Italians take their coffee seriously. It must be strong, it must be fragrant, and – above all – it must be hot. Allowing it to get cold is, in their eyes, the equivalent of accepting a lovely cone of hazelnut and chocolate gelato only to then drop it on the sidewalk. You can almost hear the ‘Oh, the waste!’ as a wistful expression flashes across their faces.
It reminds me of the time my parents came to visit shortly after my family and I moved to Auburn. I had invited some new friends over for an impromptu dinner and, after finishing the main meal, my mom offered to make us espressos. As we waited, Erik and I suggested heading to the living room for a few minutes.
Lounging comfortably, we quickly became absorbed in conversation and somehow managed not to hear my mother beckoning us back to the table. To this day, she insists she must have called my name a ‘thousand’ times. Anyway, all was quite jovial until my mom appeared, quite suddenly, with a wooden spoon in her hand and a stern expression.
“The caffè is getting cold,” she announced in her heavy accent, adding: “It is not good cold. Please…” and directed us, with her wooden spoon, back to the dinner table. We followed her like meek little ducklings.
Only an Italian woman bent on giving her guests the best possible experience – and practically holding a weapon in her hand! – can get away with this type of forthright and, let’s face it, downright bossy behavior. My guests nevertheless found her endearing. If you ask me, it’s the accent.
While anecdotal, the episode reflects the almost obsessive standards to which Italians hold their cherished espresso, or – as they like to call it – ‘caffè.’ It has got to be right. And it’s not just finickiness, though that particular characteristic is no stranger to Italians.
Espresso, by its very nature, needs to be drunk immediately after being brewed to be at its maximum peak of flavor. Why? Because of how it is brewed, which – by the way – is what makes it officially espresso. That’s right. Espresso is not a type of coffee bean or a type of roast but, simply, a method. It entails forcing nearly boiling water, under pressure, through a canister containing coffee beans that have been finely ground and evenly packed.
As such, when you see a bag of coffee labeled espresso, it will contain one of two things: coffee pre-ground to the fine size required for espresso brewing or a bean blend that creates an optimal balance of flavors when brewed as espresso. By the way, fancy gadgetry, like a super expensive espresso machine, is not required. All you need is a good-quality, stove-top moka coffee maker, and you are good to go.
Either way you make it, the method ends up creating three ‘parts,’ for lack of a better word, to the coffee: the heart, or the very dark liquid pooled at the very bottom of the cup; the body, which constitutes the creamy caramel-ly middle, and the coveted crema, which is the sweet, frothy layer on top. Drinking it while those three layers are still distinct and separate entities is the key to enjoying a memorable espresso. It will be almost naturally sweet, with not even a hint of unpleasant aftertaste. Within 10 seconds of being brewed, however, those three distinct parts meld into one, creating one big shot of bitter nastiness. Yuck.
Which is why Italians, in their desire to revel in a satisfying caffeine break, insist on drinking theirs just brewed and very hot. It is also, by the way, why my mother got out the wooden spoon.
Personal anecdotes aside…this weave allows BLT enthusiasts to enjoy earthy, savory, mouth-watering bacon in each and every bite they take of their beloved sandwich. You can even skip the bread all together and just use these sturdy weaves to pile on lettuce and those fragrant slices of ripe tomatoes. You can’t lose!
Finally, since video is worth more than the 158 words it took me to explain how to create a bacon weave, watch a super clear and helpful video of how to make these delicious suckers on the video series Mad Genius Tips by Food and Wine Magazine.
So here goes…
making coffee & maple glazed bacon weaves
Slice 1 beefsteak tomato horizontally.
Place the slices on a paper towel-lined plate and sprinkle with Kosher salt.
Allow to sit for 3o minutes while you prepare the weaves. Doing this allows the slices to shed excess moisture, thereby avoiding that pesky ‘tomato rain’ that you would otherwise have when you bite into your BLT.
My husband Erik, upon inhaling his very first BLT weave had this to say on the subject...’This sandwich eliminates the two big problems I’ve always had with a BLT…I’ve always hated all the water from the tomatoes dripping down my wrists and onto my plate as I tried eating the blasted sandwich, AND I never liked how the bacon broke up and also fell on the plate with every bite I took. I don’t think I can ever go back now…which I guess means we can never get divorced, hon.’
