In our family, coffee and sweet treats go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Of course, we all enjoy coffee without sweets, but rarely the other way around.

Hot coffee proves the perfect beverage to counter sweet flavors and lubricate cakey textures and flaky-crusted pies. It soothes the chill of frosty ice cream concoctions and cuts the sweetness of candy bars.

In my house, the workday starts with strong, black coffee and a banana. On the weekends, I crave that combination in a decadent muffin format. Think of all the specialty flavors of the local coffeehouse crammed into one handheld sweet — chocolate, toasted pecans, cinnamon, vanilla, cream — with a coffee backdrop thanks to espresso powder.

Espresso powder deserves a place in the pantry. I add a little to nearly every chocolate dessert I make — not necessarily to add coffee flavor, but to enrich the chocolatey-ness. Iced coffee and banana smoothies likewise benefit from the coffee boost. It’s useful in savory applications, too. For example, a spoonful in a pot of chili somehow deepens the chile pepper flavor. Mole sauces like the dark bitterness, as does a pot of rich beef stew.

Serviceable Italian brands of espresso powder can be found in most large supermarkets. My favorite espresso powder can be ordered online from thespicehouse.com. It has a rich, velvety, deeply coffee flavor. You can use instant coffee powders instead, but choose a dark roast. Store the powders in the freezer to keep the flavor bold all year long.

To ease my conscience a tad, I use whole-grain flour when making breakfast muffins. But these muffins won’t taste like health food if you choose white whole-wheat flour. Made from a variety of wheat that has a milder, less nutty flavor than regular whole-wheat flour, white whole-wheat flour has all the goodness without the heaviness. It is my preference when baking sweets, and is available from Gold Medal and King Arthur Flour in the supermarket aisle or online. I keep it in the freezer to prolong its shelf life.

If you like cinnamon in your coffee, boost the muffins with the addition of cinnamon chips. Otherwise omit them, and add more chocolate or peanut butter chips. White chocolate chips or small chunks taste great here, too.

My sister makes a quadruple batch of buttery shortbread logs, dunked in dark chocolate and pecans, for the holidays. To my mind, adding some coffee flavor notes makes them the perfect everyday cookie to enjoy with a cup of joe.

When you love coffee, it often makes sense to put some of those dark flavors into the main course. Espresso with chili powder combines two dark, bitter flavors into a sum that tastes better than the parts. I love a chile-forward version with plenty of sugar on pork ribs and brisket. For lamb chops or duck breast, I use a less sweet version enhanced with ancho chile and a bit of ginger and sesame. To cool the effect, a side dish of creamy cucumbers does the trick.

 

Ancho Espresso Lamb Chops

Makes 3 servings.

Note: From JeanMarie Brownson.

• 6 loin lamb chops, each about 1 to 1 1/4 in. thick, total 1 3/4 lb.

• 3 tbsp. Ancho Espresso Rub (recipe follows)

• Creamy Cucumbers and Chives (recipe follows)

Directions

Pat lamb chops dry with a paper towel and place on a broiler pan or a shallow baking sheet with sides. Press some of the rub into all sides of the chops. Let stand, 30 minutes or refrigerate up to 1 day.

Position the rack 6 inches from the heat source; heat the broiler. Broil the lamb chops, 4 minutes. Flip the chops; continue broiling until meat feels nearly firm when pressed (medium-rare), 2 to 4 minutes more. Transfer chops to a serving platter. Serve chops with a side of the cucumbers.

Nutrition information per serving:

Calories 444 Fat 29 g Sodium 887 mg Saturated fat 12 g

Carbohydrates 4 g Total sugars 1 g

Protein 40 g Cholesterol 147 mg Dietary fiber 1 g

 

Ancho Espresso Rub

Makes about 1/2 cup.

Note: If ancho chile powder is unavailable, you can substitute chili powder, but omit the cumin. From JeanMarie Brownson.

• 1/4 c. pure ancho chile powder

• 2 tbsp. sesame seeds

• 1 tbsp. espresso powder

• 1 tbsp. dried minced onion

• 2 tsp. salt

• 2 tsp. sugar

• 1/4 tsp. ground ginger

• 1/4 tsp. garlic powder

• 1/8 tsp. ground cumin

Directions

Mix all the ingredients in a small bowl. Store in a jar with a tightfitting lid.

Nutrition information per tablespoon:

Calories 32 Fat 2 g Sodium 767 mg Saturated fat 0 g

Carbohydrates 4 g Total sugars 2 g

Protein 1 g Cholesterol 0 mg Dietary fiber 2 g

 

Creamy Cucumbers and Chives

Makes 4 servings.

Note: From JeanMarie Brownson.

