It’s surely one of life’s greatest joys – coffee and a cake. Both an art and a science, the pairing of sweet desserts and sensuous coffee is one of the universe’s greatest gifts to mankind.
Whether it’s topping off a meal, or refreshing the senses after a hearty walk, coffee and a cake is the refreshment of choice for millions of us on a lazy day – and rightly so.
While you might easily pick your drinks and eats with little regard for pairing, you can significantly upgrade your experience with a little thought to your selection.
Consider the acidity (tangy brightness), body (strength and mouthfeel) and aroma (scent and light part of the taste) of your coffee, and how it might with your dessert. Are you eating something light and airy, or decadent and rich? Can the flavours properly balance without being overpowering?
Let’s have a look at some regional varieties and how they might fit with a sweet treat.
Which coffee goes with which dessert?
Geography is the key here – the variations between coffee regions produce different tastes, which are well worth keeping in mind for your dessert pairings.
Most East African blends – including Ethiopian, Burundian, Kenyan and Rwandan, have a light, floral taste with citrus undertones, so they can pair well with other citrus tastes. As long as the sour notes aren’t too powerful, the delicate balance can be refreshing and delicious.
Kenyan coffee works well with any kind of berry, so a blueberry or strawberry tart could pair well with a smooth Aeropressed brew.
Rwandan coffee can have subtle notes of caramel in the aftertaste too, which can lend well to either the contrast of a vanilla or lemon cheesecake, or a complementary chocolate dish.
Brazilian coffee (as well as other South American types) is usually a sweet, mild type, and so can be paired with just about anything. Its chocolate, nutty tones can go really nicely with a sticky toffee pudding or chocolate cake with cream.
Colombian coffees, with their medium to heavy-bodied caramel and spice flavours also work with richer desserts like cheesecakes and ice creams.
Which brews for which desserts?
The most important thing to remember is that there are no rules. You can do whatever works best for you – no matter what your bearded barista friends might say. But some pairings do tend to work better than others.
A strong espresso, with its bitter and striking taste, can be tempered well with creamy cold desserts. So – something with mascarpone, crème fraîche, or ice cream will be the perfect addition.
And a cold brew coffee – with its moreish smoothness and lower acidity than usual brews – can sit very nicely next to a caramel ice cream on a hot summer’s afternoon.
On colder days, a French Press (cafetière) will warm you right up. Put a few scoops of coarse-ground coffee into the pot, add water that’s just off the boil, stir well, leave for 4 minutes, then plunge and pour. This easy process will provide you with a few cups of beautiful, flavoursome coffee that you can customise to your heart’s content. A straight cup of black cafetière coffee will go very nicely with an Italian biscotti, a buttered croissant, or pancakes with maple syrup. It’s that versatile.
Making it yourself
If you’re at home, you’ve got the perfect opportunity for a perfect cuppa. Grinding your own beans is the best way to go, for maximum freshness and flavour (check out our guide on how to do it yourself). There’ll only be a moment between the flavours being released from the bean to being captured in your drink – which means you’re getting the complete coffee experience. Whether you’re using an Aeropress, Moka Pot, Chemex or French Press, the best brew starts with a diligent grind.
Coffee Cake Recipe
Here’s a fabulous chococcino cake recipe that combines chocolate, coffee and cake. How about that? Should go very nicely with a lighter brew, hot or cold. Do save us a slice.
For the sponge:
200g soft butter, plus extra for greasing
1 tsp baking powder
85g cocoa powder
140g self-raising flour
200g golden caster sugar
2 tbsp milk
For the filling and icing:
2 x 250g tubs mascarpone
85g golden caster sugar
4 tbsp very strong coffee (see note below)
50g dark chocolate for grating
The ‘very strong’ coffee refers to the drink itself, as in, instant coffee. Please don’t. Instead of this, you could make an espresso with some high quality coffee, let it cool, and use that. If you have no way of making espresso, then use whatever brewing method you normally use, and significantly reduce the water you use, to produce a much more intense brew.
Heat the oven, line the tins and make the sponge, sifting the cocoa powder with the flour and baking powder.
Bake for 25 minutes, then leave it to cool, and apply the filling.
For the filling, beat the mascarpone and sugar together, then beat in the coffee. Use half the mix to sandwich the cakes and spread the other half over the top, swirling with the back of a spoon to make pointy curls. Finely grate the chocolate over the top, then serve.
If you’re looking for some fine grind to enhance your kitchen, have a look at the selection in our online shop.
Recipe courtesy of BBC Good Food.