and the best place to find a diverse selection is London.  We had heard about the Moroccan Soup Stand in Golbourne Road, which recently won a BBC Radio 4 Food Award. I then read a great post by Craig at Mad Dog TV Dinners, who has great local knowledge of the best markets to visit in London.  He wrote an inspiring and enlightening post about Golbourne Road where I learned about the Portuguese community and associated shops there. Thanks to Craig for the info, his comprehensive post should be read in conjunction with this one to get the full flavour of the experience.

This made a visit to the area mandatory as I was in need of some Portuguese food nostalgia after my recent post about living in the Algarve.  On arrival at Golbourne Road, we found Lisboa Patisserie first (don’t know why it isn’t called Lisboa Pastelaria), so we had to start our afternoon with coffee and pastels de nata.  These were the most authentic I have eaten in the UK. Delicious crisp flaky pastry layers, perfect deep wobbly but steadfast custard within and a deep dark caramelisation on top.  One would never have been enough, and had I not been planning to visit the Moroccan soup stand further down the road, I could have eaten a third!

pastel de nata

The award winning Moroccan soup stand was next. It wasn’t excessively busy and we got a table and were quickly served by the very friendly and helpful proprietors. I had Bissara (green split pea) soup and Eric had Harira.  It was lovely to sit outside sharing a table with Portuguese customers on a beautifully clear crisp afternoon. The soup was really delicious and we decided to go for a tagine next, opting to share a chicken one. Needless to say it was delightful and came with bread to mop up the deliciously aromatic gravy.  A bargain for such authentic cuisine at £6.00.

tagine

Afterwards, we naturally gravitated towards the unmistakable smell of bacalau (salt cod) emanating enticingly from the Lisboa Deli.  I wanted to buy some to take home as it has been many years since I have eaten it and I don’t know of anywhere in Scotland that sells it. At the back of the shop, in a room dedicated to bacalau, stood a stack of huge sides of dried cod so loved by the Portuguese, next to a bandsaw on which my kilo of bacalau was cut for me.  Unfortunately, I forgot to take a photo of this unique set up. I bought some other nostalgic items including quince marmalade and chorizo, becoming aware that if I bought much more, we would not be able to carry it home, given we were already laden on the way down, and I had not yet visited other shops in the street.

As it was, by the time we got to the end of the block, we had bought olives, harissa, an array of herbs and spices and a large bag of rose petals.  We just had to and would worry about how we would carry the stuff back to Scotland later.  We had a fantastic relaxing afternoon in Golbourne Road and I will certainly be returning for supplies and great food next time I am down in London, not to mention to buy a tagine dish, which I simply couldn’t carry this time.

Later that evening, we dropped in at Wahaca at Covent Garden for some Mexican tapas and cocktails.  The restaurant had been recently refurbished and was vibrant and friendly.  We enjoyed a couple of margharitas – the passion fruit version was great, along with a snack of fennel pork scratchings with guacamole, lovely, although I didn’t sense much fennel.  We shared a small selection of tapas dishes including chicken tinga tacos, chicken guajillo tostadas and chipotle chicken quesadillas, then realised everything we ordered contained chicken!.  I also ate them before I realised I should have perhaps photographed them (oops!). Pretty tasty they were too, and surprisingly, not too hot.

wahaca snacks

We could not leave London without a visit to Ottolenghi, but rather than going for lunch or dinner, we opted for brunch at Islington.  As readers will know, I adore the Ottolenghi ethos, flavour combinations and recipes.  Although Ottolenghi sits on a pedestal as high as The Shard, I was not at all apprehensive that a visit may not live up to my expectations.  In fact, the experience was indeed sublime and the food, service and experience utterly flawless.  We both opted for shakshuka.  It had enormous depth of flavour and the perfect balance of heat and richness while still allowing the flavour of the egg yolks to shine through.  The labneh was a a perfect foil to the warmth and richness of the peppers and tomatoes.

shakshuka

This was served with a perfect cappuccino, one of the best I have had in London (no mean feat since we always seek out the best coffee shops, especially those revered NZ places in Soho).  A second cappuccino accompanied the grand finale of the famous Ottolenghi cakes.  It took us a considerable time to choose, the selection was mesmerising.

