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story.lead_photo.caption Ancho Espresso Lamb Chops with Creamy Cucumbers and Chives - Photo by Chicago Tribune/TNS/E. Jason Wambsgans

In our family, coffee and sweet treats go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Of course, we all enjoy coffee without sweets, but rarely the other way around. We criticize fancy restaurants that bring dessert but don't offer coffee until afterward.

Hot coffee proves the perfect beverage to counter sweet flavors and lubricate cakey textures and flaky-crusted pies. It soothes the chill of frosty ice cream concoctions and cuts the sweetness of candy bars.

My mom baked a homemade sweet nearly every day when the five children lived at home. She served the dessert right after dinner with percolator-hot coffee with a splash of cold milk. Family vacations always entailed midafternoon Konditorei (pastry shop) breaks — complete with indulgent pastries and specialty coffees. Today, the "Konditorei" almost always sits next to the electric coffeemaker in my parents' kitchen.

In my house, the workday starts with strong, black coffee and a banana. On the weekends, I crave that combination in a decadent muffin format. Think of all the specialty flavors of the local coffeehouse crammed into one handheld sweet — chocolate, toasted pecans, cinnamon, vanilla, cream — with a coffee backdrop thanks to espresso powder.

Espresso powder deserves a place in the pantry. I add a little to nearly every chocolate dessert I make — not necessarily to add coffee flavor, but to enrich the chocolatey-ness. Iced coffee and banana smoothies likewise benefit from the coffee boost.

It's useful in savory applications too. For example, a spoonful in a pot of chili deepens the chile pepper flavor. Mole sauces like the dark bitterness as does a pot of rich beef stew.

Serviceable Italian brands of espresso powder can be found in most large supermarkets. My favorite espresso powder can be ordered online from It has a rich, velvety, deeply coffee flavor. You can use instant coffee powders instead, but choose a dark roast. Store the powders in the freezer to keep the flavor bold all year long.

To ease my conscience a tad, I use whole-grain flour when making breakfast muffins. But no fear, these muffins won't taste like health food if you choose white whole wheat flour. Made from a variety of wheat that has a milder, less nutty flavor than regular whole wheat flour, white whole wheat flour has all the goodness without the heaviness. It is my preference when baking sweets, and is available from Gold Medal and King Arthur Flour in the supermarket aisle or online. I keep it in the freezer to prolong its shelf life.

My sister makes a quadruple batch of buttery shortbread logs, dunked in dark chocolate and pecans, for the holidays. To my mind, adding some coffee flavor notes makes them the perfect everyday cookie to enjoy with a cup of joe.

When you love coffee, it often makes sense to put some of those dark flavors into the main course. Espresso with chile powder combines two dark, bitter flavors into a sum that tastes better than the parts. I love a chile-forward version with plenty of sugar on pork ribs and brisket. For lamb chops or duck breast, I use a less sweet version enhanced with ancho chile and a bit of ginger and sesame. To cool the effect, a side dish of creamy cucumbers does the trick.

These are delicious served warm. Or, when cool, wrap them in foil and place in a sealed plastic bag for up to 2 days. The muffins freeze well too.

If you like cinnamon in your coffee, boost the muffins with the addition of cinnamon chips. Otherwise omit them, and add more chocolate or peanut butter chips. White chocolate chips or small chunks taste great here too.

Coffeehouse Banana-Nut Muffins With Chocolate and Cinnamon

Coffeehouse Banana-Nut Muffins With Chocolate and Cinnamon

2 cups stone-ground, white whole wheat flour

3 tablespoons espresso powder

2 teaspoons baking powder

¾ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 large ripe bananas, peeled

2 eggs

⅔ cup packed light brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

6 tablespoons safflower or sunflower oil

½ cup chopped toasted pecans

½ cup semisweet or dark chocolate chips

½ cup cinnamon chips, peanut butter chips, white chocolate chips or more chocolate chips

Espresso glaze, recipe follows

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 12 regular muffin tins with paper liners. Or line the tins with foil liners and coat the liners with nonstick spray.

Mix flour, espresso powder, baking powder, salt, baking soda and cinnamon in a medium bowl.

Put bananas in a separate bowl. Mash smooth with a potato masher or fork. Stir in eggs until smooth. Stir in sugar and vanilla. Stir in oil. Add flour mixture, and fold gently to moisten all the flour. Gently mix in pecans, chocolate chips and cinnamon chips, if using. (Do not overmix or muffins will be tough.)

Use a spoon to divide the mixture among the muffin tins filling them to the top. Tap the pan on the work surface to release any air pockets. Bake, turning pan once for even browning, until a wooden pick inserted near the center comes out clean, 22 to 24 minutes. Cool in the pans. Glaze when barely warm. Best served the day baked.

