My cappuccino obsession was fueled last fall when I was on tour for two weeks in Philadelphia. Our hotel was around the corner from the original La Colombe, and I was there averaging two coffee drinks a day. The baristas took great pride in each espresso drink they poured, and I was fascinated watching their ritual.
Once the steamed milk had been frothed till it was beautiful and billowy, the barista would firmly bang the little stainless steel milk pitcher on the counter and swirl the milk within. This banging-and-swirling process was an essential step in the preparation, repeated several times to tighten up the structure of the foamed milk. It was a cappuccino of dreams, tasting as though the espresso had been topped with softly whipped cream.
When I got back to New York, I was in serious withdrawal and needed to improve my cappuccino-making chops. I love my sleek Nespresso machine, which takes up very little room on my kitchen counter, but it has no milk-frothing attachment. For years I used a battery-operated frothing wand that went right into a saucepan of steaming milk and whipped a bit of air into it. I wore out two of those frothing wands in recent years, possibly because a certain Little Chef used to love playing with it whenever he came over. (We discovered it was great not only for frothing hot chocolate but also for using as a light saber in stuffed animal fights!) But rather than replacing that yet again, I knew that I needed something with more serious power.
After trying several different specifically designed milk frothers that were most disappointing, it was Cenovia who had the brilliant idea of using a small French press to whip the pre-heated milk up into a frenzy. (She was often with me at those daily La Colombe visits last fall and equally obsessed with how the baristas were making our cappuccinos!) I found this little 3-cup Bodum Brazil French Press, which is the perfect size for heating up just enough milk for a single cappuccino.
A tight seal and a double layer of mesh on the plunger create great traction within the French press, pumping a crazy amount of air into the hot milk within seconds. It practically transforms milk into the consistency of whipped cream, low-fat and whole milk alike. And because there is a stable heavy plastic base beneath the glass container, this allows for gentle banging-and-swirling of the frothed milk, really packing the foam in there.
My cappuccinos may not be as beautiful poured as the ones at La Colombe were, as mine often resemble a design you might find on an ink-blot test. But they certainly taste better than anything I was making before I started frothing the milk in the Bodum French press. I am most delighted to share this discovery with all of you.