How to Use Espresso Powder to Add Coffee (and Chocolate) Flavor to Your Baked Goods

Make like the pros and never brew coffee for baking again.

espresso powder in spoon

When it comes to your morning brew, there is a wide range of quality coffee roasters that sell top-notch whole beans, ground coffee, and sometimes even cold brew. Go ahead and treat yourself to the best you can afford for your cup of joe. For everything else that requires the unique flavor of coffee, there's no need to brew another pot (or waste those precious beans). Instead, turn to every baker's secret: instant espresso powder. It's a key ingredient in coffee, mocha, and chocolate desserts.

What Is Espresso Powder?

Not to be confused with espresso grounds, instant espresso powder is actually brewed espresso that has been dehydrated to create water-soluble granules. It has all the same powerful punch as espresso, but without the liquid, making it a useful ingredient in batters, doughs, and even spice rubs. It provides a nuanced and deep flavor profile to anything it's added to.

"Instant espresso powder is a bit like vanilla extract or malted milk powder," says Jesse Szewczyk, food stylist, recipe developer, and author of Cookies: The New Classics. "You won't necessarily know it's in the recipe, but you will know that something interesting is going on."

How to Use Espresso Powder in Baking

Use It as a Shelf-Stable Coffee Replacement

Did you brew a whole fresh pot of coffee for that recipe that calls for 1 cup? It's not neccessary: Simply mix instant espresso powder with hot water for just the amount of coffee you need. "If a chocolate cake recipe calls for coffee as one of the liquid ingredients, as such recipes often do, I use instant espresso powder instead and combine 1 tablespoon with 1 cup of hot water to create the coffee called for in the recipe," says Jessie Sheehan, baker, recipe developer, and author of several cookbooks including Snackable Bakes. "As long as I have instant espresso powder on hand, I literally always have a cup of coffee on hand!"

It's important to fully dissolve the powder in (ideally hot) liquid before adding it to your recipe. "If you add the powder directly to buttercream it won't dissolve, and you will end up with unwanted brown specks," Sheehan says.

That said, part of the wonder of instant espresso powder is that it can dissolve in very little liquid; so you can add strong coffee flavor without having to alter the chemistry of a cake by adding more liquid than necessary.

Amp up the Chocolate Flavor

Use instant espresso powder as a secret flavor booster in applications that don't call for coffee. "Espresso has the same bold, bittersweet flavor as chocolate," says Szewczyk. "So adding it to recipes that are chocolate-forward will punctuate the flavor of the cocoa and kick it up a notch."

Sheehan particularly likes using it in brownies and chocolate cake—but be careful not to overdo it. "Be mindful about how much you are adding if you are using it to boost the flavor of chocolate, or you risk your baked good tasting more mocha-y than straight-up chocolate-y!" says Sheehan.

Other Unique Ways to Use It

  • Go Savory: Instant espresso powder has more range than just dessert. Mixed into a spice rub for steak, braised pork, and many grilled meats, the bitter flavor of coffee lends itself well in savory applications. Szewczyk even likes stirring a bit into a big pot of chili.
  • Don't Dissolve: You can let this ingredient shine without dissolving it, on occasion. "I like to use it in the swirl of a coffee cake," Sheehan says. "Sometimes a swirl is just cinnamon and sugar, and I like to add instant espresso powder to kind of emphasize the fact that we are talking about a coffee cake here!"

Where to Buy Espresso Powder

Instant espresso powder is sold in some grocery stores; look for it in the coffee and tea aisle. If your local supermarket doesn't carry it, track down this versatile ingredient at specialty grocery stores or at Latin markets. Otherwise, it is available online.

Pro tip: Some baking companies, including King Arthur Baking, market an instant espresso powder that is specifically designed to be used in baking and desserts.

6 Recipes That Use Espresso Powder

Want to put this superstar ingredient to the test? Whip up one of these recipes, which all call for the potent flavor of instant espresso powder.

01 of 06

Mocha Shortbread

Shortbread gets its iconic texture from gentle handling and a scant amount of liquid. So, how can you achieve the coffee flavor needed for mocha nirvana without adding liquid? With instant espresso powder, of course! This recipe produces a perfectly tender cookie that's packed with flavor.

02 of 06

Espresso Budini

To amplify the flavors of a recipe that already contains coffee, use instant espresso powder to boost the flavor even more.

03 of 06

Coffee Buttercream

It's not just for batters and doughs—you can use instant espresso powder to give a strong flavor and lovely tint to buttercream for cakes and cupcakes. Just be sure to dissolve the powder in water first; otherwise, you'll have unpleasant brown flecks in your frosting.

04 of 06

Espresso Steak Rub

Mixed with paprika, salt, and a bit of brown sugar, instant espresso powder shows its savory side in this steak rub that coaxes complex and smoky flavors from just a few common ingredients.

05 of 06

Pumpernickel Bread

The secret ingredient in this pumpernickel bread is instant espresso powder, but don't worry: It won't make your loaf taste like coffee. Instead, it provides a depth of flavor when combined with chocolate, molasses, caraway seeds, and rye flour.

06 of 06

Irish Cream

Impress your guests (or just make something special for yourself!) with this surprisingly simple recipe for a sophisticated after-dinner drink. Instant espresso powder provides a satisfying coffee flavor—and doesn't require any additional water to dissolve. The Irish cream stays rich and thick and very sippable.

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