Caffeinated Desserts

Since the invention of caffé mocha, coffee has been a celebrated flavor in all kinds of desserts. Favorites include flavored mousse, like this Dark Chocolate Mocha Avocado Mousse, cake—such as Mocha Biscuit Cake, and Frozen Mocha-on-a-Stick. Coffee is one of desserts’ most hard-working ingredients!

The Chemistry of Dessert

Desserts are never only sweet—no one sits around eating sugar, for example—but it is sweetness interacting with other flavors, textures and tastes that elevates simple ingredients to create dessert perfection. Coffee is generally on the bitter side, but when combined with other ingredients (the sweetness of sugar or fruit and the creaminess of butter) it takes on a whole new dimension—enlivening otherwise bland or one-dimensional treats with a subtle-yet-wonderful flavor. In this way, dessert can be constructed using basic kitchen staples like butter, milk and sugar, which provide a dependable base upon which coffee can creatively build nuances of flavor.

Coffee And Chocolate—A Match Made in Heaven

The magic of coffee and chocolate combined may stem from the amazing flavor complexity of each food—with hundreds of different flavor notes in the arsenal of each, the pool grows exponentially when these notes are combined. Coffee may suggest hints of citrus, spice, cocoa, wood, herbs, savory, floral, fruits and nuts, while chocolate is just as complex, boasting overtones of over 400 different compounds, many of them highly sophisticated: cherries, jasmine, green bananas, balsamic vinegar or licorice. It’s easy to see how combining orange, coriander, jasmine, raisins, cedar and cocoa into one dessert can provide an eye-opening experience!

Little Mocha Custards (adapted from The Kiwi Cook)

Serves six.


  • 1 C heavy cream
  • ½ cup strong black coffee (or just under 3 shots of espresso)
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 2 Tbsp caster sugar (super fine)
  • ½ cup dark chocolate chips, melted
  • 4 Tbsp whisky or Kahlua (optional)
  • Whipped cream (sweetened or unsweetened) and chocolate shavings to serve


  1. Place cream and coffee in a saucepan over low heat and stir together. Bring to a simmer, then remove from heat.
  2. Whisk together egg yolks and sugar to combine. Stir about one-half cup of the hot cream/coffee into the egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly so as to prevent scrambling the egg. Then, in a fine steady stream, add the yolk mixture back into the saucepan with the rest of the cream/coffee mixture, whisking as you go.
  3. Return the saucepan to a low heat and stir with a wooden spoon (do not allow to boil) until the custard thickens and coats the back of the wooden spoon.
  4. Remove from the heat and stir in the melted chocolate and whisky or Kahlua, if using.
  5. Pour into small espresso cups or small ramekins and allow to cool. Once cool, place in the refrigerator for several hours (or preferably overnight). The custard will firm up and set during this time.
  6. To serve, top with a little whipped cream and sprinkle with chocolate shavings.

Beyond Chocolate

Coffee may be at its best when paired with chocolate, but it can still impart a fantastic flavor to desserts in the absence of it. The following recipe may not contain chocolate, but certainly delivers a knockout punch of coffee deliciousness.

Coffee-Caramel Crème Brûlée (adapted from Bon Appetit)

Serves eight.


  • 2 C heavy whipping cream, divided
  • 1/4 C coffee beans (a dark roast such as French roast), crushed with mallet in plastic bag
  • 1 C sugar, divided
  • 1/2 C water
  • 2 C half and half
  • 8 large egg yolks
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 8 t raw sugar (also called turbinado sugar)


  1. Bring 1 C cream and coffee beans to simmer in heavy small saucepan. Remove from heat; cover and let steep at least 20 minutes and up to 1 hour.
  2. Preheat oven to 325°F. Stir 2/3 C sugar and 1/2 C water in heavy medium saucepan over low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to boil, brushing down sides of pan with wet pastry brush. Boil without stirring until syrup is deep amber, swirling pan occasionally, about 11 minutes. Remove pan from heat. Add remaining 1 C whipping cream (mixture will bubble up). Stir over low heat until caramel is smooth. Stir in half and half. Strain coffee-infused cream into caramel cream; discard coffee beans in strainer.
  3. Whisk yolks, salt, and remaining 1/3 C sugar in large bowl to blend. Gradually whisk in cream mixture. Strain custard into large measuring cup.
  4. Arrange eight 2/3- to 3/4-cup ramekins or custard cups in roasting pan. Divide custard among ramekins. Add enough warm water to roasting pan to come halfway up sides of ramekins or custard cups.
  5. Bake custards until just set in center, 65 to 70 minutes. Transfer custards from water bath directly to refrigerator. Chill uncovered until cold, at least 3 hours and up to 1 day.

Sprinkle top of each custard with 1 teaspoon raw sugar. Using kitchen torch, melt sugar on each custard until deep amber. (Alternatively, preheat broiler. Arrange custards on small rimmed baking sheet; broil until sugar topping melts and browns, about 2 minutes.)

  1. Refrigerate custards until sugar topping hardens, at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour (do not chill longer than 1 hour or topping will start to soften). Serve cold.