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Coffee – Chocolate’s Secret Sidekick

Shahen Naidoo

I can't think of a better way to treat yourself than an espresso accompanied by a delectable chocolate brownie or a mid-day snack of fresh brewed coffee and a slice of moist chocolate cake. And now that we're entering the holiday season, chocolates and other festive treats are all around us... And that's where good quality coffee plays an even bigger role. 

Usually I would consider a treat as a trip to my favourite bakery, or coffee shop where I would meet people to absorb the whole social vibe as an essential element of my treat day. But 2020 has not been any usual year. If the recipe links on Twitter and the pics on Instagram are anything to go by, this has been the year for the home chef to emerge. Chocolate is my decadence of choice! 

To a social home baker, like myself, I always thought that decadent chocolate brownies or chocolate cake needed to the really dark chocolate with a very high percentage of cacao - even 85%or more. Cocoa powder or dark chocolate with high cacao content is bitter. Really good quality cocoa has hints of spice and fruit.

But I was pleasantly surprised when I learnt that the trick to getting richer, chocolatey cakes and desserts was staring me in the face, every morning at 5am. COFFEE!!

Coffee and chocolate have very complementary flavour elements, like the Ethiopian Etude, with its citrus/lemon flavour or the Tanzanian Tango with its medium citric acidity, citrus flavours and nutty aftertaste.

A small amount of coffee, added to the cake or brownie batter will enhance the cocoa flavours.  The milk, sugar and eggs merely help the cocoa to taste good but they do very little to make the chocolate flavour to stand out. It is coffee that provides the harmony to bring together all the chocolate flavours that make a decedent, mouth-watering chocolate cake, chocolate cupcake, chocolate brownie. 

If you're worried about the cake tasting like coffee, there’s no need to panic. Adding a shot or two of espresso to the cake or brownie  batter will not overpower the chocolate favour. Its role is solely there to boost the chocolate flavour, and turn the chocolate into the star of the show.

Even if you use boxed chocolate cake or chocolate brownies mix, substituting some of the water for good quality, brewed coffee will result a rich chocolate cake, thus elevating your baking status. No one needs to know your baking trick, after all a baker never reveals a baking secret!

So how do you add coffee to a recipe if it doesn’t ask for it? The trick is to keep the liquid ratio the same. For example if the recipe states that 250ml water is needed, adding a single shot of espresso (30ml), means that you need to add only 220ml of water. If you want to be daring, add two shots of espresso (60ml) then you add 190ml of water. You will also need to keep the temperature of the coffee and water the same, so if your recipe calls for cold water, make sure to allow your espresso to cool as well.

So what do you do if you don't have an espresso machine? A really strong espresso strength drink can be made using a Moka pot, or an AeroPress.

Adding good quality coffee added to a chocolate batter adds depth, nuance and intensifies the flavours of what would otherwise be an ordinary chocolate cake or chocolate brownie.

So go on…what are you waiting for?  Give your chocolate cake a flavour boost.

If you are a little wary of experimenting by yourself, here are a few chocolate recipes that have been tried and tested, so that you can gain the confidence to experiment on your own. The only limit here is your own creativity and imagination.

  • Espresso and Rum TrufflesThese truffles are so impressive as an after dinner treat and they will add a sophisticated air to any dinner, yet they're deceptively easy to make.
  • Café Mocha Swirls - This is a bite sized little biscuit to be enjoyed with your favourite afternoon brew.

And the best thing about home baking is that you get to enjoy a second, and even a third helping without the social faux pas that comes at your favourite coffee shop or restaurant.

So if there's anything we've learned from 2020, it has to be that we can double up on our own delightful creations and home brewed cappuccinos without missing out on too much while we remain socially responsible.


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