In France, coffee is not served with dessert – it is offered only after the dessert course is finished. Here, the first thing a diner is asked after ordering dessert is, “Would you like some coffee with that?” I have to admit, a smooth, deep coffee is wonderful with something sweet…so why not put the coffee into the dessert? It’s a natural partner in the final course, since its bitter flavor helps to balance the inherent sweetness.
If I had to choose my favorite coffee dessert, it would be coffee ice cream. I love the cool, creamy sweetness against the bitter, bracing jolt of coffee. Put a small scoop between two crispy chocolate cookies and I’m in heaven. The weird thing is…I rarely drink coffee. I mean, considering all the espresso powder and coffee I use in desserts, one would think I’m a hard-core coffee addict. I guess I do like coffee, as long as it tastes like coffee ice cream – that is, with plenty of sugar, and milk or cream. I don’t think I’m alone. Look at the popularity of all those fancy coffee drinks at the coffeehouse – each one is a dessert!
When it comes to coffee desserts, I’m powerless in the presence of well-made tiramisu, that favorite of Italian sweets consisting of sponge cake soaked with espresso-rum syrup, and layered with sweetened mascarpone, and grated chocolate. The name, translated as “pick-me-up,” refers directly to the coffee within. Another one of my favorite Italian desserts is even simpler to make. Called “gelato affogato,” or “drowned ice cream,” it is an ice cream sundae of sorts consisting of a scoop of ice cream “drowned” with a shot of espresso topped with a spoonful of whipped cream. The ice cream starts to melt and blend with the hot espresso, creating a wonderful play of hot and cold with sweet and bitter. No doubt you can think of your own favorite coffee-spiked desserts.
And while the examples above offer a bold coffee profile, when used in moderation it can enhance other flavors without taking the front seat. For example, a bit of instant espresso powder or pure coffee extract added to a dark chocolate dessert makes the chocolate taste even more, well, chocolate-y, without tasting like coffee. It’s a trick pastry chefs have long used to boost and compliment the complex flavors of dark chocolate. Coffee is also a wonderful partner to milk and white chocolate endings, tempering their sweetness and adding another layer of flavor to the dessert.
Custards in particular are a great medium for coffee because you can infuse the milk and/or cream portion of the custard with actual coffee beans for a rich coffee flavor. Infusing is similar to making tea. You add the beans to the hot liquid and let the mixture sit. Once the flavor is strong enough, you simply strain out the coffee beans and continue with the recipe. Since you learned about the tricks to baking perfect custard in my last posting, give the Coffee Cardamom Pots de Crème below a try. The blend of flavors is intoxicating.
For many other desserts, this infusing method isn’t practical. In those cases, my favorite way to add a punch of coffee flavor is by adding a bit of instant espresso powder. And my favorite instant espresso powder is the Medaglia d’Oro brand from Italy. This small glass jar with a green lid and a label bearing the colors of the Italian flag boasts very fine granules that dissolve almost instantly, and the flavor is clean and pure. It is available in some supermarkets and many Italian delis and specialty shops. If you use an instant espresso with large, chunky granules, you’ll need to dissolve them in a tiny bit of warm water first, essentially making your own coffee extract. Try it in your favorite cake or cheesecake batter, cookie dough, even meringue. Desserts with joe are always a favorite, with or without a cup of coffee alongside.More Desserts with Joe ideas and recipes follow after the jump
Coffee-Cardamom Pots de Crème
Coffee and cardamom is an intriguing and exotic flavor pairing from the eastern Mediterranean. The tradition comes from Turkey and Egypt, where cardamom seeds are sometimes boiled with the beans for coffee or ground along with the beans into powder. The roasted, bitter flavor of the coffee is a great match with the citrusy, floral qualities of cardamom, a member of the ginger family.
Equipment: Medium Saucepan, Whisk, Medium Bowl, Fine-Mesh Strainer, Pitcher or Large Measuring Cup with Spout, Six (6-Ounce) Custard Cups or Ceramic Ramekins or Coffee Cups, Large Roasting or Baking Pan, Tongs, Cooling Rack
- 1¼ cups (10 ounces) heavy whipping cream
- 1¼ cups (10 ounces) whole milk
- ¹⁄³ cup (2¹⁄³ ounces) plus 1 tablespoon sugar
- ½ cup (1¼ ounces) coffee or espresso
- beans (decaffeinated beans may be used)
- 2 teaspoons cardamom seeds
- 7 large egg yolks
- Softly Whipped Cream (see previous post) and chocolate-covered coffee beans, for serving
- Make and flavor the custard: Combine the cream, milk, sugar, coffee beans, and cardamom seeds in the medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring to help the sugar dissolve, until the mixture is just below the boiling point (there will be a ring of bubbles around the edge of the pan and wisps of steam rising from the center, but bubbles will not be breaking the surface). The acid in the beans could cause the mixture to curdle if it boils, so watch closely. Remove from the heat, cover, and let steep for 15 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 325°F and position an oven rack in the center.
- Temper the eggs: Place the milk mixture back over medium heat, uncover, and reheat to just below the boiling point. Whisk the egg yolks in the medium bowl. Twist a damp kitchen towel into a rope and wrap it around the bottom of the bowl to secure it while you temper the eggs. Pour about ½ cup of the hot milk mixture into the eggs, whisking constantly. Once blended, whisk in another ½ cup. Then slowly pour the rest of the mixture into the eggs, whisking constantly.
- Strain and bake the custard: Pour the mixture through the strainer into the pitcher. Place the custard cups in the large roasting pan, making sure they don’t touch, and divide the warm custard among them. Pull out the oven rack and place the pan on the rack; then remove one of the cups, pour enough hot tap water (not boiling) into that area to come halfway up the sides of the cups, and replace the cup. Cut a piece of foil large enough to fit just inside the edges of the roasting pan, then lay the foil across the top of the cups, making sure it doesn’t touch the custard. You may need to smooth and flatten the foil on the counter if any wrinkles touch the custard. Gently push the rack back into the oven, shut the oven door, and bake the custards for 45 to 65 minutes, until they are almost set—there should still be a small liquid area in the very center of each custard, about the size of a dime (test by gently tapping the side of the pan).
- Remove the foil and then the pan from the oven, being careful not to tilt the pan and splash water on top of the custards. Set the pan on a heatproof surface. Use a pair of tongs (or your hand protected by a kitchen towel) to immediately remove the cups from the water bath and place them on a rack to cool to room temperature, about 40 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold, at least 4 hours or overnight.
- Serve the pots de crème: Place each custard cup on a small dessert plate. Serve with a spoonful of whipped cream and a few chocolate-covered coffee beans.
Getting Ahead: The custards may be baked 1 or 2 days in advance and refrigerated, covered with plastic wrap.
Tools of the Trade:
Recipes and Photos are reprinted with permission from Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC. The Art and Soul of Baking © copyright 2008 by Sur La Table, Inc.