• 6 small pickling cucumbers or 2 small seedless cucumbers, trimmed

• Salt

• 1/4 c. sour cream, plain Greek yogurt or store-bought ranch dressing

• 2 tbsp. finely chopped fresh chives or green onion tops

• 1/2 tsp. chopped fresh mint, optional

Directions

Slice cucumbers very thinly; place in a colander. Sprinkle generously with salt; let stand over the sink, about 30 minutes. Squeeze the cucumbers lightly; pat them dry with paper toweling.

Put cucumbers into a bowl; stir in sour cream, yogurt or dressing, chives and mint. Refrigerate. Serve cold.

Nutrition information per serving:

Calories 40 Fat 3 g Sodium 24 mg

Carbohydrates 3 g Saturated fat 2 g Total sugars 2 g

Protein 1 g Cholesterol 10 mg Dietary fiber 1 g

 

Mocha Shortbread Logs

Makes 28 cookies.

Note: To gild the lily, drizzle these with a little melted white chocolate after the dark chocolate is set. From JeanMarie Brownson.

• 1 c. flour

• 1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

• 1/4 c. sifted powdered sugar

• 2 to 3 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. espresso powder, divided

• 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

• Pinch salt

• 1 c. semisweet chocolate chips

Directions

To prepare dough: In the large bowl of an electric mixer, combine the flour, butter, powdered sugar, 2 to 3 tablespoons espresso powder, vanilla and pinch of salt. Mix on low speed until a smooth dough forms. Gather into a ball; wrap in plastic. Refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour or overnight.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Pinch off a small nugget of the dough and roll in your hands to make a 2-inch log about 1/2 inch in diameter. Place on a prepared baking sheet. Repeat to form all the cookies, placing them on the sheets about 2 inches apart.

Bake until the bottoms are barely golden, 10 to 13 minutes. Cool completely on wire racks.

To prepare the glaze: Melt chocolate in a small microwave-safe bowl in a microwave on medium (50 percent power) just until barely melted, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes. Stir in 1 teaspoon espresso powder until smooth.

Dunk one end of each shortbread log into the melted chocolate. Set dunked cookies on a wire rack over a piece of paper toweling, and let the chocolate firm. (They can be refrigerated if the kitchen is warm.) Store in a cookie tin for up to a week.

Nutrition information per cookie:

Calories 62 Fat 4 g Sodium 6 mg

Carbohydrates 7 g Saturated fat 2 g Total sugars 3 g

Protein 1 g Cholesterol 7 mg Dietary fiber 0 g

 

Coffeehouse Banana-Nut Muffins

Makes 12 muffins.

Note: These are delicious served warm. Or, when cool, wrap them in foil and place in a sealed plastic bag for up to 2 days. The muffins freeze well, too. To toast pecans, place them in a dry saucepan over medium heat and warm, stirring occasionally, until fragrant. From JeanMarie Brownson.

• 2 c. stone-ground, white whole-wheat flour

• 5 tbsp. espresso powder, divided

• 2 tsp. baking powder

• 3/4 tsp. salt

• 1/2 tsp. baking soda

• 1 tsp. cinnamon, divided

• 2 large ripe bananas, peeled

• 2 eggs

• 2/3 c. packed light brown sugar

• 1 tsp. vanilla extract

• 6 tbsp. safflower or sunflower oil

• 1/2 c. chopped toasted pecans (see Note)

• 1/2 c. semisweet or dark chocolate chips

• 1/2 c. cinnamon chips, peanut butter chips, white chocolate chips or more chocolate chips

• 1/2 c. powdered sugar

• 1 tbsp. half-and-half, milk or cream

Directions

To prepare muffins: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 12 regular muffin tins with paper liners. Alternatively, line the tins with foil liners and spray the liners with nonstick spray.

Mix flour, 3 tablespoons espresso powder, baking powder, salt, baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon in a medium bowl.

Put bananas in a separate bowl. Mash smooth with a potato masher or fork. Stir in eggs until smooth. Stir in brown sugar and vanilla. Stir in oil. Add flour mixture, and fold gently to moisten all the flour. Gently mix in pecans, chocolate chips and cinnamon chips, if using. (Do not overmix or muffins will be tough. )

Use a spoon to divide the mixture among the muffin tins, filling them to the top. Tap the pan on the work surface to release any air pockets. Bake, turning pan once for even browning, until a wooden pick inserted comes out clean, 22 to 24 minutes. Cool in the pans. Glaze when barely warm. Best served the day baked.

To prepare espresso cinnamon glaze: Mix powdered sugar, 2 teaspoons espresso powder, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and half-and-half in a small bowl. Mix until smooth, adding a few more drops of half-and-half if needed to make a pourable glaze.

Nutrition information per muffin with glaze:

Calories 323 Fat 15 g Sodium 312 mg

Carbohydrates 46 g Saturated fat 3 g Total sugars 27 g

Protein 6 g Cholesterol 31 mg Dietary fiber 4 g