On mornings when a plain cup of coffee simply won't do, imagine yourself in an Italian plaza sipping a perfectly poured cappuccino. A classic cappuccino begins with a layer of Italian espresso, topped with steamed milk and finished with a layer of milk foam. Proper steaming takes practice, but the ability to make a perfect cappuccino anytime you want one is worth the effort.
Espresso machines perform both tasks essential to creating an Italian cappuccino: They brew espresso and steam milk. Entry-level machines often feature a froth assister on the steam wand. Submerge the steam wand in cold milk and the froth assister will produce a significant volume of large bubbles. This is not the ideal Italian microfoam, but it is a starting point for a beginner who is unfamiliar with the techniques required for properly steaming milk.
Higher-end cappuccino machines do not have a froth assister feature, and require more skill on the part of the user to froth, as well as simply heat, the milk.
Heat the Milk
Fill a 12-ounce milk pitcher with whole milk. In Italy, cappuccino is rarely made with low-fat milk. The milk fat is essential to the texture and flavor of the drink.
Lower the steam wand into the pitcher of cold milk and turn on the steam wand. This will cause a jet of steam to shoot into the milk, gently heating it. Use a probe thermometer to measure the temperature of the milk, and stop heating when the milk reaches 65 degrees Fahrenheit.
Creating the ideal foamed milk is a matter of skill and technique. For a traditional Italian cappuccino, you do not need a large volume of foam.
If your cappuccino machine features a froth assister, keep the top of the milk exactly level with the small hole in the side of the froth-aiding tube. You will need to gradually lower the pitcher to keep the milk level with this hole as the milk expands.
If your machine has a traditional steam wand, dip the wand all the way into the milk and turn on the steam. Gradually raise the wand until the tip is just below the surface of the milk. You should hear a slight hissing sound. This tells you that you are creating foam. Lower the milk pitcher as the milk expands, keeping the tip of the wand just below the surface of the milk.
Tap the milk pitcher on the countertop to break up any large air bubbles that have formed.
Pour a shot of espresso into a cappuccino cup and top with a spoonful of foam from the milk pitcher. Use the back of a spoon to hold back the remaining foam as you pour the steamed milk into the cup. Pour in a slow, steady stream so that the steamed milk cuts through the foam and raises it to the top of the cup.
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