Ha! I guess not, sweet thang…
But getting back to our weaves…preheat the oven to 425°F.
Prep the baking tray by completely covering it with aluminum foil and then lining it with parchment paper. As you can see from this photograph, I only used parchment paper.
Using the foil protects the baking tray from all of the grease that oozes from the bacon slices as they bake (for easy clean up!), and the parchment paper prevents the bacon from sticking to its surface. Trust me when I say it’s a win win. I had to throw out my first baking tray when I made these weaves because I only used the parchment paper and couldn’t scrape off all the baked, crusted-on bacon grease. Yuck, though I suppose it’s better gunked onto my now ruined baking pan than in our arteries.
Now create a glaze by mixing, in a small bowl, 1 ounce of hot espresso or strong coffee, 1 1/2 tablespoons of maple syrup, and 2 tablespoons of light brown sugar until combined. Set aside.
Using kitchen scissors, cut 16 slices of extra thick, fresh, and unsmoked bacon (each one a hefty quarter of an inch or so) in half, lengthwise.
A word on bacon…I’ve tried making these weaves an embarrassingly high number of times…regardless, each time my girls would open their mouths desperately wide, like famished baby birds, to inhale my next batch. Experimenting has helped me create some rather firm opinions on the best bacon to use to maximize this weave’s flavor.
First, the extra thick bacon slices, the ones that you buy loose in the meat department, yielded the absolute best results. While they took longer to bake, I think they produce the best texture. You get intoxicating chewiness, especially smack center, and a satisfying crunch from the borders. Thinner slices, if you don’t babysit them closely as they bake, become very… almost too… crispy. And because they don’t have the weight and heft, you get none of the pleasant chewiness I mentioned before.
Secondly, I’ve tried smoked and unsmoked bacon and find that the flavor of the glaze blazes across your palate much more when I used the unsmoked variety. Ultimately, I found the smokiness to distracting. So there you have it.
Now separate all the slices so that we can create the weaves. I’ve found that using four rows of bacon, as opposed to the three rows you see in the Food and Wine video, creates the sturdiest bacon weaves. You can, of course, make them using three rows, though you will need to be extra careful when flipping them over halfway through the baking process, as they are more apt to come undone – especially if they are not cooked enough. In any case, I use four rows in my recipe, which requires 4 slices of bacon, halved to create 8 strips, per weave.
Begin by laying out 4 bacon strips, side by side and as close together as possible, on the prepped baking tray.
Flip two alternate strips (ones that aren’t touching each other) one third of the way over on themselves.
Lay the 5th strip perpendicularly (vertically) to the horizontal rows of bacon, directly over the side with the flipped-over bacon strip. Straighten out the flipped over bacon strips. Doing so will partially cover the 5th strip that you just added.
Lift up the two strips that haven’t yet been flipped two thirds of the way over on themselves. Place a 6th bacon strip right next to the first vertical bacon strip.
Straighten out the folded-over bacon strips to cover the 6th strip that has just been added to the baking sheet.
Repeat this pattern two more times.
You have now created a perfect grid.
Repeat the complete process 3 more times with the remaining bacon strips to create four weaves.
Brush the maple syrup and coffee glaze on just one side of each bacon weave.
Place the tray in the oven and lower the temperature to 400°F. I’ve seen some sights that specify placing a cooling rack on top of the bacon weaves, but I’ve now prepared these weaves several times and, aside from the first time when I did place the cooling rack on top, I have not found it necessary at all. Besides…one less thing to clean.
Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, or until the border of the weaves start to look caramel-ly and golden. Remove the tray from the oven. Carefully flip over each bacon weave using a fork and spatula and brush the remaining glaze on each one. Return the tray to the oven and bake for another 15 minutes.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before removing the bacon from the pan.
Right before assembling the BLTs, blot the excess moisture from the salted tomatoes with paper towels to complete the ‘de-watering’ of the tomatoes.
Toast 8 slices of sandwich bread (white, whole wheat, rye, pumpernickel, sourdough…you can go crazy from the choices…) Then add the weaves, mayonnaise to taste, lettuce and the tomato slices. Hope that someone isn’t very hungry so that you can have whatever part of their sandwich they can’t finish. Makes 4 bacon weaves for 4 BLTs.