Instant coffee (Recipe: outrageous brownies)
I was a Beatle-loving, poetry-writing, hooky-playing, hippie-dippy, sometimes-vegetarian, coffee-guzzling teenager.
My parents drank instant coffee, and when I was growing up, so did I.
At some point in my junior high years, I received one share of Chock Full o'Nuts stock as a gift, so I announced that, as a loyal stockholder, I would ("henceforth," I'm sure I said) drink only Chock Full. They didn't make instant coffee, so my mother went right on buying whatever brand she usually bought, and my principles disintegrated after a day or two of coffee withdrawal.
My parents were easy-going about the coffee thing, and I can't remember an age when I didn't drink it. Black, no cream, no sugar. I was no coffee sissy back then, though I add a bit of skim milk now.
One summer, during college, I worked for a consulting firm in Manhattan. I commuted into the city from New Jersey with my friend Judy, and we walked every morning from the subway station to our Park Avenue office buildings. We'd grab a cup of brewed coffee and a muffin — the astronomical cost of which meant it would have to suffice for both breakfast and lunch — and that, believe it or not, was when I first realized that even the worst fresh-brewed coffee tastes better than the best instant coffee.
So, why do I keep instant in the pantry?
One word: chocolate.
Coffee and chocolate have synergy; each enhances the flavor of the other. (Think mocha latte, or chocolate-covered coffee beans.) Incorporate a teaspoonful of instant coffee into chocolate cakes, candies, and cookies, and the chocolate flavor will pop.
Invented in 1901 by chemist Satori Kato of Chicago, instant coffee wasn't mass marketed until the Brazilian government approached Swiss conglomerate Nestlé about developing a dehydrated coffee that would have a longer shelf life and could be reconstituted with water. The result of this collaboration, Nescafé, was introduced on April 1, 1938, but with the outbreak of World War II, Nescafé didn't find much of a market in Europe. However, it was exported to the US, which helped re-launch the instant coffee in Europe by including it in American soldiers' meal rations. After the war, Nescafé's worldwide popularity grew, and by the 1950s and '60s, instant coffee became the norm.
Bakers have long known about the happy relationship between coffee and chocolate. The kitchen wizards at King Arthur Flour sell something they call baking espresso, $4.50 for two ounces, and their recipe for Chocolate-Brownie Torte looks absolutely outrageous.
Like these brownies.
Gooey perfection, from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. Makes 20 brownies.
1 lb unsalted butter
1 lb plus 12 oz semisweet chocolate chips
6 oz unsweetened chocolate
6 extra-large eggs
3 Tbsp instant coffee granules
2 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
2-1/4 cups sugar
1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
3 cups chopped walnuts
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and flour a 12x18x1-inch baking sheet.
Melt together the butter, 1 lb of chocolate chips, and the unsweetened chocolate in a medium bowl over simmering water. Allow to cool slightly. In a large bowl, stir (do not beat) together the eggs, coffee granules, vanilla, and sugar. Stir the warm chocolate mixture into the egg mixture and allow to cool to room temperature.
In a medium bowl, sift together 1 cup of flour, the baking powder, and salt. Add to the cooled chocolate mixture. Toss the walnuts and 12 oz of chocolate chips in a medium bowl with 1/4 cup of flour, then add them to the chocolate batter. Pour into the baking sheet.
Bake for 20 minutes, then rap the baking sheet against the ovenn shelf to force the air to escape from between the pan and the brownie dough. Bake for about 15 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Do not overbake! Allow to cool thoroughly, refrigerate, and cut into 20 large squares.