“Coffee & donuts” is a pairing that has become so ubiquitous that it is almost cliché. In fact (at least in the US), probably the most common thing that leaps to mind when someone says “coffee?” is “donuts!” – even if most of us don’t eat donuts regularly.
But did you know that what we now call a donut came to us from France, via New Orleans, where it was called a “beignet” (pronounced “ben-YAE”)? In 1727, the Ursuline Nuns who came to New Orleans from France brought the beignet with them. Then, the beignet was a simple pastry that was hand rolled, deep fried, and then covered with powdered sugar.
In 1782 the "French Market" was established in New Orleans on the banks of the Mississippi River. Among other stands, the market housed coffee stands. By the early 1800s everyone was used to drinking their morning coffee in the French Market. The coffee stands served the well known “café au lait” with beignets, which were soon served not just in the morning, but throughout the day.
The New Orleans “café au lait” is different from its French ancestor. The New Orleans café au lait is a strong dark roast of coffee mixed with chicory, and served with hot milk in equal parts. Combining chicory with coffee and then with milk, and then serving that with beignets became the greatest coffee tradition in the new world.
Today, no one in New Orleans – or in the US – continues to call the simple pastries “beignets.” They are now just called “doughnuts,” or just “donuts.” As we know, if you walk into a Dunkin' Donuts today, there are now all kinds of donuts made with different kinds of dough, and having a wide selection of fillings and toppings. And it is common to go there for “donuts and coffee.”
Throughout the world, a few of the other pastries and cakes associated with coffee drinking are: “Mud Cakes,” Irish Coffee Pudding, Petits Fours, the Cappuccino Sundae, Irish Coffee Balls, Espresso Brownies, and Cappuccino Biscotti.
A really terrific pastry to have with coffee is the Brownie. As we know, a brownie is a small chocolate cake similar to a cookie, but very moist, and more dense than normal cake. Sometimes it contains nuts and chips, and even espresso flavoring. There are many recipes for making Brownies, and all of them complement coffee exquisitely.
“Coffee cake” is also as well known as the donut and the brownie. And again, there are also a lot of recipes to prepare a coffee cake using all kinds of ingredients and toppings. You can make cappuccino coffee cakes, apple coffee cakes, cheesecake coffee cakes, raspberry coffee cakes, and so on.
“Petits fours” are tiny, iced cakes, which are usually served with coffee. Typically, they are square, about an inch on a side, and 1.5-2 inches high. They are made to delight you with their intricacy when you bite into them. Inside, they generally have several layers of cake, custard, and butter cream filling, and fruit preserves. On the outside, they are covered with a fondant, and are usually decorated with several colors of frosting.
“Truffles,” also called “bonbons,” are small ball-shaped chocolates that are usually served along with coffee. They are made with many different flavorings, and can have fillings. Truffles can be made out of white chocolate, or dark chocolate, or milk chocolate.
Bonbons can be filled with other kinds of chocolate, with coffee flavoring, with nuts, with fruit, and even with liquids – such as flavored liquors. Bonbons may be rolled in coffee powder, cocoa powder, powdered sugar, ground cinnamon, or left plain.
Petits fours and bonbons tend to be served in different circumstances than donuts. Specifically, petits fours and bonbons make a very elegant accompaniment to espresso when finishing an upscale dining experience, where donuts would be very out of place.
...written by your friends at The Coffee Brewers