Coffee is a very important beverage. Not only is it delicious, but it provides that much needed caffeine boost to “get the little lady going”. It could give us nothing else and we would still be seriously indebted to this wonder bean, but coffee does do more. Here are some of the best, sweet and savoury ways to get more coffee into your food.
Photos by Noirouge and Claire Lower.
Let Coffee Show Its Savoury Side
Coffee’s bitter, roasted flavour is the perfect compliment to a ton of savoury dishes, and it adds unexpected dimension to meats, vegetables and even chilli. A couple of our favourite methods:.
- Rub it on some meat. A good spice rub can take an OK piece of meat from “meh” to “marvellous” and coffee does really well here, especially when paired with smoky chilli peppers or sweet brown sugar. There are a ton of recipes out there for coffee rubs, but I like to use this simple ratio of ¼ cup brown sugar + ¼ ground coffee + 2 tablespoons of chilli powder as a starting point, adding in other seasonings as I see fit. (If you want to double down on this glorious pairing, you can always make a coffee BBQ sauce.)
- Use it in a curing mixture. The best thing I have ever made in this life was coffee-cured duck prosciutto. Was it an easy process? No, but it was not overly difficult. For each duck breast, you need ¼ cup of ground coffee, 1 ½ tablespoons of coarse salt, ½ tablespoon of sugar and 1 tablespoon of orange zest. Combine all of that, rub it all over the duck breasts and cure it as you would regular duck prosciutto. If duck ain’t your thing, coffee also makes a great slab of bacon.
- Make it into a marinade. This is a great use for that last cup of coffee that didn’t get consumed, and coffee’s acidic nature makes it great at breaking down tougher meats. Epicurious has a great recipe for coffee-marinated skirt steak with Dijon mustard, balsamic, garlic and shallots, but coffee’s bitter backbone means it can stand up to all sorts of strong flavours, whether they be sweet, sour, spicy or pungent, so feel free to go wild here.
- Add it to a dressing. A coffee vinaigrette may sound a little strange but, again, the bitter nature of the bean lends balance, cutting through rich, fatty ingredients. This makes it perfect for salads that are studded with with grilled meats and vegetables, but you could forgo veggies entirely and just drizzle it over something super decadent like foie. You don’t really need a “recipe” for this — just add a teaspoon or two of finely-ground coffee to a basic vinaigrette — but here’s one just in case
- Chuck it in chilli. Chilli is one of those dishes about which everyone has a very strong opinion, but I feel pretty secure in suggesting you pour ½ a cup of strong coffee into your chilli. Rather than making a coffee-flavoured pot of chilli, you’ll have a nuanced, balanced batch with a “can’t quite put your finger on why this is good” quality to it.
Of course, it’s not all savoury. Coffee plays well with the sweeter things in life as well.
Sweeten the Deal
A cup of coffee is a natural pairing for sweet, sugary pastries, but it’s also a real superstar ingredient when used in desserts. Here are some sweet ways to incorporate the bitter beverage into your baking.
- Make a tiramisu. I mean, obviously. It would be a crime to talk about coffee and desserts and not bring up this layered, Italian masterpiece. There are a ton of good tiramisu recipes out there, but I find this one to be particularly glorious.
- Intensify cakes and brownies. Coffee and chocolate are a match made in mouth heaven and, when coffee is added to dark chocolate cakes and fudgy brownies, the cocoa flavours are intensified, rather than distracted from. Case in point: This chocolate cake is made so perfect by the addition of hot, strong coffee, I haven’t tried another chocolate cake recipe in over a year. Instant coffee and espresso powder can also contribute a fair amount of flavour, and adding a couple of tablespoons of either one to a batch of box-mix brownies will make them taste a bit more refined and homemade.
- Boost pie crusts. Flavouring pie crusts is something I’m just getting super into, but a teaspoon of espresso powder in a pastry crust meant for a chocolate cream pie would really be something special, and a mocha Oreo cookie crust doesn’t sound too bad either.
- Flavour mousses and jellys. These are pudding and jelly cups for grownups, and they are amazing. Epicurious has great recipes for both genres, including a dark roast coffee jelly and a decadent mocha mousse.
- Infuse liqueurs. I’m sure you’ve made you’ve made your own coffee before, but did you know you can cold brew your own coffee liqueur? It’s a relatively simple process that produces a smooth, super-sippable, ultra-adult beverage. Just steep half a cup of ground coffee in vodka (or rum, or whiskey) overnight in the fridge. If you want a sweeter boozy treat, add in a little simple syrup and vanilla after steeping.
As you can see from all of its glorious uses, coffee is truly a bean that can do both. Whether you’re making a sweet, sugary dessert or rich meaty main, the caffeinated beverage adds depth and just the right amount of bitterness.