You are what you eat & drink

How to cook with … coffee

Roasted, this bean contains notes of blackcurrant, clove, vanilla, chocolate and nuts, all of which make great flavour companions

Coffee and beef

Caffeinated red meat. Something to serve your most militantly health-conscious friends. Why not add a garnish of lit cigarettes? Coffee is used in the southern US as a marinade or rub for meat. It’s also been spotted in fancier restaurants, perhaps because there’s a well-reported flavour overlap between roasted coffee and cooked beef. But my experience suggests it’s a shotgun wedding. I tried a coffee marinade on a steak and found it gave the meat an overpoweringly gamey flavour. Best to keep these at least one course apart at dinner.

Coffee and blackcurrant

A mysteriously good pairing that often crops up in wine-tasting notes. Once vinified, the rare Lagrein black grape, native to the Italian Alps, captures both flavours. I encountered them in Haute-Savoie in a heavenly vacherin glacé: layers of meringue, blackcurrant sorbet, whipped cream and coffee ice-cream with a sprinkling of toasted almonds. It’s in the running for the most delicious sweet thing I’ve ever put in my mouth. The coffee flavour had the fresh fragrance of just-ground beans and the blackcurrant had that hint of muskiness that processed fruit can’t help but lose by oversweetening. Worth trying in a variant of pavlova (coffee-flavoured meringue with cream and a blackcurrant compote), or even blackcurrant jam in a coffee gateau.

Coffee and hazelnut If you find yourself at an ice-cream parlour in France or Italy and you suffer an attack of selection anxiety, remember: coffee and hazelnut, coffee and hazelnut, coffee and hazelnut.

Coffee and orange

Breakfast companions. San Matteo of Sicily makes a heavenly orange and coffee marmalade. I once had burnt orange and coffee ice-cream, bitter as a custody battle, but resolved by the sweetness of the cream. Orange and coffee tiramisu is nicer than it sounds.

You could make it with this recipe for orange and coffee-bean liqueur. I rather like the way, with marvellously arbitrary bossiness, it calls for exactly 44 coffee beans. To begin, take a large orange and make 44 slits in it. Put a coffee bean in each. It will now look like a medieval weapon, or tribal fetish. Put 44 sugar cubes in a jar. Position the orange on top and pour over 500ml brandy, rum or vodka. Leave it to steep for 44 days, then squeeze the juice out of the orange, mix it back into the alcohol, strain and pour into a sterilised bottle.

Alternatively, put the concoction somewhere dark and cool, forget it’s there, find it covered in dust something like 444 days later, try it sceptically, and realise it’s absolutely delicious without the addition of the juice. Perfectly balanced, not too sweet, and with a complex lingering flavour, it’s as good at rounding off a day as an orange is at starting one.

Coffee and chocolate

Forget hot drinks. Coffee and chocolate work much better in mousses, truffles and cakes. Or use them as uncredited flavour boosters. A little coffee flavour in chocolate dishes can make them taste more chocolatey, and vice versa.

Coffee and cinnamon

Cinnamon has the strength and sweetness to round out coffee flavours in baking. In cafes in Mexico they sometimes give you a stick of cinnamon to stir your coffee. Tastes good and saves on the washing up.

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