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Coffee as a Flavor in Cooking
Recently I've discovered the amazing world of coffee as a flavor in food. Drinking coffee has its perks for some people, but I've never relished the dark, bitter taste of black coffee, and I've never needed its unnatural adrenaline boost. The rich brown smell, however, has compelled me to add sugar and cream so that it is drinkable, and I found that I actually like it!
This newfound taste experience made me want to see if I could use coffee flavor in more foods, so I began to experiment with all the different forms of coffee and its flavors. Below I will tell you what I have discovered about using dissolvable coffee crystals, coffee extract, finely ground coffee powder, and leftover strong coffee to flavor your cooking.
Instant Coffee Crystals as a Flavoring
The simplest way to add coffee flavor to any food is to buy a small can of instant dissolvable coffee crystals. Make sure you read the back label before you start dumping it into your blender, however, as some brands are stronger than others. The kind I have been using requires four tablespoons per cup of liquid, while others use just one tablespoon per cup. Your tongue will have to be your guide, so start with just one tablespoon and add more if a stronger flavor is needed. Also, avoid extraordinary coffee flavors that add extra or exotic spices or to your coffee, as these flavor flourishes are harder to use in recipes that do not need those extra spices. It is best to use the plain coffee flavor and mix in extra spices if you so desire.
Make Your Own Mocha Chunk Ice Cream
If you have an ice cream maker, use your basic vanilla ice cream recipe and for every gallon of final product, mix 1/4 cup of instant coffee crystals with your cream and sugar mixture until it dissolves. Add 1 cup cocoa powder and whisk until it also dissolves. For chunky mocha ice cream, try stirring in miniature chocolate chips and topping each serving with chocolate-covered coffee beans.
Coffee extract is a great way to add coffee flavoring to any traditional baked goods, but it tends to be weaker and subtler than most other extracts (such as almond or vanilla). Coffee extract creates a much more delicate flavor than espresso, and I found that I had to use several teaspoons to get my flavor base to even begin tasting like coffee. I found a small bottle at Vitamin Cottage Natural Grocers, but it does not seem to be at traditional grocery stores.
Coffee extract is great if you are short on time or aren't able to dissolve coffee crystals in a liquid base for your recipe. For baked goods, such as cakes, cookies, or quick breads, add 2 to 3 tablespoons to the egg, butter, sugar, or oil mixture and blend. Keep in mind that coffee extract pairs well with vanilla, almond, rum, and hazelnut extracts, so feel free to experiment!
Strong or Old Coffee as a Flavoring
Next time you have a pot of old coffee that's too strong to drink, consider saving a small amount in a jar in your fridge. You might even boil off some of the water to make it even stronger. This coffee "concentrate" makes a great flavoring for milkshakes or iced coffees because this coffee is strong enough to handle diluting, and the other flavors and sweeteners complement the bitter taste of your old coffee. This concentrate can also be used to flavor pancakes and waffles, muffins and cupcakes, cocoa and eggnog, cakes, cookies, and anything else that suits your fancy. Make sure your batter is not to thin or runny by using the coffee concentrate in place of other liquids such as water or milk in your recipe (mix dried milk powder with your coffee concentrate if milk or cream is called for).
Finely Ground or Powdered Coffee as a Flavoring
Once I was frustrated with the lack of strong flavor my coffee extract was producing for some mocha granola I was making, so I gave in to ingenuity and got out my small coffee bean grinder. I poured in 1/4 cup of pre-ground coffee grounds, put on the lid, and blended until a fine powder resulted. My idea was to use this powder like I would use cocoa powder: as a flavoring, but with more dry-ingredient content than just a spice. My one concern was that the double-ground grounds would not be fine enough. The last thing I wanted was coffee grit in my food.
My concerns were relieved when I took a bite of the freshly-baked granola. Because the dry ingredients in my granola were of a bulky and clumpy texture already (oats, coconut, wheat germ and bran), the powdered coffee grounds gave only a nice rich coffee taste without the grit I was expecting. Paired with cocoa powder, and topped with chopped chocolate chips that melted onto the granola right after I took it out of the oven, my mocha granola was a hit!
All photos and text © Jane Grey 2010