ITALIAN BREAKFAST: CAPPUCCINO + CORNETTO
The breakfast ritual
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day but we often neglect it.
Let’s learn to move away from the hectic, haphazard approach the morning routine has become and transform it into a wonderful early-day ritual. A few minutes give us the opportunity to connect, spread goodwill and start the day with a smile, as well as with a good dose of nutrients our body needs to deal with the jungle that is waiting for us whether it be at work or at school!
Experience a country via its breakfast
When Americans visit “il Bel Paese” for the first time, some confess to culture shock during the Italian breakfast.
In Italy, breakfast (“la colazione”) is much lighter than the typical hearty fare of egg, bacon & toast.
However, after actually experiencing “la colazione all’italiana”, all culinary anxieties disappear faster than you can say “cappuccino e cornetto”.
Nothing transports us to mornings in Italy more than a cappuccino with a cornetto.
The sound of the grinder, the steam wands and the filter holder slamming on the floorboards comprise a symphony of breakfast music.
Simultaneously, the aroma of coffee with the sweet fragrance of cornetti as the barista greets you with “buongiorno” starts your day off by feeding the body and the soul.
Eating breakfast like an Italian:
1. find the neighborhood coffee shop
Italians often choose the same coffee shop for the “cappuccino e cornetto” breakfast. Why? Habit, ease, socializing and most importantly… the barman already knows what you will order ultimately leading to faster service. Additionally, at your local shop, quality selection of cornetti and coffee guarantees consistent, pleasant breakfast experiences especially when it comes to preparing a well done cappuccino.
2. order “cappuccino e cornetto”
Remember, this is the only time of day to enjoy the cappuccino (or other milkier drinks, like latte macchiato) without being teased.
Make the most of it!
3. choose the cornetto (Italian croissant)
Cornetto vuoto (empty) or ripieno (filled). The cornetto ripieno includes cornetto alla crema (with pastry cream), alla marmellata (with jam, marmalade or other conserve), al miele (with honey, this is often made with an integrale, wholewheat, dough), al cioccolato (with chocolate) or alla Nutella.
4. stand at the bar while having “la colazione” and perusing a newspaper (points for soccer match results).
How to recognize the classic Italian cappuccino?
The classic Italian cappuccino is composed of 100-140 ml of fresh, whole milk that has been perfectly frothed and poured, equal parts liquid and foam, over 25-30ml of espresso held in a 150-220ml cup.
How do you determine whether the cappuccino has been prepared correctly following the parameters of the Italian recipe?
With just a glance, we can observe the texture of the foam, its fineness and the overall attractiveness of the beverage including the precision of the espresso ring around the edge of the cup.
In the artistic version of the cappuccino, the complexity and sophistication of the decoration is important.
- check the foam: using a small spoon, check the foam on the surface of the cup for compactness, viscosity and quantity. A good emulsion must not reveal any of the underlying liquid milk, not even when the spoon pushes a portion of the foam on the surface.
- texture: the frothed milk (so-called “creamy milk”) must have a velvety texture, be glossy and uniform so that the individual macro-bubbles are invisible to the naked eye and should look more like liquid cream.
- appearance: the identifier of the classic Italian cappuccino is the inviting dome of white, creamy milk with a slight hint of espresso’s nut brown color around the edges of the cup.
- thickness, consistency and duration: at the moment the cappuccino is served, the foam should ideally be 40% of the overall volume. It must have a thick, soft consistency that lasts until last sip.
- “compact cream”: the consistency of the foam is easily seen in the quantity and the way it adheres to the spoon.
- “the cappuccino mustache”: one confirmation of the cappuccino’s creaminess is a “foam mustache” on the drinker’s upper lip.
As the cappuccino approaches the nose, we perceive the typical and fragrant “toasted scents” from the brown crown of espresso flanked by that wonderful, characteristic aroma of milk with its silky white foam together with ever so slight hints of sweetened plant-based scents and light floral fragrances.
Espresso coffee and cappuccino have more than 800 identifiable volatile aromatic substances.
However, in the cappuccino the aromas and fragrances directly perceived are weaker than those of the espresso.
