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It's always more fun to DIY. Every week, we'll spare you a trip to the grocery store and show you how to make small batches of great foods at home.
In Venice, Italy, my hometown, coffee is essential to daily life. It acts as a timekeeper of sorts: Mornings begin with a cappuccino or a caffé latte; days close with a short, strong shot of espresso—always after dinner and often in the form of a coretto (with a kick of grappa to it). It goes like clockwork. But then there are the extras: caffé shakerato (iced coffee) in the summer and affogato (ice cream drenched in espresso) occasionally for dessert.
My favorite "coffee extras" are the little dark chocolates, filled with a thick coffee syrup center, called Pocket Coffee. You can buy them pretty much anywhere in Italy: on newsstands, at supermarket checkout counters, or in coffee shops. There is nothing grand about them, but I remember how as a little girl they were always a very special treat. Not so much because I liked the taste—the coffee seemed bitter and the chocolate was almost too rich and dark—but because I felt "grown-up" and sophisticated eating them.
Even now that I am grown up, they still give me that feeling, but now I appreciate the flavors. I often make my own version of the chocolates and serve them after dinner in place of a rich dessert—perhaps with a glass of sweet wine and, of course, a large pot of coffee. It’s a lovely way to close a meal. Here's how I make Pocket Coffee at home:
Makes 36 chocolates
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup instant coffee
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 3/4 cups roughly chopped dark chocolate
Set out the tray of chocolate molds. Sift the cocoa powder and coffee directly into a medium saucepan over low heat. Immediately add the the milk and sugar, stirring constantly until the sugar has dissolved, about 2 to 3 minutes.
Stirring constantly, slowly drizzle in the cream, turn up the stove to medium heat, and slowly bring the coffee-cream mixture to a boil. When the cream begins to bubble, allow it to boil for 2 to 3 minutes, then remove it from the heat and set it to one side to cool and thicken. This will be the filling for your chocolates.
Set one-third of the chocolate to one side, then toss the other two-thirds into a small heatproof bowl. Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (or into a double boiler) over medium heat and allow the chocolate to melt slowly. Be very careful not to let the water touch the bottom of the bowl, as too much direct heat will cause the chocolate to spoil and burn.
More: Never burn the chocolate. Here's a foolproof way to melt chocolate.
When the chocolate is melted, test it with your candy thermometer. When it reaches 130 to 145º F (55 to 58º C), take it off the heat. Toss the rest of the chopped chocolate into the bowl with the melted chocolate and stir vigorously to melt it all together. If you find that there are still a few whole, unmelted chunks of chocolate at this stage, remove them from the bowl and discard them before setting the melted chocolate back on the heat—the chunks will make the chocolate sticky rather than luscious and smooth, as you want it to be. When it reaches a temperature of 80º F (27º C), set it back onto the heat over the saucepan of simmering water. When the chocolate returns to a temperature of 87 to 90º F (31 to 32º C), it is ready to work with.
Use a pastry brush to paint a thin layer of the melted chocolate in the chocolate molds, being careful to coat each mold thoroughly with chocolate. Transfer the tray to the refrigerator and let harden and chill for 15 to 20 minutes. Repeat this process a second time to create a second layer of chocolate, leaving them to chill in the refrigerator for another 15 to 20 minutes, or until hardened.
When the shells are hard and solid, you can fill them: Spoon the coffee-cream mixture into the chocolate-coated molds up to roughly the 3/4 mark. Refrigerate them for an additional 5 minutes to allow the cream filling to harden then brush a layer of melted chocolate over the top to seal them. Set the tray in the refrigerator for another 15 to 20 minutes, until the chocolates are thoroughly hardened. Gently remove the chocolates from their molds. If you have any leftover coffee cream, you can store it in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 4 days and use it as a filling in cakes or drizzled over ice cream.
Photos by Skye McAlpine