Monday, December 18, 2017

The One Where I Bake a Pumpkin Espresso Bundt Cake, Drench It With Rum, and Foist It Upon My Choir Friends: Baking Secrets Revealed

So I tried out a new bundt cake recipe over Thanksgiving and liked it well enough to do a reprise for our choir's Christmas party over the weekend.  The recipe is from King Arthur Flour and you can find it here.  

Pumpkin Espresso Bundt Cake with Rum Espresso Glaze
This cake is nut free and dairy free, made with whole wheat flour, and it's moist and delicious without being overly sugary.  It's relatively quick and easy to make, and the Bundt cake pan makes for pretty presentation straight out of the oven, no further decorating required.  My friends and family were raving about this cake and indulging in some ridiculously huge "slices"...  (Bernie!  Lars!)  

Fancy Styled Photo of Sliced Pumpkin Espresso Bundt Cake, King Arthur Flour
The interesting thing about this recipe is that, on the King Arthur Flour web site, reviewers either loved it like we did and gave it five stars, or else they were really disappointed and complained that it lacked flavor.  Poking around for some more recipes, I noticed that reviewers tend to have the same love/hate reactions for other espresso flavored baked goods, with the haters complaining about a lack of flavor.  My personal opinion is that the disappointed bakers were using inferior espresso powder and/or inferior brewed coffee in their glaze, perhaps along with old, stale spices that were well past their prime, because my cake was ANYTHING but bland tasting.

Here's the deal: You know how you end up with a better quilt or garment when you start with high quality fabrics and threads?  The same is true with baking; ingredients matter.  I'm no baking guru, and I am not a fan of wildly complicated recipes (except for Thanksgiving!).  I just use the best quality chocolate I can find, real vanilla instead of artificial vanilla extract, fresh Penzeys spices instead of stale grocery store spices that have been dying a painful death in my pantry for over a year...  If you don't believe me, do the sniff test: get a jar of cinnamon from your grocery store's baking aisle and a small jar of Penzey's Vietnamese Cinnamon and take a good whiff of each one.  You will be amazed by the difference.  If your spices don't smell like anything anymore, they won't deliver much flavor in your recipes, either.  Spices don't "go bad," but they do fade away over time.  When you bake with the good, fresh stuff, you really do end up with better tasting desserts.  

I get it that not everyone is as particular as I am about their baking ingredients, and you can still bake really good brownies and chocolate chip cookies using Hershey's chocolate chips and fake vanilla.  I will eat your brownies, enjoy them immensely, and I promise not to judge.  But if you want to try a recipe that is predominantly flavored with espresso, I can assure you that the hunt for the good stuff is worth your while!  I had trouble finding my usual Italian import brands of instant espresso powder this year so I tried a couple of other options.  

Do Not Buy This!
First, I bought some espresso powder from Williams-Sonoma.  They carry all of the best bakeware, pots and pans, so I hoped their specialty ingredients might be of similar quality, even though the label says it's made in the United States.  Alas!  I unscrewed the lid when i got home, took a sniff, and I swear the jar could have been filled with dark brown saw dust.  Blech!  Interestingly, this product does get good reviews from Williams-Sonoma customers, but those reviewers report that they are adding this espresso powder to their chocolate baked goods in order to enhance the chocolate flavor.  No one mentioned using this coffee dust stuff in a recipe that actually calls for instant espresso powder as a primary flavoring ingredient.

Not This Either!
The next instant espresso powder that I was able to find locally was this DeLallo brand that I'd never heard of before, and it was stocked in the baking aisle (first strike) of one of the high end specialty grocers, either Earth Fare or The Fresh Market.  The label says it's from Mexico (second strike) and instead of a picture of a cup of coffee on the label, there is a picture of a slice of cake and "perfect for tiramisu" on the label (third strike -- I should have known better!).  But I had no other option, and it had to be better than the Williams-Sonoma stuff at home, right?  Wrong!  The DeLallo Instant Espresso Baking Powder product is even LESS aromatic than the Williams-Sonoma.  But guess what it says on their web site?  They are promoting this product as "a baker's best-kept secret" that "makes chocolate richer without adding any distinct coffee flavor."  Aha!!  These baking aisle espresso powders are really more like chocolate enhancers than flavoring agents that can stand on their own.

