How To Choose The Best Type Of Coffee To Use For Baking

Coffee isn't just an essential part of our morning routine. It's also a perfect dessert pairing. Coffee's rich, complex flavor balances the sweetness in desserts while enhancing underlying flavors like baking spices, chocolate, vanilla, and nuts. Consequently, it's not just a great drink to sip with a slice of cake, but a secret ingredient in many baked goods. We consulted pastry chef and co-owner of Black Box Bakery in Denver, Arielle Israel, for guidance on how to use coffee as a baked good ingredient.

Chef Israel told Tasting Table that the type of coffee to use depends on the item you are making. You can either use coffee grounds for infusions or as brewed coffee to add as a wet ingredient, or espresso powder as a dry ingredient. Espresso powder has a much more notable coffee flavor that will stand up to other robust dessert flavors. Israel says that she uses it "for ganaches and other items where we don't want to strain out the espresso."

However, coffee grounds are inedible, and you can't add them to the dry ingredients of baked goods. So, "coffee grounds would be used as an infusion and would be strained out of the liquid it is being steeped in." Essentially, you can add a shot of freshly brewed drip coffee or espresso to batter. While liquid coffee will uphold the proper moisture level in cakes, Israel admits that it'll add a more subtle coffee flavor that won't be the star of the show.

Coffee and flavor pairings in desserts

Despite brewed coffee instilling moisture in cake batters, Chef Israel still proclaims that you should use espresso powder, rather than coffee grounds, for the best results. Furthermore, if you want to accentuate the coffee flavor in your dessert, she says to "search for flavors that play together, that enhance each other's qualities." While Black Box Bakery dissolves espresso powder into ganaches or frosting, you can just as easily dissolve it into cake batters. Israel thinks that it's the secret weapon to a moist and flavorful chocolate cake. Espresso powder is a popular addition to brownies as it makes for a much more pronounced chocolate taste. 

You can also draw inspiration from her bakery's "coffee cardamom whipped ganache" by adding espresso powder to the glaze of a cardamom bun or to use it in cake batter spiced with cardamom, cinnamon, and vanilla. If you want to add a shot of espresso or brewed coffee, you can embolden the coffee flavor by "play[ing] with ratios and steep times." Our tip for the perfect homemade coffee syrup exemplifies this tip. If you are using coffee to a batter, you will have to change the ratios of liquid ingredients in the recipe as adding coffee to a set recipe will result in changes to its consistency when baked. That said, brewed coffee would make a delicious addition to a tres leches cakes or poke cakes that call for a wet crumb.