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Don’t Just Sip … Eat Your Coffee!

Coffee is “in.” And not just because it’s a favorite way to begin the day or due to the recent press noting coffee’s wide array of researched health benefits. Nope, it’s all about the way it functions in a recipe to flavor, tenderize, add complexity and enhance other ingredients.

Really? Yep! Just Google coffee as an ingredient in recipes and check out the results. Sure, there is a plethora of coffee drink recipes, but Epicurious, Food Network, Reader’s Digest, Martha Stewart Living and more have lists of favorite recipes – from main dishes to desserts – with coffee as an ingredient. Looking back to 2006, Redbook called out coffee as the “secret” ingredient in its barbeque sauce.  Chef Ina Garten told Food and Wine in 2007 this recipe note about one of the most fabulous chocolate cakes she had ever made: “… the bit of coffee in the cake and frosting keeps the sweetness in check.”

Why Cook and Bake with Coffee?
Well, it doesn’t add sodium, sugar or fat. And depending on the amount added, the recipe doesn’t have to contain much noticeable coffee flavor. But here are important, wonderful roles performed by coffee in a recipe:

Savory Situations
  • Coffee’s acidity helps to tenderize, so it’s useful for marinating tougher cuts of meat.
  • The smoky, roasted, earthy notes in coffee complement and heighten the flavors of barbeque and savory sauces or glazes, salad dressings, hearty stews and soups.
  • As a rub, ground coffee can be combined with other herbs and spices and then rubbed on cuts of beef, pork, lamb or chicken to add depth to the spice mixture and to enhance the meat flavor.
Sweeter Side
  • Chocolate and coffee are a classic, timeless pairing – and for good reason. Coffee intensifies and enhances the flavor of chocolate. It will up the chocolate impact in pudding, sauces, cake, cookies, brownies, truffles, mousse, frosting …
  • Coffee adds depth to spices and dried fruit. Try it in cakes, bars, quick breads – even bread pudding – flavored with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, raisins, currants, etc.
  • For desserts that shout coffee flavor, consider traditional tiramisu or coffee ice cream or custard.

Tips for Using Coffee as an Ingredient
Coffee often is called for in various forms in recipes, including strong brewed coffee; brewed espresso, espresso powder or instant espresso; finely-ground or ground coffee; instant coffee granules. If you don’t have exactly what is stated in the ingredient list, no worries. Just keep these tips in mind:

  • The amount and strength of coffee added to a recipe will determine the level of coffee flavor. For mocha or true coffee flavor, add more coffee; for heightening other flavors, add less.
  • If a recipe calls for a liquid form of coffee, interchangeably use brewed coffee, strong brewed coffee or espresso.
  • For adding dry forms of coffee, espresso powder, instant espresso, finely-ground coffee or instant coffee granules may be used interchangeably.
  • If you don’t have a coffee grinder but want more finely-ground coffee, place ground coffee (along with other dry ingredients, such as flour or sugar, from the recipe) in a food processor to achieve a smaller coffee particle size.
  • Remember, it’s okay to experiment and add more or less coffee flavor than a recipe states. If you are changing liquid coffee amounts, however, be sure to adjust the other recipe liquids to total the same overall amount.
This brownie recipe is an uber-yummy place to start using coffee as an ingredient. Even if you’re not into baking from scratch, try replacing the water in a boxed chocolate brownie or cake mix with brewed coffee!

Grandma W’s Extra Chocolaty Frosted Mocha Brownies
Since childhood growing up on the farm, my family has lovingly made thousands of brownies from a time-tested recipe handed down from my Grandmother. But being a chocolate lover, I always craved more chocolate flavor. This version of the original recipe delivers intense, moist, dense chocolate along with a hint of coffee. And Grandma would approve of a little added nutrition from whole grain flour, too!

Brownies:
½ cup butter, melted
1 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3 tablespoons strong brewed Community® coffee, cooled
¼ teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
¾ cup white whole wheat or all-purpose flour

Mocha Ganache Frosting:
2/3 cup bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips
¼ cup strong brewed Community® coffee

Preheat oven to 300°. In medium microwave-safe bowl, melt butter in microwave. In separate medium bowl, whisk together sugar and cocoa. Add sugar mixture, coffee and salt to butter; stir until smooth. Add eggs and vanilla to the butter-sugar mixture; mix in completely. Stir in flour just until combined.

Pour into an 8” X 8” baking pan lined with parchment paper or sprayed with vegetable cooking spray. Bake in middle of oven for 30 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out moist, with crumbs attached. Don’t overbake. Cool completely in pan.

Frosting:
In medium bowl, place chocolate chips. In microwave-safe measuring cup or bowl, heat coffee to a simmer in microwave. Pour coffee over chocolate and stir until completely smooth. Let cool about 1 hour. Beat with mixer for 1-2 minutes or until fluffy. Spread over cooled brownies and let frosting set. Cut into 16 squares.

Notes:
  • Coffee in both the brownie and frosting heightens chocolate flavor.
  • The frosting has a mocha flavor and could be left off … but it really makes the brownie!
  • White whole wheat flour has all the nutrition of whole wheat with a less assertive flavor and a texture similar to all purpose flour.

Beth Witherspoon, MPH, RDN, has a passion for communicating culinary and nutrition information. She is a registered dietitian/nutritionist who consults with Community Coffee Company to help communicate the flavor and health benefits of coffee.