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Star-Bulletin Features

Wednesday, September 13, 2000

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
Instant coffee can turn plain brownies and cakes into
delectable mocha treats. See recipes.

Instant gratification

To Folger, or not to Folger,
that is the question when
grinds call for coffee

By Stephanie Kendrick

COFFEE has come a long way since the days when it was a purely serviceable beverage expected to taste pretty much the same whether it was percolated on a kitchen range, poured at a diner or simmered over a camp fire.

Today, coffee is a subculture, complete with hundreds of subtle variations in flavor and seven-word drink orders.

We have become coffee snobs.

What then is a coffee snob to do when confronted with a recipe that calls for that most pedestrian incarnation of the sacred bean -- instant coffee?

Local pastry chefs offered a simple answer to that question: Get a grip.

"When it comes to baking purposes, we basically buy whatever is cheapest," said Grant Sato, a pastry chef who teaches at Kapiolani and Leeward community colleges. Sato admitted he is not a coffee drinker, so he is someone immune from the instant coffee ick factor.

For a high-rent perspective, we turned to Mark Okumura, pastry chef at Alan Wong's Pineapple Room. Among his creations are decadent coffee-flavored chocolate truffles.

"I like Folgers," said Okumura. "Folgers looks dark and shiny."

Okumura mixes the granules with boiling water to make a paste. That removes grittiness. "I maybe put two tablespoons of hot water into the 2 ounce jar (of instant coffee) and it melts down to nothing."

The paste can then be stored in the refrigerator.

Sato recommends using powdered coffee rather than granules to avoid grittiness. Coffee powder can be added directly to a recipe, much like cocoa powder. If you want to experiment with adding coffee flavor to a recipe that does not call for it, simply reduce the volume of flour by the amount of powder you add, he said.

"It has the same properties as flour in that it will absorb liquids," said Sato. "If you are very creative, you can put instant coffee in almost anything."

Gourmet retailers were more sympathetic to instant coffee aversion than the chefs.

"Boy, instant coffees, I haven't touched one of those in years," said Tony Mavros, co-owner Honolulu Spice Traders on Monsarrat Avenue. "As far as the quality of the coffee, just don't go with Folgers, that's all I'm telling you."

The store used to carry an Italian espresso, but no longer stocks instant coffee.

Mavros agreed with Sato about the advantage of spray-dried instant powder over agglomerated granules for baking.

"Unless the recipe calls for granules, I strongly suggest going with a powder. It's easier to work with in a recipe," he said.

Becky Choy, co-owner of Strawberry Connection in Kalihi Kai, recommended instant espresso as opposed to regular coffee

"There is a difference," she said "It gives it a little bit stronger flavor."

Strawberry Connection sells Ferrarra instant espresso and, for those who want the coffee flavor without caffeine, Lavazza decaf Italian coffee.

Chefs and retailers agreed you should avoid buying more coffee than you are going to use. Instant coffee does not store well, having a tendency to harden.

"All our containers are basically smaller so they can use it up," said Choy.

KCC's Sato offered the following coffee-flavored recipes, which are perennially popular with his students.

Mocha Brownies

1-1/2 pounds dark chocolate
1 pound butter
1-1/2 pounds sugar
8 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup instant coffee
1 pound cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

Melt chocolate with butter.

Combine sugar, eggs, vanilla and coffee in a bowl. Add chocolate mix. Combine flour and baking powder in a bowl. Add to wet ingredients. Pour into greased sheet pan and bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Makes 125 1-by-1-1/2-inch brownies.

Mocha Chiffon sponge cake

8 egg whites
14 ounces sugar
2/3 cup vegetable oil
8 egg yolks
1 cup water
1 tablespoon vanilla
14 ounces cake flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup instant coffee

Whip egg whites and sugar until stiff. Combine remaining ingredients and fold in meringue. Pour into two 10-inch round cake pans. Bake at 375 degrees 25 minutes. Makes two cakes.

Nutritional information unavailable

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