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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Cooking with Instant Espresso Powder

    I was reading the current Feb/Mar 2011 issue of Cook's Country magazine (a Christmas gift from my parents was a subscription.) There is a recipe for "Lazy Cook's Pot Roast." You put a rub on the roast, add some vegetables, seal in foil and slow roast for 4.5 hours. As the test kitchen tested the recipe, to get the rub just right they used "an offbeat ingredient, espresso powder, added the last bit of toasty complexity." I'd never heard of espresso powder so did a little online research of my own.
    I'd heard of cook's using small amounts of liquid coffee in recipes to enhance the chocolate flavor. According to King Arthur Flour's website:

Espresso powder: the secret ingredient in your chocolate specialties.

Espresso powder is a must-have ingredient if you bake with chocolate. Here’s why:
  • Espresso powder is chocolate's best friend. Use 1/2 to 2 teaspoons in chocolate baked goods, frostings, and sauces; a touch of espresso powder enhances chocolate's flavor without adding any coffee flavor of its own.
  • Ground, brewed, then dried from specially selected coffee beans, powder readily dissolves for easy mixing.
  • For mocha flavor, use 2 teaspoons or more; or use espresso powder on its own to add clean, strong coffee flavor to frostings, bars, cakes, & cookies.
Now, if you buy it there from King Arthur Flour, a 2 oz jar will cost you $6.95 although shipping is free. When I had googled it, I saw a Mexican jar (red, white, and green striped jar like their flag). The brand name is Medaglia D'Oro. I went to my locally owned grocery store, and they had this in both the Mexican aisle and the coffee aisle. It cost $3.49 for 2 oz.
     Now, I generally don't like using odd ingredients that are hard to find or expensive. However, it can be worth it, to find specific spices or special ingredients that you can use in a variety of recipes. Sometimes, just adding that little bit of something special to a recipe, a secret ingredient, it can make a standard traditional dish taste extraordinary. In this case, the 2 oz jar didn't cost that much, and my local grocery store had it. I will use it in the pot roast recipe (it only calls for 1 tsp) as soon as my pot roast thaws (as I had to take it out of the freezer.) Based on the description above from King Arthur Flour, next time I make brownies I'll add 1/2 tsp and see how it tastes. This is one way of not spending very much money but making your food taste just that much better.
    In my research I also found where some folks substituted regular instant coffee for the espresso powder. This had limited success as the instant coffee granules are larger and didn't always dissolve and were a bit gritty. I ran across a website (Fine Cooking.com) that stated: You can substitute regular instant coffee, preferably a dark roast. When cooking or baking, instant coffee will yield the same results, but it may lack the rich, roasted flavor of espresso. In a real pinch, you can substitute very finely ground coffee or espresso, but use less since these grounds haven't been brewed. For those enterprising thrifty folks, I also came across instructions on how to make your own espresso powder from the same website that states: You can make your own instant espresso powder by drying and grinding the grounds yourself.

From Cooks Illustrated.com:
Published March 1, 2010. From Cook's Illustrated.
Is the right espresso powder the secret to intense chocolate flavor in brownies and other baked goods?
There’s your average joe, and then there’s espresso. The same gulf separates regular instant coffee from instant espresso, whose more concentrated flavor pumps up chocolate flavor with just a pinch. We tried out three national brands in our Chewy Brownies to see if any delivered a better flavor boost. Each powder performed comparably to produce brownies that tasted deeper, richer, and more complex without imparting an overt coffee taste. That said, all three brands made a below-average hot beverage, so save the jarred granules for baking and brew real espresso for your demitasse.

Unfortunately, I don't have a membership to that website to be able to see the results! DOH! However, Cook's Illustrated is run by Christopher Kimball, who also runs Cook's Country, and America's Test Kitchen. So obviously it made a difference to their brownies to use one of the espresso powders and it worked too in the Lazy Cook's Pot Roast. And although I'm curious to see how the different brands compared to each other, my grocery store only had one espresso powder on the shelf so it's not like I have a choice locally as to which brand to buy.

1 comment:

  1. I cooked the "Lazy Cook's Pot Roast" tonight and it was very good! Because of the way it's cooked, it doesn't have a crust on the outside as the meat isn't seared but baked in a low oven while covered. However, the rub on the roast tasted good enough, you don't really miss the sear.

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