Coffee for Dessert – Perfect Endings

Coffee and dessert has been the perfect ending for a fine meal for decades. Coffee and cake, coffee and pastry, coffee and ice cream… it doesn’t matter what the sweet is, coffee just seems to bring out the flavor and make it better. If you’re planning dinner for two or for a crowd, why not consider coffee for dessert instead of coffee AND dessert. Here are a few tips for using coffee as an ingredient in dessert recipes, and one of my favorite coffee desserts.

What kind of coffee to use

For the strongest coffee flavor, use whole beans and grind them yourself. Espresso roast packs the most coffee flavor of all roasts for use in recipes. Grind it yourself just before brewing, if the recipe calls for brewed coffee. Want even more flavor from your beans? Spread them on a cookie sheet or in a flat-bottomed baking pan and roast in the oven for a few minutes to bring out the flavor even more strongly. Be careful not to let it burn, though.

If you want to add coffee flavor quickly, instant coffee or instant espresso powder can be used to flavor whipped cream, pastry cream or ganache without having to wait for the coffee beans to steep.

On the other hand, if you have time, crushed coffee beans are a great way to infuse a custard or ice cream. Use a coarse grind and stir them into the liquid you’re flavoring until you get the desired coffee flavor. The beans can be strained out before the mixture sets.

Coffee liqueurs are a good way to add sweetness and coffee flavor with a kick to your desserts. Tia Maria and Kahlua can be stirred into whipped cream, pastry cream or custard, or used to soak sponge cake as a base for tiramisu or torte to reinforce the flavor of brewed coffee.

If you’re using brewed coffee as the main coffee flavoring for your dessert, brew it double strength – or better yet, use espresso for the more intense flavor.

Pair coffee with other flavors that bring out the best in each other. Coffee and chocolate are a standard combination, but one that never grows old. Cinnamon and coffee are another pairing that work beautifully together, as do nutmeg and coffee. Coffee and buttery nuts like almonds and hazelnuts, and vanilla also are perfect foils for each others’ strengths.


And of course, as you’ll see in the recipe below, coffee and liqueurs are a match made in heaven.

Coffee Granita and Sambuca Creme

Granitas are an Italian iced dessert that’s easy to make at home. Sambuca adds a delicious kick to the creamy topping. If you’re serving children or want to avoid alcohol, try anise flavoring instead.

1/2 cup freshly brewed espresso
1/2 cup freshly brewed coffee
1/3 cup demerara sugar
1/3 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons Sambuca liqueur

While still hot, mix the coffee, espresso and sugar together, stirring well to dissolve the sugar. Pour the coffee into a flat pan and put it in the freezer. While the coffee is chilling, put the cream in the refrigerator to chill. Check the coffee mixture frequently. As the surface freezes, stir with a fork to break it up and keep it slushy. It’s the frequent stirring that gives granita its characteristic granular texture. When the coffee is ‘frozen’, pour the cream into a deep mixing bowl and begin whipping with a wire whisk. Add the Sambuca slowly and continue whipping until it is nearly stiff but still pourable.

To serve: Scrape granita with a spoon and serve into a small dessert dish. Spoon cream over granita and garnish with cracked coffee beans and a sprig of mint.