This week’s “Supermarket Score” has gotten a bad wrap over the years. It’s been bullied with names like “inferior”, “old school”, and “yucky”. It’s been pushed to the shadows of pantries nationwide and quarantined for last-ditch camping rations and afternoon bridge tournaments in grandma’s parlor. Well, today is a new day - our old friend instant coffee is back!
World Wars and space travel have been the biggest aggregators for refining the production of instant coffee. Basically a freeze-dried version of the well-regarded morning staple, instant coffee earned its acclaim as a result of its long shelf life, lightweight portability, and ease of preparation. The greatest part of all that advancement is that today, we have access to a versatile and delicious product that’s experiencing a renaissance.
As popular coffee chains are introducing their own lines of instant coffee, retro-inspired bakeries and pastry shops are doing more to incorporate it into their products. In both sweet & savory applications, coffee excels at highlighting the rich undertones of flavors like chocolate, molasses, spice, and roast meats (It’s important to note: when used appropriately, it doesn’t make things taste like coffee - it instead highlights rich and robust flavors that complement coffee). Where instant coffee takes the lead over its conventionally brewed brother is that it brings in all this flavor-boosting power without adding extra water to your dishes. This makes it an ideal addition to preparations that are a bit more sensitive to precision, like sauces and baked goods.
Venture down the coffee aisle at your nearest grocery store and pick up some instant coffee - it’s available in a jar or individual packets and in regular or unleaded varieties. Then forget your judgements about it being old-fashioned and give these ideas a try:
Banana Bread: I know it sounds a bit kooky, but go with me on this one. Somehow, someway, the flavors of coffee and banana work together. They just do. Maybe it’s because they’re both grown in the same regions of the world? Maybe they’ve grown chummy from sharing the breakfast table for so many years? Whatever the reason, let Mother Nature’s plan take full effect in your next batch of classic Banana Bread. Stir 1 1/2 tablespoons of instant coffee into your family’s favorite recipe and you’ll get a caffeinated boost of banana flavor that’ll have you ready to face any morning head on.
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Barbecue Sauce: Coffee is used to playing second fiddle in many a classic barbecue sauce recipe. It’s bold flavor brings out the rich and savory notes of more commonly acclaimed ingredients like molasses, tomato, and chili powder. Dissolve 1 tablespoon of instant coffee in 2 tablespoons of hot water and stir that into 2 cups of your favorite barbecue sauce. The sauce you thought you loved will *instantly* (I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist) become an indispensable part of your grilling toolkit.
Mocha Brownies: Chocolate and coffee are a pairing practically separated at birth - like two delicious soul-satisfying peas that both grew up in pods. Being the sucker for boxed brownie mix that I am, I love the nod to a coffeehouse mocha that comes from adding 2 tablespoons of instant coffee to my bowl of brownie batter. Then watch me try to not finish the entire pan in one sitting…
Braised Beef Dishes: Braised dishes are a quick ticket to flavor country, especially when using a hearty base like beef brisket or short ribs. Add a tablespoon of instant coffee to your next braising pot, such as Rach’s Bacon, Leek and Tomato Brisket, and you’ll kick up the depth of flavor tenfold.
Patrick W. Decker’s life revolves around food. Always has. Probably always will. As a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America and past member of the culinary team on Rachael’s daytime talk show, he now works as a food stylist and producer in NYC by day, and a food writer and recipe developer at his home in New York’s Hudson Valley by night. You can see what he’s up to by following his latest twEATs on Twitter at @patrickwdecker or visiting his website at patrickdecker.com.