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Mmmm, cappuccino! The espresso drink that’s the base for Starbucks’ signature Frappuccino is distinguished by the creamy, frothy cap of textured milk that floats on top of the drink and slooooowly sinks into the coffee. Any barista worthy of their tamper will tell you that the secret of making a perfect cappuccino is in texturing the milk – the magical process that transforms liquid into thick foam that pours like paint and fluffs up like soap suds. If you’re interested in the science behind frothing (or texturing) milk, Erin Meister does a superb job of explaining it for the (mostly) laymen in her column at Serious Eats. If you care more about duplicating a coffee shop cappuccino at home, though, these cappuccino hacks will have you whipping up cappuccinos for yourself and friends in just about no time.
First – Fair Warning!
If you want perfection in your cappuccino, you’re probably not going to get it without an actual steam wand. That velvety texture that most people love? It happens through a very specific process that requires you to introduce heat and air into the milk at the same time. A steam wand is designed to do exactly that – it shoots a jet of hot steam under pressure into the cold milk. The combination of heat, moisture and turbulence cooks the protein in milk at the same time that it breaks up the molecules of fat into teensy, tiny little bubbles – microfoam – that hold their shape for a long, long time.
Most of these hacks will give you a nice approximation of that process. If you fiddle with them a bit, you can even get microfoam that’s good enough to make latte art with.
This is actually the preferred method at our house. There are a couple of important points to remember: first, don’t even bother with fat-free milk or cream. If you’re going to use skim or 1% milk, go with a method that uses no heat. Second, watch the temperature! Boiled milk won’t froth. You’ll just end up with an unpleasant skin on top of your cream. The ideal temperature is about 160 F. That said, here’s what you do.
If you’re not a fan of building up your muscles while frothing milk for cappuccino, invest a small amount into a handheld milk frother. There are dozens of brands and models on the market, with starting prices below $10. Just head on over to Amazon and pick one that appeals to you. These won’t heat your milk, but they will give you a nice, fluffy froth to top your cappuccino. If you want it heated, just follow the process above, and use battery power instead of your own elbow grease to whip up your milk.
Prepare to be amazed. International Delights, best known for flavored coffee creamers, has just introduced a new “creamer” that’s a game changer. International Delight’s One Touch Latte is flavored milk foam in a can. It works just like pressurized whipped cream, but it’s made especially for your coffee. You just shake, shake, shake the can, aim the spout at your coffee and press the nozzle for 1-2-3-4-5-6-7 seconds. Instant latte/cappuccino! One Touch Latte comes in three flavors – mocha, French vanilla, and caramel. You’ll find it in the dairy freezer at your local grocer, if not now, very soon.
You could lay out $50 bucks for a fancy-shmancy manual frother with carafe – or you could just use the French press you have in your kitchen. It’s even better if you’re a dual French press household because you don’t have to do the wash-and-swap maneuver between brewing your coffee and frothing your milk.
Give your manual drink blender a dual purpose – use it to froth milk for your cappuccino. Frothing milk in a drink blender takes a little muscle power, but you can get thick, rich foam without an expensive or clunky dedicated milk frother.