Makes 12 muffins.

Nutrition information: Each muffin (with glaze) contains approximately 323 calories, 6 g protein, 15 g fat, 46 g carbohydrate (27 g sugar), 31 mg cholesterol, 312 mg sodium and 4 g fiber.

Espresso Cinnamon Glaze

½ cup confectioners' sugar

2 teaspoons espresso powder

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon half-and-half OR milk, plus more as needed

In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar, espresso powder, cinnamon and 1 tablespoon half-and-half. Mix until smooth, adding a few drops of half-and-half if needed to make a pourable glaze.

Mocha Shortbread Logs

To gild the lily, drizzle these with a little melted white chocolate after the dark chocolate is set.

Mocha Shortbread Logs


1 cup all-purpose flour

½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

¼ cup sifted confectioners' sugar

2 to 3 tablespoons espresso powder, to taste

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Pinch salt


1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1 teaspoon espresso powder

Put all dough ingredients into the large bowl of an electric mixer. Mix on low speed until a smooth dough forms. Gather into a ball; wrap in plastic. Refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour or overnight.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Pinch off a small nugget of the dough and roll in your hands to make a 2-inch log about ½-inch in diameter. Place on a prepared baking sheet. Repeat to form all the cookies placing them on the sheets about 2 inches apart.

Bake until the bottoms are barely golden, 10 to 13 minutes. Cool completely on wire racks.

For the glaze, put chocolate in a small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on 50 percent power until barely melted, 1 to 1½ minutes. Stir in espresso powder until smooth.

Dunk one end of each shortbread log into the melted chocolate. Set dunked cookies on a wire rack over a paper towel, and let the chocolate firm. (They can be refrigerated if the kitchen is warm.) Store in a cookie tin for up to a week.

Makes 28 cookies.

Nutrition information: Each cookie contain approximately 62 calories, 1 g protein, 4 g fat, 7 g carbohydrate (3 g sugar), 7 mg cholesterol, 6 mg sodium and no fiber.

Ancho Espresso Lamb Chops

6 loin lamb chops, each about 1 to 1¼ inches thick, total 1 ¾ pounds

3 tablespoons Ancho Espresso Rub (recipe follows)

Creamy Cucumbers and Chives (recipe follows), for serving

Pat lamb chops dry and place on a broiler pan or a shallow baking sheet with sides. Press some of the rub into all sides of the chops. Let stand, 30 minutes. Or refrigerate up to 1 day.

Position the rack 6 inches from the heat source; heat the broiler. Broil the lamb chops, 4 minutes. Flip the chops; continue broiling until meat feels nearly firm when pressed (medium-rare), 2 to 4 minutes more. Transfer chops to a serving platter. Serve chops with a side of the cucumbers.

Makes 3 servings.

Nutrition information: Each serving contains approximately 444 calories, 40 g protein, 29 g fat, 4 g carbohydrate (1 g sugar), 147 mg cholesterol, 887 mg sodium and 1 g fiber.

Ancho Espresso Rub

¼ cup pure ancho chile powder (see note)

2 tablespoons sesame seeds

1 tablespoon espresso powder

1 tablespoon dried minced onion

2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons granulated sugar

¼ teaspoon ground ginger

¼ teaspoon garlic powder

⅛ teaspoon ground cumin

Mix everything in a small bowl. Store in a jar with a tight-fitting lid.

Note: If ancho chile powder is unavailable, you can substitute chili seasoning, but omit the cumin.

Makes about 9½ tablespoons.

Nutrition information: Each tablespoon contains approximately 32 calories, 1 g protein, 2 g fat, 4 g carbohydrate (2 g sugar), no cholesterol, 767 mg sodium and 2 g fiber.

Creamy Cucumbers and Chives

6 small pickling cucumbers OR 2 small seedless cucumbers, trimmed


¼ cup sour cream, plain Greek yogurt or store-bought ranch dressing

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives or green onion tops

½ teaspoon chopped fresh mint, optional

Slice cucumbers very thinly; place in a colander. Sprinkle generously with salt; let stand over the sink, about 30 minutes. Squeeze the cucumbers lightly; pat them dry with paper towels.

Put cucumbers into a bowl; stir in sour cream, yogurt or dressing, chives and mint. Refrigerate. Serve cold.

Makes 4 servings.

Nutrition information: Each serving contains approximately 40 calories, 1 g protein, 3 g fat, 3 g carbohydrate (2 g sugar), 10 mg cholesterol, 24 mg sodium and 1 g fiber.

Food on 11/07/2018

Print Headline: Power of the powder

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