Otto coffee

otto cakes

In the end I went for a passion fruit meringue tart. In truth, I can’t resist anything containing passion fruit.  I was not disappointed.  This was genuinely one of the best cakes I have ever eaten. Crisp light pastry, oozing passion fruit custard with the perfect balance of sharpness to match the uber light and not too sweet soft, delectable meringue. I was smitten.  Eric chose the rhubarb and ginger cheesecake, which was gargantuan and delicious.

otto meringue

meringue open

otto cheesecake

The display of salads looked so enticing and if there was anyway I could have squeezed in another mouthful, I would have tried some.  At least there’s an excuse to return next time we are in London.

otto salads

In order to recover from our brunch, we visited the Courtauld Gallery to see the ‘Becoming Picasso: Paris 1901’ exhibition.  This was a wonderful opportunity to see a unique exhibition reuniting major paintings from his debut exhibition. Picasso was only 19 years old and this prolific year of his life shaped his future career, notably in the second half of 1901, when Picasso quite radically changed the direction of his work at what was the beginning of his now famous Blue period.

Picasso is undoubtedly one of my favourite artists and when I visited the Picasso museum in Paris over 20 years ago, his work left a huge impression on me. I feel very fortunate to have viewed so many of his early works in one place. It was delightful to see the steps of transformation before the progression to his most famous works which went on to define him as one of the most important artists of the 20th Century.

No visit to London is complete without an afternoon/evening in Soho. There is always a great buzz and an enormous choice of great coffee shops, bars and restaurants. Top coffee shops include Flat White and Sacred, where we stopped for a cappuccino.

We stopped by at Fernandez and Wells to indulge in some charcuterie and prosecco choosing a three meat platter for £12, consisting of Limoto Iberico de Bellota, Schiena (an Italian version of speck from Trentino) and Cecina de Leon (beef air cured and oak smoked, an interesting alternative to bresaola).

fenandez and wells

charcuterie

Of course, we always dwell for a while in The Crobar. This small, friendly bar is well known in rock and metal circles and has the best classic rock and metal jukebox you will find nowadays (I just realised I make myself sound very old by adding the word nowadays). Everything from classic thrash like Slayer to contemporary heavyweights Mastodon as well as classic and some stoner rock is blasted out.

Staff and patrons are very friendly and it has an exceptionally long happy hour. On arrival, we were deliberating about what to drink and the barman asked where we were from.  ‘Scotland’ we stated blandly and generically.  Turns out he was from Dundee and gave us the rather weird shots we chose on the house.  It is also one of these places that occasionally attracts rock stars and journalists. The night we were in, legendary rock journalists Malcolm Dome and Jerry Ewing were standing at the bar.  I would never have noticed, but Eric has a brilliant memory for names and faces, especially anyone related to music or film.

Crobar

We eventually caught up with our friend, who returned from Algeria sans luggage and had himself been so busy on return, we had only a few hours to see him and his partner (also a friend) for dinner at her home in Kentish Town before we returned to Edinburgh next morning.  It was great to catch up with them and hope we can reciprocate when they visit our Hebridean home.

Lamb Tagine

Inspired by our visit to London and pulling together some experiences from the Moroccan Soup Stand, Portuguese cooking, visit to Ottolenghi and my Hungarian paprika gift, I made this tagine while visiting my parents on our return from London.  The lamb shoulder was purchased from an excellent local butcher. The preserved lemons included in the recipe were some I made and gave to my mum as a gift at Christmas and are so simple and easy to make. I serve this with Portuguese broa bread, my recipe described in a previous post.

Ingredients

600g lamb shoulder, diced

2 onions

5 small tomatoes

skin of 1/2 a preserved lemon, chopped

2 bay leaves

large pinch of saffron

60g dried apricots

80g green olives

600 ml vegetable stock

400g waxy potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks

40g toasted flaked almonds

1 400g tin of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

For spice rub:

1/4 tsp ground cumin

1/4 tsp ground all spice

1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp ground ginger

1/4 tsp ground turmeric

3 green cardamom pods, contents ground

1/4 tsp Hungarian sweet paprika

1 tsp harissa

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

salt and pepper

1 tbsp olive oil

Method

  • Combine all the ingredients for the spice rub with the oil and rub into the lamb pieces.  Leave to marinade for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.
  • Add a splash of olive oil to a casserole dish and brown the pieces of lamb.
  • Remove the lamb and add the onion, soften and caramelise slightly.  Return the lamb to the casserole dish or place both in tagine, if you have one.
  • Add the tomatoes, saffron, olives, bay leaves, apricots, chick peas and vegetable stock.  Slow cook in a low oven about 150C for 2 1/2 hours, add the potatoes and preserved lemon with one hour to go, scatter the toasted almonds over the top and serve with bread and /or salads.

tagine

Amaretti biscuits – solace for the coffee geeks

I am always seeking the perfect biscuit to accompany coffee and amaretti always come out on top as the ultimate combination, whether your preference is cappuccino, espresso, flat white or americano. I have made several batches of these particular amaretti biscuits over the festive period. The recipe comes from the delightfully delicious Ottolenghi cookbook. It did not mention in the recipe that they evaporate if left unsupervised for even short lengths of time, but every time I turn my back they are gone!