My Son Anders With His Favorite Espresso Recipe: Cinnamon Mocha Chocolate Chip Cookies
The thing is, with both the Pumpkin Espresso Bundt Cake recipe and my Fine Cooking Cinnamon Mocha Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe, success depends on using a high quality instant espresso powder that DOES add a distinct coffee flavor!  If you have ever been disappointed by a recipe calling for instant espresso powder in the past, I urge you to try the recipe again using one of these brands, both of which I finally found on Amazon (score!):

These are Italian instant espresso coffees, and if your grocery store carries either of them, they will stock it in the coffee aisle as it is intended for drinking.  Just as you get the best results when you cook with real wine that is good enough for drinking instead of using "cooking wine" that tastes like vinegar, you get the best espresso flavor for baked goods when you use an instant espresso powder that is meant for drinking.  As I said, both Medaglia D'Oro and Ferrara instant espresso are available online at Amazon (with Prime free shipping even) if you can't find them in your local shops, and although they are both vastly more flavorful than the brands that are marketed to bakers, they are LESS expensive.  That's right, LESS EXPENSIVE.  Whereas the bland 1.8 oz jar of Willilams-Sonoma espresso powder cost me $10.95, I can purchase a pack of three 2 oz jars of Medaglia D'Oro espresso powder on Amazon for just $14 with free shipping.  The DeLallo brand was $4.95 for an almost 2 oz. jar, but I can get three 2 oz jars of the much better Ferrara brand on Amazon for only $12.97 with free shipping.  Sometimes the good stuff actually saves you money.  It might seem absurd to buy baking ingredients online, but if I factor in the wasted gas and wasted time driving from one grocery store to the next, looking for espresso powder...  

So, back to my cake recipe: I baked my cake with fresh, strongly aromatic Penzeys Vietnamese Cinnamon and Pumpkin Pie spice blend.  I used real Vanilla, also from Penzeys.  For the filling, I used Medaglia D'Oro Italian instant espresso mixed with brown sugar and Penzey's Cinnamon, and then, for the glaze... 
How I Make "Strongly Brewed Coffee"
The recipe says to dissolve the granulated sugar in 1/3 cup of "strong brewed coffee" with the option of adding rum (and of course I added rum).  But I didn't glaze my cake with ordinary brewed coffee because I don't own a regular coffee maker.  I have a shiny espresso machine, a commercial coffee grinder, and a cupboard stocked with fresh Lavazza espresso beans.  I heated up my espresso machine, ground my beans, and pulled two shots of espresso like I was going to make a latte.  

Perfect 25 Second Espresso Shots
I dumped the shots into my measuring cup and they were almost exactly 1/3 cup, so I just dissolved my sugar into my freshly-pulled espresso shots, added 1 1/2 tablespoons of Captain Morgan, and then drenched my bundt cake with it.  What better way to ensure a rich espresso flavor than to actually soak the cake IN ESPRESSO, hmmm?

Okay, so that almost felt like cheating.  But if you want to make this recipe and you don't happen to own an espresso machine, you could totally go to your Starbucks or local coffee shop and buy a couple shots of brewed espresso to go for your recipe.  You just might need to heat them up in the microwave if they have cooled off too much to dissolve the sugar.

I've spent WAY more time on this post than what I had intended.  Hopefully someone will find it helpful.  If not, at least I will have a record for myself of where to find my espresso powder next year!  Do you have a favorite holiday baking recipe or a secret ingredient to share?  Let me know in the comments.  :-)

Again, if you'd like to try the King Arthur Flour Pumpkin Espresso Bundt Cake, you can find that recipe here, and if you'd like to try the Fine Cooking Mocha Chocolate Chip Cookies, you can find that recipe here.  Let me know how it turns out.  Happy baking!


Karen - Quilts...etc. said...

I love King Arthur recipes and get some of my ingredients from them, but I must admit I am not a picky coffee drinker and do not like super strong coffee - I'm the type to drink "white" coffee, I add sweetener and fake cream LOL - lots of it - I do not like real cream in my coffee I do not like the taste of it so - as far as espresso goes I wouldn't know good from bad - but that cake looks terrific and I love good strong tasting cake with good ingredients

colleen said...

Yummy your cake looked good and then reading about how you made sure your ingredients were perfect that cake became delicious. Unfortunately for me I have developed an illness that means I have to watch my carbohydrate intake, so for me (since it's just my husband and me) I'd need to make and bring it somewhere so I don't "over eat" and have problems from too much carbohydrates.
In my youth I could have eaten this cake just like everyone but not now.
I am a coffee drinker I enjoy good fresh coffee ☕️ with either whole milk or better half/half no sugar or lightener mostly due to the taste but also that carbohydrate limiting thing. If the coffee is superior quality and fresh I can savor it yummy but mostly I drink good fresh coffee with cream and enjoy it.
How you have time to bake is just did your sons do the cookie baking?
I hope you are able to schedule time in the new year to finish those few remaining pineapple blocks so you can put that quilt on your quilting machine and get it done.

Karen in Breezy Point said...

King Arthur has the most drool worthy recipes ever! I don't do much baking since my hubby developed diabetes (probably from too many brownie binges!) but when I do it has to be special. My grocery store (Cub Foods) only stocks the Medagli D'oro instant espresso and I've always been very happy with it but have wondered about other brands. Thanks for all the research--I guess I will stick with what I've been using!