This post is a little different from my regular posts as I have decided that, over the next few months, I want to do a series of posts all around one theme. And no, we are not talking Christmas cookies (even if Pinterest might have you believe you should be dusting off your star-shaped cookie cutters already). Instead, this little series will be all about things that go well with coffee. And by things that go well with coffee, I, of course, mean cakes, cookies, pastries and all their various incarnations. Because, really, isn’t the whole point of sitting down for a cup of coffee the opportunity to enjoy something sweet alongside said cup of coffee?
The series is inspired by the Coffee Taster’s Flavour Wheel produced by the Specialty Coffee Association of America. As it says on the SCAA’s website, the Flavour Wheel develops a glossary of coffee terms based on sensory science and is used by coffee cuppers to describe the coffee they want to buy and/or sell.
I first came across the Flavour Wheel in a small coffee shop in Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand earlier this year and was immediately drawn to the right hand side of the two pie charts. It is that pie chart which groups together the various aromas you might find in a cup of coffee into 18 different categories of ‘umbrella’ aromas such as “floral”, “leguminous” or “malt-like”. While not all flavours or aromas can be found in every single cup of coffee given the different varieties of coffee, the different processing and roasting techniques as well as the various preparation methods, it is nonetheless fascinating to have a visual display of all the different aromas you might find in a cup of coffee. At the same time, it is a neat overview of flavours that will likely pair well with a cup of coffee (in particular those coffees that display the same flavour profile).
While the coffee scene is constantly changing, the latest craze being cold brew coffee and lattes made with almond and other nut milks, I wish the same could be said for the pastries and cookies served alongside the coffee. All too often, a cafe’s pastry case can be a bit of a let down, with few places venturing beyond the usual suspects of almond croissants, blueberry muffins, brownies or lemon tarts which, even if well executed, do become a bit boring after a while.
One of the benefits of brewing coffee at home (other than saving a few bucks) is that you have complete freedom over what to have alongside your coffee and making sure it goes well with your chosen brew. And this is where this series comes in – over the next few months I will aim to share 18 new recipes for cakes, pastries, cookies and the like that go well with coffee – one for each of the 18 ‘umbrella’ aromas shown in the Flavour Wheel. And while I am no professional coffee cupper (let alone a lay one), I may even suggest suitable coffee pairings from time to time.*
*Before anyone shouts, let it be said that I believe in equal opportunities when it comes to coffee – I enjoy Vietnamese coffee, a pot of Turkish coffee brewed over a camp fire, a latte made with coffee from my dad’s aeropress just as much as a shot of espresso made with Jamaican Blue Mountain beans whose price per pound equals my weekly grocery budget.
To kick things off, the first recipe in this series is for Toasted Cornmeal Shortbread, made with honey, it falls under the ‘Syrup-like’ category of aromas in the Flavour Wheel.
Toasted Cornmeal Shortbread
Note: If you are a fan of cornbread, this shortbread is for you. While in the oven, the taste of freshly baked cornbread will invade your kitchen. Once baked and cooled, you end up with a shortbread with the same toasted corn flavours and sweetness from honey of traditional cornbread yet with the buttery richness and crumbly texture of shortbread. And if you have ever sunk your teeth into one of Christine Tosi’s Corn Cookies, the flavour profile of this shortbread is quite similar, albeit more complex thanks to the toasted cornmeal and the honey.
125g butter, soft
50g cane sugar plus 1 tsp cane sugar
40g cornstarch or brown rice flour
1/4 tsp sea salt plus one large pinch
Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius and line a small round tart pan with parchment paper (my small round tart pan measures 17cm across – if doubling the recipe, line a regular springform cake pan with parchment paper instead).
In a dry pan toast the cornmeal on medium heat until fragrant and just starting to colour, stirring constantly to prevent excessive and uneven browning. This should take ca. 3-5 minutes. Set aside and let the cornmeal come to room temperature (otherwise it will melt the butter needed for the shortbread).
In a large bowl beat the soft butter together with the honey and sugar until light and fluffy. This should take ca. 5 minutes.
In a separate bowl whisk together the cornmeal, cornstarch (or brown rice flour, if using) and 1/4 tsp of sea salt. Dump on top of the beaten butter and stir with a large spoon until well amalgamated.
Press the dough into the lined tart pan, using a small rolling pin to ensure even thickness. Sprinkle with the remaining sugar and salt.
Bake for 18-20 minutes or until just starting to brown around the edges. The shortbread will seem impossibly soft at this stage, but don’t despair, it will firm up as it cools. To slice it, leave the shortbread to cool for ca. 5 minutes so it will hold its shape (if you wait until the shortbread has come to room temperature it will be too firm to slice). Leave shortbread to cool completely before removing from the pan.
Given the strong toasted corn flavour, I think a Singaporean ‘Kopi’ (served hot or poured over ice) would be a great match for this shortbread. Kopi is the coffee traditionally consumed in Singapore. Typically made with robusta beans, roasted with butter and sometimes sugar as well, Kopi is deeply aromatic, with toasted cereal and caramel notes. Once topped up with condensed milk it tastes just the way I imagine a Cereal Milk latte would taste. And while it may not be appealing to serious coffee connoisseurs, it is delicious in its own right and I have yet to come across anyone who did not fall hard for Kopi after trying it for the first time.
“I believe humans get a lot done, not because we’re smart, but because we have thumbs so we can make coffee.” Flash Rosenberg