This is a very simple and easy recipe that is a refreshing change from the traditional amaretti.  These have a perfect zesty twist, are crunchy on the outside and slightly gooey in the middle.  I replaced the sour cherries cited in the recipe with dried cranberries.  This is only coincidentally seasonal since I had no sour cherries.

Cranberry Amaretti

Ingredients

180g ground almonds

120g caster sugar

grated zest of a lemon

3 drops of natural almond extract

pinch of salt

60g dried cranberries, roughly chopped

2 free range egg whites

2 tsp honey

icing sugar for rolling

Preheat oven to 170C

Makes about 20 amaretti

KitchenAid - a delight after the absence of a mixer following the demise of my grandmother's1960's Kenwood Chef that I inherited.

KitchenAid – a delight after the absence of a mixer following the demise of my grandmother’s 1960’s Kenwood Chef.

Method

  • Put the almonds, sugar, lemon zest, almond extract and salt in a bowl and mix.
  • Beat the egg whites and honey to what Yotam calls soft meringue consistency.  I beat them until moderately stiff as they fold in and hold more air with a slightly firm consistency. Beating the egg whites can be done by hand or using a food mixer, which I used. (my new KitchenAid – Christmas present to self after the recent demise of my Kenwood Chef).
  • Fold the egg mix gently into the dry ingredients to form a soft paste.
  • Take a small amount of mix and roll in your hand and then in some icing sugar before placing on silicone/parchment on a baking sheet.  I rolled these to the size a bit smaller than a walnut, otherwise they are too big to cook sufficiently inside.
  • Bake for 12 minutes, let them cool and indulge.

Cranberry amaretti

Cranberry amaretti

The (temporary) demise of fine coffee 

Something that strikes fear in the heart of any coffee geek is the loss of the beloved daily dose of quality espresso and cappuccino.  We are both geeks that find it impossible to live without at least a few quality shots per day.  Someone recently asked me if I had to live without red wine or coffee, which would it be.  I would ditch the wine without question, as would The Man Named Sous.  So, you can probably tell, our appreciation of coffee is serious.

We have fantastic, so-called ‘Prosumer’ machine, an Izzo Alex Duetto II, Italian engineered, a dual boiler machine with tight temperature and pressure control to provide consistently excellent shots. It also has stunning Italian styling, as one would expect.  Hold on, I need to go back a phrase or two. Italian engineering.  This is essentially where the problem lies.

I do not want to suggest that sometimes such products can be style over substance – this is certainly not the case for our much-loved coffee machine, but the experiences we have had with this machine are a stark reminder of the ‘temperamental’ nature of Italian engineered goods, in our experience.  I am thinking principally of a beautiful Ducati 851 sports motorbike owned by The Man Named Sous.

The Ducati looked and sounded wonderful – bright red eye-candy, an elegant and slick single-seater, compared with my equivalently pointy (but reliable and faster) Japanese brute (a Kawasaki ZXR 750). The problem was, the electrics on the Ducati never worked for more than one run. Lights and dials failed regularly, and with no reserve tank (very practical) and no odometer, each journey distance had to be calculated out to make sure there was enough fuel to get home. The electrical issues with our Alex Duetto II make it only slightly more reliable than the Ducati 851, although at least you won’t have to push it home.

Alex Duetto II Review

Alex Duetto II, the Ducati 851 of coffee makers?

Our Alex Duetto II, the Ducati 851 of coffee makers?

The machine is well crafted and made of heavy grade mirror finish stainless steel, inside and out. It is manually operated with a lever, which is a bit more interactive than a push button electronic set up.  It also allows simultaneous use of the steam wand while pouring a shot, thanks to the double boiler, a feature that very few home machines have.  The steam wand produces a powerful jet of steam so milk frothing takes a bit of practice to get it under control and to produce the desired microfoam. The machine has a water reservoir or can be plumbed in.

However, despite its good looks and flawless coffee production performance, alas, we have had a few issues with the electronics of our Alex Duetto.  A failed PID unit (this key component does all the temperature/pressure control) after about 18 months, fortunately within guarantee this was replaced by Bella Barista, the company who we bought the machine from.  At Christmas 2011, the temperature probe failed, so we had no coffee until the part was ordered after the holiday.  On Christmas morning just past, a similar fault has occurred, which we suspect also to be a result of the probe failing, so again, we are in an espresso desert until there is time to resolve the issue.

