Sunday, November 4, 2007

Coffee Syrup: Native Rhode Island

In the 60s when I went away to college, the ice cream menus everywhere read: vanilla, chocolate, coffee. Coffee? Where am I?
Rhode Island, of course. Coffee is the third flavor here. Coffee milk is the official state drink (the winner in a bitter legislative contest between coffee milk and Del's Lemonade in 1994). You can make your own by stirring a few tablespoons of coffee syrup into milk (or blending it with a bit of ice, which makes it frothy), but it is also available bottled from local dairies or at most restaurants. Then there is the coffee cabinet. That is not a place where you keep your coffee, but what the rest of the world (meaning, at least, those of us who grew up in New Jersey) calls a milkshake, and in some places they call a frappe: a thick shake made with coffee ice cream and coffee syrup. These are the most common uses for coffee syrup. But you can use it the same way you would chocolate syrup: over ice cream or pound cake, as a rich flavoring in cakes and cookies, and in pan sauces made after cooking lamb, pork, or beef.
Coffee syrup, originally made from coffee grounds, has been around since the 1920s; the two major brands, Autocrat and Eclipse, once rivals but both owned and produced now by Autocrat, have been available almost as long. In recent years, as with everything else, artisanal versions of coffee syrup, such as Morning Glory, have begun to appear on the market, and the regionally famous Gray’s Ice Cream in my neighborhood now sells their own as well. They all taste slightly different—some are significantly sweeter or more viscous or more intensely coffee-tasting than others--and have their own followings. If you are a Rhode Islander, you will certainly want to have a taste test. I suggest tasting plain, in small shots, and in coffee milk; your preference may change when the syrup is combined with other ingredients.
Coffee Cabinet a la Gray’s

When it comes to making a thick cabinet or other kind of frappe, blenders are wimps and are simply not up to the task. If you really like ice cream drinks, bite the bullet and invest in a Hamilton Beach Commercial spindle drink mixer. It’s one of those things for which there is really no substitute. Obviously, the coffee cabinet is not for low-fat diets. But it can be thought of as a meal if you like. Serves 2, theoretically.
3 parts coffee ice cream; I use Gray’s unsweetened
1 part whole milk
2 ½ T coffee syrup per cup of milk (Gray’s)
Ice cream should be soft enough to scoop but still very firm (not hard); milk should be ice cold. Put the milk and coffee syrup into the drink container and taste; correct the syrup if you like. Add the ice cream (it will be about ¾ of a pint for 1 cup milk). Run the mixer for 4 minutes; if you ever have thought a counter person “forgot” your milkshake, the answer is no, the elapsed time is intentional. Enjoy.

Coffee Cardamom Pudding

This is an old-fashioned pudding scented with cardamom, my favorite spice as you know by now—but you could leave it out, of course. I used Eclipse, which has a somewhat raisiny sweetness, so it required almost no sugar; the tablespoon of brown sugar simply rounds out the flavor. Be sure to use whole milk. Makes 4 generous servings.
2 ½ cups whole milk
½ cup coffee syrup
1 T light brown sugar
Pinch salt
¼ tea cardamom
4 large egg yolks
3 T cornstarch
2 T unsalted butter
½ tea vanilla (optional)
Whipped cream for garnish
Additional cardamom for garnish
Heat 2 cups of the milk until steaming. Remove from the heat and add the coffee syrup, the pinch of salt, and the sugar. Whisk the egg yolks and cornstarch into the remaining ½ of cold milk. Whisking constantly, pour it into the warm milk mixture and bring it to a boil; pudding has a tendency to be volcanic so once it is boiling reduce the heat so that it is bubbling but not so explosive. Whisk steadily for a full two to three minutes; remove and strain through a fine sieve into a small bowl. Immediately stir in the butter and the vanilla if using. Press a piece of wax paper or plastic wrap onto the top of the pudding and refrigerate until cold. Serve with lightly sweetened, lightly whipped cream to which you’ve added a dash or cardamom.


Anonymous said...

I have been lurkingly loving your site for a few months now and am moved to comment today because you strike a huge chord of homesick in me with this post. I grew up near the south shore of MA, and some of my extended family lived in RI. Gray's is a huge favorite.

Coffee syrup featured strongly in any meal enjoyed at my grandmother's house. I loved coffee milk and when we visited cousins in Tiverton, always got a coffee cabinet.

I live in Ohio now, and it's just unheard of, this coffee obsession. Except at my house! I try to convert and so far people can't believe they've had to miss out on such delicious decadence their whole lives.

I come to Little Compton for a day almost every summer to visit the beach with my kids and for a year-long-anticipated visit to Gray's. I always get coffee ice cream in a waffle cone. With jimmies.

We didn't make it back east this summer, and it feels like the year won't be complete without it...

anyhooo... love your site!

Jane said...

I truly empathize. And thank you so much for reading. One of my best friends is also an ex-pat in Ohio. So you are not alone out there. And to other readers puzzling over "jimmies": that's sprinkles to the rest of you!
So glad you get to come home most years, and hope my blog helps a bit when you don't...

Anonymous said...

I just came across your blog and I am subscribing right away! I love the idea of coffee pudding flavored with cardamom (it's my favorite spice too). I just linked to you from my blog - hope that's OK. I'm a fellow Rhode Islander transplanted from New Jersey :)

Jane said...

There appears to be some cosmic connection between RI and NJ (two small states? two food obsessed states?). Anyway, thank you, and welcome!

Anonymous said...

I grew up here in NE. Born in Cohasset, MA and living in Scituate, MA, now in Cumberland, RI.

I was "on" coffee from a very young age. When I first traveled outside NE, I was shocked that coffee ice cream and coffee "frappes" were unheard of.

I a strange twist of fate, I sold the flip top cap to Eclipse located just 5 miles from my home here in Cumberland! Enjoying your site!

Anonymous said...

Great coffee milk recipes. Can't wait to try the pudding tonight!

Lynn said...

I have not heard of coffee syrup before, but I am definitely intrigued. Thanks for this post.

Jane said...

You're welcome. Thanks for reading!