Tuesday, June 24, 2014

My own private Starbucks, summer edition

Last winter, as you may recall, my sister's birthday gift to me was a moka pot—a little miniature percolator that does the job of an espresso machine and takes up a lot less room. I tried it out at the time and found that, with the help of some microwave-steamed milk, it could make lattes and mochas as good as anything Starbucks had to offer. I had to wait for summer, however, to test it out on the frozen-coffee treat that really keeps me coming back to the mermaid: the Frappuccino. Well, summer is here, and I am pleased to report that, after one or two false starts, I've managed to produce a homemade frappe that is, if not quite identical to a Frappuccino, at least a reasonably tasty substitute.

My first attempt at a homemade Frappuccino wasn't a rousing success. I started with this recipe from Squawkfox.com, but I couldn't find the xanthan gum that the blogger said was the "secret ingredient" that keeps the blended brew from separating. Fortunately, the recipe said that a teaspoon of pectin would also do the job, and I was able to find that at the grocery store with canning supplies. However, when I tried it in my moka-Frapp, I found that it imparted a strange, sour taste. Granted, this may have been my fault for disregarding the First Rule of Recipes: the first time you try a new one, follow it exactly. I figured that this recipe was basic enough, and similar enough to things I'd made before, that I could get away with winging it a bit: substituting sweetener for sugar, throwing in a spoonful of chocolate syrup, and just tossing in a generous dash of pectin rather than measuring out an exact teaspoon. So perhaps if I'd been more precise in my measurements, it would have come out fine. Nonetheless, I decided it wasn't worth risking a second attempt, especially since as far as I could tell, the pectin did nothing to keep the drink from separating. (The recipe makes enough for two large glasses, and while the half I drank right away stayed well-blended, the remainder left over in the blender had completely lost its cohesion by the time I came back to it.)

So the next time around, I decided to halve the recipe, so there wouldn't be any leftovers to deal with. This meant that I only needed half a pot of espresso, since my moka pot makes two shots' worth, so I just measured out the contents (which came to about 6 ounces), poured half into the blender, and saved the other half in a jar for future use. Then I added my other ingredients: half a cup of skim milk, two packets of aspartame sweetener, a tablespoon of dark chocolate syrup, and a cup of ice cubes. I blended that on low speed until I couldn't hear the ice cubes rattling around anymore, then kicked it up to the "smoothie" setting to get everything good and frothy.

Here's my homemade moka-Frapp in my new reusable tumbler, picked up on sale so I can take my new frosty treats with me on the go. As you can see, it fills the tumbler nearly to the top, and a rough measurement shows that this means the volume of the drink is roughly a pint—the same size as a Starbucks Grande. However, a Grande-size mocha Frappuccino costs about four dollars and has 400 calories (including 15 grams of fat, and 60 grams of sugar.) My homemade moka-Frapp, by contrast, costs a mere 42 cents: 20 cents for the coffee, 10 for the milk, 8 for the chocolate syrup, and 4 for the sweetener. It weighs in at a dainty 90 calories (40 for the milk and 50 for the chocolate syrup), with no fat and only 15 grams of sugar. Even if I go nuts and pile a couple of tablespoons of whipped cream on top, that only adds 5 cents to the price tag and 20 calories to the calorie count. Oh, and mine is made with Utz-certified Fair Trade coffee, thank you very much.

So does this mean I'll be kicking the coffeehouse habit entirely? Well, probably not. For one thing, the urge for a coffee treat sometimes strikes without warning while I'm away from home, and for another, there's something to be said for the coffeehouse atmosphere. There's just something very relaxing about those simple yet tasteful furnishings, the heady aroma of coffee and exotic syrups, the sound of some trendy new album playing on the stereo, and all those Yuppies and students staring intently at their cell phone screens. But when what I really want is the Frapp and nothing but the Frapp, it's nice to know that I can just whip up my own, take it to the nearest park, pull out a home-printed crossword puzzle, and take less of a toll on both my wallet and my waistline.
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