Last week I wrote here how I lost my sense of smell and therefore also a good part of my taste as a result of a corona infection. Fortunately, this unpleasant condition did not last long. After only a few days I could perceive a number of powerful scents again and after about ten days I could smell everything again at full strength. Everything? Well no. There was one scent that bravely kept refusing to reveal itself. That was the smell of coffee.

Now you should know that of all the scents in this universe, coffee might be my favorite one. And the taste of coffee is my favorite taste. I may even just have to confess that I’m addicted to coffee. A hereditary thing, I’m afraid. My mother is also a notorious coffee lover. When I used to visit her somewhere, to my childish amazement, she called out at the front door: “I can smell coffee!”

Anyway, my espressos continued to taste like bitter water for a while. And after that they continued to taste for a while like a white-flecked Hague hop that had been lying between the cushions of the sofa for a year or two. A friend told me she had the same experience. Then I read in two Saturdays ago de Volkskrant an interview with cooking scientist Harold McGee, in which he tells that he too had lost his sense of smell and taste for months and that he first noticed this anosmia while drinking coffee.

Damn, was there a pattern here? Why is coffee such an important benchmark when it comes to loss of smell and taste? Does coffee exist simply by virtue of its aromas?

I decided there Nose dive McGee’s latest book in which he tries to map everything a human can smell. It appeared last week in Dutch as The scents of the world and forms as we say from the author of About food and cooking accustomed to, extremely interesting and entertaining reading material.

About a page and a half in the book is devoted to coffee. McGee lists a host of odor components of coffee—including bread, butter, roasts, sulfur, cats, skunks, sweat, malt, cloves, nuts, fruits, flowers—and the molecules responsible for them—furanones, diacetyl, fur, among others. -furylthiol, methanethiol, pyrazines – but nowhere does he answer my question.

Just an email then. Harold McGee is known as an author who is always willing to answer questions about his work and within 24 hours I had an answer.

“I doubt whether we would drink coffee at all without coffee aroma. Because then all that remains is bitterness and that is not very attractive,” he wrote. “But there is nothing in the odor components themselves that could explain why when you lose smell you would be the first to stop smelling coffee, or why that aroma would return last. I rather think that coffee is reported so often because so many people drink it. Does that sound logical?”

Yes, that sounds quite logical actually. Logical enough in any case to let go of the subject. I closed my laptop, walked into the kitchen and made myself an espresso. A delicious, bread and butter, roast meat and skunk, sweat and flower smelling espresso. And when I had finished it, I put a pan with sugar on the fire to make hopscotch custard. Like I said, coffee is my favorite thing.


For six people

Hopjesvla is caramel custard to which coffee (or coffee aroma) has been added. Caramel can be a bit tricky to make, so don’t despair if you don’t succeed the first time. That happens to me sometimes too. There are sometimes only a few seconds between a beautiful fawn brown sauce with a full taste and a burnt, bitter syrup. Should the caramel burn, just start over. And if necessary, have a bowl of ice-cold water ready to stop the caramelization process if it threatens to go too fast.

150 g of sugar;
1 liter of whole milk;
100 ml espresso or strong coffee;
2 egg yolks;
40 g cornstarch

For it:

200 ml whipping cream;
1 tbsp sugar

Doe the sugar in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add 4 tablespoons of water, place the pan over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring with a wooden spoon. Turn the heat down a little, but not at its lowest, because then you’ll be waiting by the stove tomorrow for the caramel to be ready.

Leave the sugar syrup gently bubbling until it starts to color. You are definitely not allowed to stir anymore. If crystals form on the side of the pan, you can wipe them off with a wet brush. When one side of the sugar syrup browns faster than the other, pick up the pan and rock it gently. If the process goes too fast and the caramel threatens to burn, you can briefly place the pan in a bowl of ice-cold water to lower the temperature quickly.

Leave caramelize the sugar until it is a nice fawn brown and smells nice of caramel. If you have a candy thermometer, you can cook the caramel to about 170 degrees Celsius. Without such a thermometer you will have to rely on your eyes and your nose.

Schenk once you have a nice, smooth caramel the milk and espresso or coffee in the pan. The caramel will then startle and solidify immediately, but a little later, as the milk heats up, it will melt and dissolve again. Bring the hops’ milk to the boil while stirring – yes, now it is allowed again.

stir In a bowl, loosen the cornflour with a very small pinch of salt and the egg yolks. Add a splash of the hot milk and stir to a smooth paste. Pour the cornmeal paste into the milk and lower the heat under the pan. Keep stirring and wait for the caramel custard to set. If you remove the ladle from the custard and draw a line through the adhering custard with your finger, that line should remain.

Schenk the custard in a bowl or in 6 individual bowls. Let cool and then chill in the fridge. Before serving, beat the whipped cream with the sugar and serve it with the hopscotch custard.

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