What did you expect when you read that title? Originally, I was going to write exclusively about using coffee–brewed or otherwise–in baking recipes. I’ve covered that a bit in previous blogs, however, and didn’t just want to end up repeating myself. I want to talk about the merits of coffee in baking recipes and make some recommendations for enticing recipes you could try. I also want to talk about the types of baked goods that pair well with coffee, if, for example, you’re a small business owner looking to feature sweet treats with your specially sourced, roasted locally or on-site coffee.
Combining coffee and sweets seems to have been around since we started consuming coffee. I’ve read that boiling coffee in water originally came from a need to tone down the bitterness in the coffee. It seems likely that pairing the brown, bitter brew with sugary snacks was a manifestation of the same need. It’s why we add in milk and sugar, it’s why lattes and mochas are a thing; we want the caffeine, but the caffeine is hard to palate. Dunkin Donuts’ entire brand is built on the idea of cutting that natural coffee flavor by sopping it up with something sugary.
The reason these businesses may continue to flourish could be traced to your body’s need for sugar after a long night of not eating (you know, when you’re asleep) when your blood sugar levels plummet. Even the heartiest breakfast sometimes just won’t do the trick, and a black coffee will give you some energy, but it won’t give your body that sugar it’s jonesing for. We know that too much sugar is no bueno, especially early in the morning when we have an entire work day ahead of us; but, sugar in the brain does help to enhance memory and learning. When combined with that caffeine fix, coffee and pastries may, at least temporarily, give you that performance boost you need right at the beginning of the day.
Coffee is also associated with baked goods, or dessert in general, in many regions of the world where espresso is a post-meal must to kick-start digestion and/or keep you alert after pounding the carbs (or before hitting even more carbs). If you’ve been to any candle-lit restaurant, you know that coffee and dessert go hand in hand for a lot of people. Even if it’s just for the separate reasons that dessert traditionally follows dinner and coffee happens to, too; we associate baked goods and sweet treats with coffee both for breakfast, at the mid-hump coffee break, and after dinner.
It is this flavor combo, the mixing of sweet and the earthy, smokey, bitter, that explains why coffee is sometimes called for in baking recipes. Coffee is especially popular in chocolate recipes, for the same reason that mocha lattes are especially popular. I often find that baked goods made with coffee, either instant powder or liquid brewed, are a great option for those who are looking for a dessert that’s not too sweet or one that has a certain depth of flavor (beyond just sugar or just chocolate). Coffee complicates the flavor profile of a dessert, bringing in that smoky, earthiness or bitterness that goes so well with sweet, chocolatey or even citrusy flavors. A bigger depth of flavor means someone can generally eat more than if every bite tastes essentially the same, and it’s all one note!