I’m 93% sure that coffee makes up some part of my bloodstream and runs through my veins. On any given day, I consume at least 2 cups of the blackest black coffee so strong that my grandmother always claims that drinking my coffee is like “eating coffee grounds” and promptly dilutes it with a cup of tepid water.
I used to despise coffee. It took desperation during college finals for me to order anything other hot cocoa at Starbucks. Of course, I’m not sure a Peppermint White Mocha counts as coffee, per say… It took months of paring down the sugar for me to get to the good stuff.
Since then, I’ve enjoyed playing with different coffee types, roasting levels, and even coffee in my baking. I’m obsessed with ordering espresso at cafes whenever I’m out and about. (Also, it looks really chic, right?) Basically, I’m a coffee fanatic.
As such, I find that coffee deserves its own “In Appreciation of” post. Let’s do a deep dive on some coffeeeee. And specifically, I’m obsessed with the unique flavor quality of coffee. So we’ll focus on that.
At the beginning, ripe berries are picked and processed. This is where the flavor process begins. The green beans have the herbaceous precursors that will soon change into what we all recognize as coffee. The processing does differ just a little bit based on the labor and time choices, but at the bare minimum, the coffee berries are dried. That drying process does a couple of things for us. And it’s all related to Maillard Browning! First, whether the berries are dried with gentle heat or simply by air drying, heat is generated. That heat causes the natural sugars to react with the plant proteins and get some preliminary “brown” notes going. Second, the reduction of water makes Maillard Browning more optimal which speeds up the process.
Some coffee production incorporates fermentation which can create further flavors in your beans.
The next step is roasting. The most important flavor creator. Lots of things going on here. The high heat removes even more water concentrating the components of the beans. As more tightly-bound water is removed and the interior temperature of the bean increases, caramelization and Maillard Browning tag team. The caramelization breaks down the starches in the beans, converting them to simple sugars which take part in the Maillard reaction. The caramelization process will also break down any inherent sucrose in the beans and create some of those bitter notes we all associate with coffee.
We’ve talked the Maillard reaction to death because of its importance in so many food flavors, but you can basically reduce it down to think nutty and toasty. One pathway of the Maillard reaction, however, is called the strecker degradation which involves further breakdown of amino products. That creates molecules called pyrazines which are volatile and lend those earthy, green notes (and more nutty flavors, of course).
At high temperatures, essential oils are actually created as a byproduct of the caramelization process. One such essential oil is called caffeol. The bulk of the “coffee aroma” is created from this caffeol essential oil formation.
One last thing I’ll mention regarding flavor is that sulfur-containing compounds present in the bean are very important to rounding out the coffee profile. It adds complexity and depth to the coffee—if you take a whiff of a bag of coffee beans, you’ll notice that sulfur note hiding in the background.
All in all, coffee is obviously an incredibly complex product in terms of flavor, and it’s one of the most difficult flavors to create in a bottle much like flavorists experience when they try to mimic chocolate.
Now that you’re all hopped up and excited about those beans, let’s make some stovetop espresso! The easiest way to enjoy that strong coffee in concentrated form. Hello favorite flavors! I love espresso because the concentration actually allows you to discern things like fruitiness or bitterness much like what dark, craft chocolate has done for experiencing origin characteristics.
And because we’re talking espresso, why not do it big with some breakfast? One of the best flavor combos is coffee, chocolate, and orange. The chocolate has similar roasted, nutty notes while the orange plays up the acidic and fruity background. Also, just pure deliciousness.
These scones are so wonderful combining the orange and chocolate with butter and all that baked goodness. And because I recipe-stalk Sarah Kieffer like crazy, I know that these are some of the best scones with a layering technique to get flakiness in the best possible way. (You really should grab her book. I can’t stop baking from it!) Now grab that newspaper and get to brewing that coffee!
Easy Stovetop Espresso
Separate the top and the bottom of the pot. Take the filter cup out of the bottom chamber and fill the bottom with hot water from the tap until it is just underneath the filter cup. You don’t want any water coming through the cup, but it should be really close to that.
Fill the filter cup with ground espresso to the top and lightly pack it in. Put the filter cup back in the bottom chamber and screw the top back on.
Center the pot on your stovetop burner and turn the heat to medium. Depending on the strength of your burner (and whether you have gas or electric), it will take a little while for the water to boil. Once you hear the water boiling, wait and listen for the boiling to stop. Once that happens, turn the heat off. If you aren’t paying attention, you could burn your coffee!
Immediately serve. Be careful, it is hot!
Orange Chocolate Scones
Makes 8 scones
Barely adapted from The Vanilla Bean Baking Book
2 ¼ cups (320 g) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 tablespoons granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling
3 teaspoons grated orange zest
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup Greek yogurt, full fat
¼ cup orange juice
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
12 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, cold and cut into ½ inch pieces
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
Heavy cream for finishing
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, 2 tablespoons sugar, orange zest, and salt. In a liquid measuring cup, gently whisk together the yogurt, orange juice, vanilla, and egg.
- Add the butter to the dry ingredients and use a pastry cutter to cut the butter in until the pieces are the size of peas. Add the wet ingredients to the bowl and fold with a rubber spatula until just combined. Add the chocolate and fold it into the dough.
- Dump the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until it comes together, about 5 times. If your dough is too wet, add more flour as needed.
- Arrange the dough as best as possible into a rough square and roll into a large, 12-inch square. Add flour to the top as necessary if it’s still sticky.
- Fold the dough into thirds like a business letter starting with first the left side of the dough and then the right side. Then, fold the dough into thirds again starting with the top of the dough and then the bottom. This should leave you with a nice square.
- Place the square on a lightly floured plate and put it in the freezer for ten minutes.
- While you wait for the dough to firm up, arrange the top rack in the oven onto the lower middle position. Preheat the oven to 400⁰F. Stack two baking sheets on top of each other and line the top with parchment paper. This will prevent the bottom of the scones from browning too quickly.
- When the ten minutes is up, remove the dough from the freezer and place it onto a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough into another 12-inch square. Fold the dough business letter style just as before, folding the left and then the right side in.
- Flip the dough over so that the seam side is down. Gently flatten the dough so that it is in a 12×4-inch rectangle. With a sharp knife, cut the large dough rectangle into four equal rectangles. Then, cut those rectangles diagonally across so that each rectangle is now two triangles. Transfer the triangles to the prepared baking sheet.
- Brush the tops of the scones with the heavy cream trying to prevent it from dripping down the sides of the scones. Sprinkle each top generously with granulated sugar.
- Bake the scones for ten minutes. Flip the sheet tray around and bake for another 10-12 minutes, until the scones are lightly golden on the edges.
- Transfer the fully-baked scones to a wire rack to cool. Enjoy!