Entertain with Good Coffee and Cookies

Good, quality coffee and tasty cookies are the perfect holiday entertaining finishing touches

Coffee and cookies are probably the most appreciated and easiest way to entertain guests. Whether it’s just a quick get-together or the end of a great meal, good coffee will be remembered, just like the cookie recipe everyone wants to take home (see recipe below).

When people like coffee, they usually like really good coffee. To that end begins a search for the best roasted beans, correct grinds, home-brewing systems, grinders and cafés serving good coffee.

Sure, the ultimate coffee is a subjective thing, but there is no denying that good quality control and coffee knowledge go a long way toward a better flavor.

Richard Clark, owner of White Mountain Gourmet Coffee in Concord, has been in the business for 22 years. His coffee shop on Pleasant Street is also the warehouse and roastery, filling the street outside with the most pleasant aromas. The place just draws you in.

Clark says, “I drink coffee because it tastes so good.” It could be said there is a parallel between people who say they don’t like coffee and those that don’t like red wine. Maybe they just haven’t had a really good glass/cup.

There are many similarities between culturing coffee beans and grapes. Terroir is just as important for beans — Aribica beans grown in the highest regions are considered superior to Robusta beans grown in lower regions. Robusta beans are more bitter and often used in cheaper coffee blends, but are also added to Italian espresso blends where they add a bite.

The provenance of beans, like grapes, is important. Beans can pick up a musty flavor when not properly dried and freshness after roasting is key. Clark says that roasted beans are best fresh, but can be stored for up to six months. After grinding though, he suggests consumption within a few days — like an open bottle of wine — because the flavor, in this case the oils, can oxidize, lessening the intended flavor.

Although coffee beans are roasted to develop flavor and are not fermented like grapes, the flavor profile can be just as vast. Clark says, “Think of possible coffee flavors like a pyramid with light roasting on the bottom. That’s where the most possibilities for interesting flavors and aromas can be encouraged.” He suggests the fruitiness of African beans is best promoted through a light roast. At the top of the pyramid, the dark roast, there is less variety, just toasty and maybe bitter or burnt if overdone.

Clark judges the quality of coffee by “cupping” or simply adding the grind to hot water. Break the crust that forms for the aroma. Then wait for the grinds to sink and taste with a teaspoon for the flavor. This simple method will show faults in the beans from a variety of taints — including earthiness, mustiness or bitterness.

Clark says, “The only way to taste the unique character of coffee — don’t burn away the flavors.”

The Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel, developed by the Specialty Coffee Association of America, is a scary thing, revealing all the things that can go wrong. Beans can take on flavors with names like “mulch-like” to “barney” to “sauerkrauty.” On the upside, aromas can range from “jasmine” to “praline” to “nutmeg.” Over roast and you go to the dark side — “tarry” and “charred.” Obviously, a knowledgeable coffee buyer and roaster is key to the perfect cup.

Clark offers 180 types of beans from 16 countries. One third are Free Trade or Certified Organic, and the packaging has a label that can be scanned to trace the estate where it was grown.

Aside from the roasting, the art of the coffee house is in the blending. Clark offers three blends. His House Blend is mellow, well-balanced and has a heavy body. The Breakfast blend is “bright and sweet.” The White Mountain Blend is somewhere in between those two and is the one he would pick if he could only have one coffee. This is the hard part of his job; maintaining the quality of blends as the beans vary from shipment to shipment each year. “We are constantly monitoring the ratios to maintain the flavor profile.”

Tips for Coffee Lovers

  • Don’t judge a roaster by one or two selections.
  • Don’t use African coffees for iced coffee.
  • A good cup of espresso should have a nice “crema” or a swirl of various shades of brown on top when served. (Clark likes to add two drops of milk to his espresso — a blend of Honduran and Sumatran beans.)
  • Store beans in the freezer, if necessary, but never in the refrigerator, and for less than six months. Thirty days is the best —there is just less flavor as the oils evaporate. Store only for seven to 10 days if ground.
  • Flavored coffees actually taste best with milk or cream and sugar — it enhances their flavor.
  • Don’t use the same grounds twice.
  • The strength of coffee is just a matter of the amount of water used. Decaf may need less water; the particle size is different.
  • Coffee is 97 percent water — use filtered water when appropriate.
  • Don’t use paper filters, they absorb some of the essential oils and reduce the flavor.
  • Purists tend to drink espresso or an Americano — an espresso with twice as much water to emulate the strength of regular coffee, but brewed in the espresso manner with pressure forcing water through the grind.
  • Fresh and local means a lot and especially with roasted coffee beans. Pass by coffee king Starbucks and order small-batch local roaster products for a perfect locally sourced hostess gift and your own coffee klatch.

Cranberry-almond Jumbles

By Chef Bruce Walters

This recipe is from Chef Bruce Walters of the Black Forest Café in Amherst (theblackforestcafe.com). The café has been a Best of NH award-winner many times in the cookie category. The ingredients mix together a bit differently than you might expect and the result is a very tasty and chewy cookie. Yields about five dozen.

You can use either gluten-free flour or regular all-purpose flour for these cookies. We use Bob’s Red Mill all-purpose gluten-free flour. Xanthan gum can be found in the natural foods section of most grocery stores.

  • 3 sticks unsalted butter
  • 1 1/3 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 cups chopped dried cranberries
  • 3 cups toasted almonds, ground fine
  • 1 cup flour or (1 c. gluten-free flour plus 1 teaspoon xanthan gum)
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • Pinch salt
  • White chocolate for drizzle, if desired

In a medium saucepan, bring the milk, sugar and butter to a boil. Off heat, add the rest of the ingredients and mix right in the pan.

Move batter to a bowl, and refrigerate a few hours of over night to chill.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. With a mini ice cream scoop or by rounded tablespoons, place mounds of batter on a lightly greased cookie sheet. You can also use parchment paper or a Silpat mat.

Bake 7 minutes and flatten the cookies with a spatula to ¼-inch rounds. Return to the oven and bake another 10 minutes or so until golden brown. Let cool and serve as is, or drizzle with melted white chocolate.

These cookies are good for about a week, kept in an airtight container. You can also keep the batter refrigerated and scoop out cookies as needed.