This is due to the thick, lush barrier created by the minuscule air bubbles trapped in the foam as they prevent dispersion of the volatile aromas.
Gustatory-olfactory and tactile analysis
- taste: by sipping the cappuccino we can recognize bitterness, sweetness and acidity.
Cold milk is not very sweet. However, when heated, it imparts an agreeable sweetness to the froth. Heating modifies the lactose contained in the milk thus increasing its perceived sweetening capacity.
In the balance of flavor, the substantial amount of milk imparts its sweetness, blending with, and mitigating, the bitterness of the espresso (due in part to the caffeine), softening any acidity.
A cappuccino worthy of the name must offer up a gustatory-olfactory harmony between espresso and milk. In other words, the aroma and the flavor of these two elements must be clearly recognized without any defects.
This is another reason why the coffee-to-milk ratio must be just right and why the cappuccino must be prepared correctly. If not, the recipe is thrown off balance (using a long, over or under extracted coffee, too much milk or milk that is too hot).
- thermal sensations: the cappuccino must be pleasantly warm.
If the milk is too hot or not hot enough, the cappuccino will not only be less appetizing, perception of aroma will be hindered, preventing the aromatic molecules from being released and reaching the olfactory receptors.
- tactile sensations: they play a starring role in the Italian cappuccino.
There can’t be a cappuccino without espresso, or without the creaminess of perfectly frothed milk.
Every sip must contain a portion of the foam and liquid, blended together well and offering a full, well-structured body that is soft and remains so until the last sip.
In a cappuccino, the sense of astringency is, in general, imperceptible and is never a good sign.
If the cappuccino is truly creamy then there will be a layer of soft foam inside the cup after finishing the last drop.
Cappuccinos to be avoided at all cost
- wobbly mountain of evanescent foam (bubble-bath effect) with clear milk foam separation
- it’s not necessarily good just because it’s beautiful
- coffee: too much or too little
- poor quality coffee
- watered down
- froth with large macro-bubbles: if the “creamy” foam is replaced by a froth with large bubbles, the cappuccino will be rather “airy”.
- insufficient foam
- boiling hot or lukewarm
Italian tradition dictates that cappuccino is prepared with bovine (cow) milk, fresh and whole, since the high content of fat and protein generates an intense and creamy foam with a fine and persistent texture.
In the last few years, as society becomes more sensitive to the needs of individuals with food allergies and those who choose a specialized eating regimen, there are more and more coffee shops increasing and diversifying their menus by adding vegetable based milks such as soy, rice, almond and oat.
Then some want a customized cappuccino:
- light: served with a smaller amount of espresso
- dark: served with more espresso.
Please remember it should never be prepared with a long, over-extracted espresso but simply pouring in less frothed milk. In this case, it’s better to use a 170cc cup.
- double: two espressos are drawn into a single cappuccino cup and then filled with velvety milk.
- without foam (wet)
- with a lot of foam (dry)
- with cocoa (unsugared) on the fresh espresso or on the top of the foam
- with cinnamon
Cappuccino and.. cornetto!
Naples may have the sfogliatella while Rome has its maritozzo and Sicily claims the cannolo… but the cornetto remains the indisputable symbol of the Italian breakfast. Pair it with a cappuccino while in the coffee shop and you have the iconic Italian breakfast experience.
The Italian croissant or “cornetto” is commonly known in northern Italy as “brioche” even though a true brioche is round and has a different dough.
Moreover, the Italian cornetto varies greatly from the French croissant as it’s prepared with sour dough to develop a softer consistency.
How to recognize a good cornetto?
- appearance and color: crescent moon shape, relatively large, golden surface and a glossy nut brown exterior with an ocher yellow hue inside. The dough is soft and fluffy.
- fragrance: an aroma of fresh butter, yeast, caramel with the occasional hint of citrus that wafts through the air like toast.
- consistency: flaky on the sides with the tips easily breaking off while the center remains soft and cushy.
- mouthfeel: the first bite is both soft and crunchy at the same time. It should never be bitter or oily. The flavor is a good balance between the flavor of the butter and the aromas of the wheat and any filling (pastry cream, jam, honey, chocolate or Nutella).