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In theory, I love cofffee—the caffeine, the morning ritual, the implied maturity that comes with ordering an after-dinner cappuccino. But in practice, I let my morning cup o' joe sit around till 3 P.M., when I gulp it down in a desperate attempt to get the caffeine while tasting as little of the bitter brew as possible.
It's the same with baking. In theory, spending an hour crafting a perfect cookie or cake should be just the activity to feed my sweet tooth, but in practice I become a stressed-out, flour-smeared mess. (Following precise measurements is not my forte.)
This is all to say that when I first learned about coffee flour—a sustainable and fair-trade flour made by milling the skin that encases the bean—I felt at odds. Yay sustainability! Yay fair trade! but no (no, no, no) coffee and baking. In the end, I took the challenge. Let's see what you've got, coffee flour.
By many accounts (mostly those made by the brand that sells it and has trademarked it), Coffee Flour, the flour is an answer to some of the greatest food issues: sustainability, nutrition, and fair trade. It's sustainable in that it uses a byproduct of the coffee industry, the fruit (aka skin) of the coffee bean, which is usually discarded or, in best cases, used as fertilizer. It's also high in antioxidants and fiber and provides an additional revenue stream for coffee farmers, who are often underpaid workers in underdeveloped countries. It doesn't completely replace conventional flours, but it can be used with it, at a 15 to 25 percent substitution.
But does it taste good? At the recommendation of baking expert and Food52 contributor, Erin McDowell I decided to use a basic sugar cookie recipe to test it, substituting 20 percent of the all-purpose flour the recipe calls for, for coffee flour. (20 percent being a good medium between the recommended 15 and 25 percent substitution.)
Going into the gate, I had a few concerns:
- The coffee flour I received, made from Guatemalan coffee, smelled incredibly bitter—would my cookies need extra sugar to balance it out?
- Erin suggested that the acid content of the coffee—if any—could impact the leavener used in the recipe.
- I am a terrible baker (but this turned out to be moot, thanks to the help and emotional support of the other editors who happened to be in the test kitchen).
- Would the coffee flour keep me up till 2 in the morning, like coffee tends to?
The first thing I noticed about coffee flour—aside from its bitter smell—was its color. As soon as I added it to the butter and sugar in the cookie batter, the dough took on a dark, dark brown color, similar to gingersnap cookies.
Once baked (for 10 minutes), the two kinds of cookies (those made with all-purpose flour versus those made with coffee flour) looked very similar: The coffee flour didn't appear to have had any affect on the leavener in the cookies. After breaking off a piece of each warm cookie (in the name of science!), the center of the traditional cookie, made with all-purpose flour, appeared to be slightly moister than that made with coffee flour.
The Taste Test
As soon as I—and three other scientifically-minded editors—bit into the coffee flour cookies, we had the same reaction: "What is that flavor??" Something like a dark fruit, we finally landed on the answer (a few bites later): It had an unmistakable flavor of dried figs. And my fears of the coffee flour making the cookie bitter were unfounded: The cookie was too sweet, if anything.
Coffee flour made a delicious cookie—but it made a completely different cookie that tasted nothing like the traditional sugar cookie. Instead, it added a slight graininess and a depth of flavor that could be delicious in molasses cookies or gingersnaps.
And, as it turns out, coffee flour does contain caffeine, but it's only about as much as is in dark chocolate (roughly 12 milligrams per ounce, compared to about 95 milligrams per ounce in coffee), which can be a bonus for a lunchtime pick-me-up or something to avoid for the caffeine-sensitive.
Because so little of it is used per baking recipe (just 25% at most), it's hard to imagine coffee flour making an enormous environmental or social impact—but if you're craving a slightly fruity, nuanced cookie, it could be just the secret ingredient you're looking for—with the extra bonus of doing the world good.
Other recipes to try coffee flour in:
What do you think about this new way to enjoy your coffee? Will you be experimenting with coffee flour or keeping your coffee in a cup?