Whether in cake, cookies or creamy pudding, chocolate doesn’t need a supporting cast to shine. Though we are fans of pairing chocolate with certain ingredients like tahini, which offers a nutty, sophisticated contrast in our Tahini Swirl Brownies, chocolate is a comfortable soloist. In certain recipes, however, a somewhat surprising ingredient does a wonderful job of enhancing chocolate’s flavor. It doesn’t overpower or compliment; it simply deepens the flavor without lending any of its own character.

Chocolate, meet instant espresso powder.

Bakers and chocolate lovers probably already keep a stash in their pantry. But if you’re not already using a little espresso powder to enrich your chocolate desserts, or if you think it’s an ingredient your recipe could do without, we urge you to reconsider.

With Valentine’s Day upon us, an article over on The Kitchn caught our eye and reminded us why we value it. Note that it's not ground espresso beans, as you might expect, but rather a deeper-tasting instant coffee made from dark coffee beans that have been brewed, dehydrated and ground into a powder. While you could add hot water to make espresso, it’s meant for cooking and baking.

If you’re hesitant to add coffee flavor to your desserts, don’t worry. A little bit of instant espresso powder enhances the deep chocolate flavors. You won’t taste coffee—only more chocolate. As Food Editor Matthew Card says, “The bitterness, earthiness and fruitiness of one another magnify the other.”

And with any good pantry staple, you’ll find other good uses for the stuff, too. You can use it as a rub on meat, add a tablespoon or two into chili or a braise, or use a dash to enrich barbecue sauce.

Whether for Valentine’s Day or not, try it in some of our favorite chocolate desserts, like our Stovetop Chocolate Cake or Chocolate Hazelnut Crostata. There’s a reason we keep coming back to these recipes. Like the best supporting actors, your teaspoon or so of instant espresso powder will add stealthy intrigue and reinforcement without stealing the spotlight. (Maybe it’s just like the best Valentine in that respect, too.)

h/t The Kitchn

Learn the difference between cocoa powder, Dutch process cocoa and cacao powder.

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