A Guide to Cooking with Coffee

As we all know, cakes, puddings, cookies, candies, and all kinds of sweet delights can benefit from the flavor of coffee. But do you know that there is also a lesser-known tradition of using coffee as a flavoring in savory foods? Think about barbecue sauces and glazes for roasted meats, and beans both chili and baked, and even red-eye gravy. Savory recipes that successfully incorporate coffee (…and more on the UNsucessful ones later) enrich and add dimension to many dishes. And, coffee can add yet another dimension to cocktails—anyone for a Brandy Alexander with a hint of coffee? 

There’s a myriad of recipes that accompany coffee but here at DecafDivas, we’ll concentrate more on those that actually incorporate coffee, either ground, brewed or even (gasp!)  instant, in the ingredients. These recipes are much harder to find and then test and develop into delicious, foolproof formulas. And here’s why…

The flavor of coffee is not encompassed in just one compound, as is, for instance, the flavor of raspberries. It is more a result of the combination of hundreds of chemical compounds that coffee contains; so adding coffee to a recipe adds complexity, but not necessarily a flavor component that is immediately identifiable as coffee. What it does add is an inscrutable richness, complexity, and subtlety to certain foods. So, here we go…

As an ingredient in cooking, coffee should be used carefully and here are some key guidelines for you to follow…

  • First and foremost, always consider using decaffeinated coffee in your recipes when feeding a crowd. Otherwise, your family and friends may be waking you up at three in the morning (if you aren’t already awake) after they’ve realized that your clever new recipe is so loaded with caffeine that they can’t sleep! This is especially true when serving chocolate desserts, as all chocolate is already caffeine-charged.
  • In all recipes that call for ground coffee, try to grind it from freshly roasted beans and follow the instructions as to whatever grind is called for—fine or medium or coarse.
  • In all recipes that call for brewed coffee, brew it fresh and strong, using a rinsed paper filter in a simple cone coffee maker with freshly boiled water. In most cases, make it at least twice as strong as you normally would.
  • If you don’t have a home espresso machine, consider picking up some espresso from your local coffeehouse. Take it home promptly, again freshness is important, and measure the called for amount. The same goes for brewed coffees, too.
  • In lieu of not being able to obtain freshly brewed espresso, try brewing Espresso, French, or Dark Roasted coffees at double strength in your drip machine. 
  • Some savory dishes should have coffee added after all the other ingredients have been cooked. Otherwise, you may end up with a dish tainted by acrid, burnt coffee, undertones. Coffee does NOT take well to long exposure, at high temperatures (as you may already have experienced from that over-cooked stale stuff you get at careless coffeehouses)!
  • If you want to try adding coffee to a recipe that does not call for it, consider whether the dish will benefit from the color and depth of flavor that coffee will add to it. Scallop soufflé, for instance, would not likely be improved with the addition of coffee. And that’s an UNsuccessful coffee recipe that my husband tried in his bachelor days—honestly!