Rick Rodgers, author of the delightful tome Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague, returns to the subject of European-style coffee and baked goods in “Coffee and Cake.” The first forty pages or so are devoted to an excellent, in-depth coffee primer, which includes a brief history of coffee, “coffee talk” (flavor notes and adjectives used to describe coffees, similar to wine tasting), growing regions, brewing tips, a section devoted solely to espresso, and types of coffee pots.
The included coffee recipes cover European territory such as Viennese coffees (fiaker), spiced mocha, Irish coffee, café brulot from New Orleans, and more far-flung variations such as Vietnamese and Thai (iced) coffee, along with a DIY frappe recipe (ice cream, espresso and whole milk) and an espresso martini.
As for the baking half, it’s kicked off by an excellent baking primer that would be helpful for novice bakers in particular. There’s in-depth discussion of ingredients, equipment, baking and cooling, and decorating. The cake recipes are divided into four parts. If you’re looking for comfort food, you’ll find heirloom recipes like apple-cranberry ginger loaf from the author’s grandmother, almond blueberry buckle, or cinnamon swirl coffee cake. For the kids (and kids at heart), there’s a section devoted to cupcakes and frosting. Gracious Southern-style cakes include ambrosia coconut cake and spice layer cake with praline frosting. You’ll also find new favorites like a S’mores cheesecake and chocolate cake with chocolate malt frosting.
The first recipe that I tried was the apple-cranberry ginger loaf; I wrote the author to make sure that 2 cups unsweetened applesauce and 1/2 cup butter was correct, since that seemed like a lot of liquid for one loaf. Rick confirmed that it was. I made it minus the stick of butter in the interest of making the recipe low-fat and upped the ginger to 1/2 cup, and was rewarded with a moist, fruit-studded spice cake that would make a beautiful gift if baked in a decorative loaf pan like Nordic Ware Pumpkin Loaf Pan. Rick advises baking in a 9 x 5 pan, or you’ll end up with extra batter. The apple-cranberry ginger loaf would also make great muffins for those chilly mornings on the go.
The European-style cakes are where the book really shines, and they pair wonderfully with Viennese coffees such as the fiaker (for more of Rick’s European coffee recipes, try to find a copy of the excellent and out-of-print Kaffeehaus). Black Forest cake, moaahaccino torte, hazelnut gateau with coffee buttercream, chocolate-strawberry sachertorte, and tiramisu cake with mascarpone frosting will transport your tastebuds on a culinary vacation. The book wraps up with a handy (if brief) list of (online) sources, including Amazon.
“Coffee and Cake” does run on the short side at only eleven coffee recipes and twenty-five for cake, but Rick’s excellent primers, engaging writing style, and step-by-step instructions make this a good choice for a novice baker, or for the hostess of a coffee (or book) club (it’s the perfect size to tuck into a gift basket). There are numerous beautifully-staged photos that show off the included recipes. It’s also printed in the US, which is becoming a rarity these days. More experienced bakers will want to try Rick’s Kaffeehaus (if you can find it), Doris Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours or Carole Walter’s Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins & More: 200 Anytime Treats and Special Sweets for Morning to Midnight.