Diagnostics for this machine would not be possible without the engineering background of The Man Named Sous who has capably and confidently found each fault, removed the faulty part and discussed technical solutions with Bella Barista, who have offered a great service throughout.  We are very fortunate to have this skill in the house because sending the machine back for repair would be very costly – it weighs a mammoth 35kg.  I’m not sure how the average punter copes with maintaining this machine if living a remote area. The machine was also a serious investment and the current Alex Duetto IV model costs about £1900 – and that’s before investing in an equivalent quality grinder.

It took several months of committed research by The Man Named Sous as he indulged in his passion for techno-geekery, weighing up the pros and cons of just about every available machine on the market before settling for the Izzo. There is no doubt in our minds that we chose the best machine on the market for home use.  Despite these niggling issues, owning the machine is a delight, and judging by other reviews, I think we have been a bit unlucky and very few issues have been cited.

Although it makes producing a good shot as easy as it could be at home, it took about a year to really get to grips with producing A1 quality espressos and cappuccinos, taking into account grind adjustments and the differences in different coffee varieties and blends, moisture content of batches of beans, etc. We have had very helpful tips from the staff at Artisan Roast, Bella Barista and have found really invaluable online demonstrations to help us get it right.

We currently buy freshly roasted beans sent mail order, 1-2 days post-roasting.  We usually opt for single source but also like to try blends.  The plan is to start roasting our own green beans and experimenting with our own blends later this year, but we need a shed to accommodate a roaster – not something you want to do in the house, but can’t wait to start experimenting with roasting.

Amaretti and cappucino - when the Alex Duetto was opertaing smoothly.

Amaretti and cappuccino – when the Alex Duetto was operating smoothly.

Review: Artisan Roast – coffee paradise island in a sea of caffeine mediocrity

Artisan Roast, Broughton Street, Edinburgh 

One of the most challenging issues we face when leaving home for a trip is the wrench away from our beloved Izzo Alex Duetto II espresso machine. Discovering Artisan Roast has been delightful and is a great coffee comfort blanket for the wilderness days of enforced separation from our Izzo. Also with a cafe in Glasgow, we are secure in the knowledge that Artisan Roast will provide us with great coffee both east and west in central Scotland.

I need never endure the mass marketed non-taxpaying high street caffeine juggernauts with their multi-litre-buckets of insipid latte et al.  All this courtesy of the American model.  The words of Bill Hicks still resonate today; ‘Would you like 32 ounce or large?!’ I want to drink coffee, not drown in it.

The Artisan Roast cappuccino – archetypal coffee perfection

In both the Glasgow and Edinburgh Broughton Street shops, staff are eager to engage in discussions about coffee and genuinely care about the quality of each cup produced. Discussions have included helpful hints and tips from staff about pour to get the elusive foam emulsion that gives each cappuccino its distinctive mouthfeel. Artisan Roast master this in every cup and we have been fortunate to enhance our cappuccinos at home too, thanks to their advice.

There is usually a choice of single origin beans and a blend on offer, depending on what is currently in the grinder hoppers.  First I tried the blend, usually on offer for anyone coming in that asks for ‘a coffee’ – Janszoon espresso blend.  This contains Sumatran Mandeheling and Brazil Cooxupe. It offers a balanced, rich flavour, almost chocolatey.  The fruity element brought by the Brazilian beans only truly reveals itself in an espresso, as we found out when we took a pack of the beans home to try. This coffee is versatile and will stand up well whatever you cup of choice is, be it flat white or Americano.

I then had the Terrazu la Trinidad Costa Rican single origin bean in an espresso. This was described at breakfast in a cup, and it certainly lived up to the description, having a strong citrus tang and sweet edge.  This coffee, in my opinion, would not accommodate milk well but was a surprising, refreshing and distinctive espresso.

Chatting to the enthusiastic staff, we also discovered that Artisan Roast are developing their business and have employed baristas to push the quality of their roasts and blends to new levels.  A new website is being developed and this will include an online store.  An exciting prospect for me since I buy beans online.

Finally, we were offered an AeroPress coffee to try. One of the staff happened to be experimenting with the product. The AeroPress uses manual pressure to push finely ground coffee through a micro-filter, which is supposed to produce a smooth tasting coffee.  The coffee produced (on this occasion at least) had a delicate flavour and almost a tea-like quality.  This product may suit the home user who wants a quick and cheap solution to produce a quality cup of coffee.

AeroPress, picture courtesy of the AeroPress website