I’m on the fence when it comes to coffee in desserts. Tiramisu is probably the only dessert on this planet I would pass on. I wouldn’t mind a scoop of Coffee Gelato or a couple of squares of Mocha Fudge. Given how the world is right now, a lot of us will be observing Eid very differently. When Ramadan began, I was a bit hopeful about seeing family on Eid. I was thinking of having them over for a traditional breakfast that is made on my husband’s side of the family. I wanted to make something sweet that could accompany the spread. A cake would be too much, a Payasam would have to be made the night before and even though summer has arrived, it would be too early for a cold dessert. I started looking through a few of my recipe books and felt that Cake Bars was the answer. Since we would all be having caffeine in the morning after a whole month, I felt that Espresso would be just the right flavor to end a heavy meal. I love texture in desserts and rummaged in my quarantine dictated pantry to see what was easily replaceable. I had almonds in all forms: raw, powdered and even flakes. A little testing later, I was hopeful to bake these on Eid morning. I’ve come to terms that this Eid will pass by without meeting the extended family. Baking has helped me with the uncertainty of our times and I will still be baking these Espresso & Almond Bars to lift my spirits.
For this recipe, you need to brew your strongest cup of black coffee. My husband loves his coffee and we have a coffee machine which I use only when recipes call for it. My preferred caffeine fix is a large mug of Masala Tea sweetened with a little bit of Jaggery. When he prepares his glass, I can hear the coffee beans whir into powder and steadily trickling into this glass in intervals punctuated with loud buzzes. Merely inhaling the aroma rouses my senses in the wee hours of the morning and it lingers at least half an hour after it has been prepared.
The dry ingredients in the recipe are almond, regular flour and about half a cup full of chocolate chips. It’s something I’ve learnt while reading and testing recipes. My chocolate cake batter has a shot of espresso and it elevates the flavor of cocoa and almost nobody has been able to guess that it has coffee in it. Almond flour is nutty in texture but quite mild flavor wise and I was a bit concerned that the coffee notes might stand out a bit too strongly. I thought of adding cocoa but didn’t want the color to brown. That’s how adding chocolate chips to mellow the espresso didn’t color the batter darker and added an additional bite to the slices.
I had a jar of Almond flakes in the pantry which I wanted to sprinkle on top of the batter right before it went into the oven. I was hoping the flakes would toast slightly by the time it finished baking. I completely forgot about them! I only realized halfway through the baking time and it was too late to pull it out of the oven. The other reason I wanted to add it is because I anticipated the slices to look too plain and unable to give cues on what is inside. I realized it could only be added after it was out of the oven and how it could be added on a dry surface had me thinking. It certainly needed something on top to adhere to. Luckily, I had a jar of Sticky Toffee Sauce leftover from a previous cake order. While the cake rested on the countertop, I toasted a handful of almond flakes on the stove. I let the cake cool completely and then added a few teaspoons of warm toffee sauce, sprinkled the toasted flakes and then gave it a while to cool before cutting it into squares.
I liked the slight sweetness the toffee sauce brought. Alternatively, you can spread a very thin layer of fruit preserves or jam instead. However, if you can’t be bothered about it you can completely skip this step. Just don’t forget to add the almond flakes before baking.
Coffee tones with hints of chocolate and crunchy almonds make for a perfect pick me up for the day. They’re just the right kind of sweet and you might find yourself reaching out for just one more especially if they’re in plain sight. The next time I bake these after Eid I might just cut them a bit smaller and have a few at hand to fuel me while I work on the next recipe.
Almond and Espresso Slices
- Freshly made Espresso or black coffee – ½ cup, cooled
- Almond flour – ½ cup
- All Purpose Flour – 1 cup
- Chocolate Chips – ½ cup
- Sugar – ¼ cup
- Baking powder – ½ tsp
- Butter – 4 oz OR 114 g, softened
- Eggs – 2
- Vanilla Extract – 1 tsp
- Almond flakes – 3 tbsp
- Sticky Toffee Sauce OR Fruit Jam – 3 tsp (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Centigrade.
- Line a square baking tin with parchment paper.
- In a stand mixer or using a handheld mixer, cream together sugar and butter till light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
- Add vanilla extract and eggs and continue mixing till it is fully incorporated, about 2 minutes.
- Add the Espresso and almond flour and mix slightly.
- Add in chocolate chips and fold slightly.
- Using a sieve, sift the flour and baking powder into the mixture and fold the mixture using a gentle hand till everything is mixed. The batter will be pretty thick.
- Transfer the batter to the prepared baking tin.
- Toast the almond flakes on a low flame.
- Sprinkle on top of the batter. If you’re using jam or sticky toffee sauce, set it aside.
- Bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes till it is golden on top and a toothpick pricked in the centre comes clean.
- Let it cool slightly.
- If you’re using jam or sticky toffee sauce, spread it evenly on top of the cake. Quickly sprinkle toasted almond slices and gently press it in.
- Remove from the baking tin and let it cool completely.
- Using a sharp knife, cut into neat squares.
- Store leftover pieces (doubtful about this though) in an airtight container at room temperature for 3 days.
Have a good food day.