Not so long ago, we lived a block and a half away from a local coffee shop. In other words: Dangerously close to home. My husband mostly ordered a mocha with whipped cream, while the oldest loved frozen hot chocolate, and the youngest can’t resist a mango smoothie.
Me? Probably a hot vanilla spiced chai tea (with whipped cream)…until I discovered the vanilla cappuccino at my local coffee shop here in Pennsylvania. It is what my life has been missing. Sometimes my husband brings one home to surprise me, while other times, I surprise myself. Ha. The youngest and I grocery shop together and, on our way home, we stop and get our favorites from the local coffee shop’s drive-thru window. It’s our reward and motivation to get the bags carried in and put away.
So, those are our tastes in a nutshell (or, I guess, in a coffee shop). At home, I’m all about a cup (or three) of black coffee. Regular or decaf, I don’t have a strong opinion about it. That’s about as exciting as I get with my coffee. But then again—cappuccino.
This recipe for cappuccino bars came from here:
If you’d like to skip down to the recipe for cappuccino bars, please use the Table of Contents below. Otherwise, it’s time for a short and sweet history lesson on cappuccino.
- The History of Cappuccino
- Cappuccino, a Miraculous Invention
- Common Cappuccino Brownie Questions (and Answers!)
- A Word about Cinnamon
- Do Cappuccino Brownies Travel Well?
- How Do You Make Cappuccino Brownies
- How Much Caffeine is in these Brownies?
- I Don’t Have Instant Espresso Powder, Can I Sub in Coffee?
- Why Do the Brownies Need to Cool Before Glazing?
- Recipe for Cappuccino Bars
- Cappuccino Brownies
- Related Resources:
Now that I think about it — when I was in junior high and high school, cappuccino machines in gas stations were a new thing (at least in our small Indiana town). No hot chocolate for me. I remember getting a cappuccino and feeling like I was really something. So sophisticated. Funny, I forgot all about that.
As it turns out, cappuccino isn’t a new thing—and it wasn’t then either. The cappuccino has been around in the USA since the 1920s or the 1950s, depending on what you are reading, but it appears to not have gained much traction until the 1980s, and some sources say the 1990s. That’s later than I would have guessed, but elsewhere, it’s been around for much, much longer.
The History of Cappuccino
From The Coffee Wiki: “The Polish army routed invading Turks who were laying siege to Vienna. Georg Franz Kolschitzky, who was a key figure in the victory, discovered a large hoard of coffee left behind by the fleeing Turks. With this coffee, he established what is considered to be the first European coffee house. Following the establishment of his coffee house, the popularity of coffee would rapidly spread across Europe.”
Make your Polish jokes—my 24% Polish heritage responds with, “But, coffeehouse!” (and also Copernicus, Chopin, and Madame Curie were too, you know).
Some say Kolschitzky was maybe the second person to open a coffeehouse there, but either way, that’s a great story.
In fact, tradition says that not a single coffee plant existed outside of Arabia or Africa until the 1600s, when Baba Budan, an Indian pilgrim, left Mecca with fertile beans fastened to a strap across his abdomen. Baba’s beans resulted in a new and competitive European coffee trade.Tori Avey, The Caffeinated History of Coffee, PBS, April 8, 2013.
So, Europeans loved their coffee. But, Italians had loved their coffee for far longer, since the 1500s. When you love something that takes awhile to make, you want to speed up the process. That’s when innovation takes hold and big things happen.
To know more about cappuccino, and where it originated, you first need to know a little something about espresso. Did you know you can’t have cappuccino without espresso?
Cappuccino is espresso’s baby. Or something like that.
Cappuccino, a Miraculous Invention
Cappuccinos first popped up as the ‘Kapuziner’ in Viennese coffee houses in the 1700s. A description of the ‘Kapuziner’ from 1805 described it as “coffee with cream and sugar,” and a description of the drink from 1850 adds “spices” to the recipe.Lindsey Goodwin, History of the Cappuccino, Spruce Eats, September 28, 2019.
Over in Italy, someone added steamed and frothed milk to their espresso, left the crema (eventually), and TA DA! Cappuccino! Who was this mystery person? Eh, it was probably several and, as you probably guessed with a word like “cappuccino,” it was someone Italian.
Side note: And, yes, I’m Italian too (28%). I used (affiliate link) 23andMe to figure that one out. If you use that link, you receive a minimum of 10% off your 23andMe order. It was an awesome holiday gift (I love all the charts).
But this espresso with milk drink needed a name, right? Somehow, espresso with foamed and steamed milk (and later crema) became cappuccino. You will never guess where that came from!
“Cappuccino” takes its name from the Capuchin friars: the color of the espresso mixed with frothed milk was similar to the color of the Capuchin robe.Merriam-Webster, The Origin of Cappuccino, Accessed October 19, 2021.
Interesting! So, who are the Capuchin friars?
As Capuchin Friars.org states, “The Capuchin Franciscan Order was founded in central Italy as a reform within the Observants, led by Mateo di Bascio. It is one of the largest orders. Born, like the Jesuits, at the beginning of the Counter Reformation, the Capuchins became a major force in church activity, especially in preaching and in missions.”
When was this Counter Reformation?
The Counter-Reformation took place during roughly the same period as the Protestant Reformation, actually (according to some sources) beginning shortly before Martin Luther’s act of nailing the Ninety-five Theses to the door of Castle Church in 1517.Encyclopedia Britannica, Counter-Reformation, Accessed October 17, 2021.
Kind of neat, don’t you think?
Years and years of history and here we are: Cappuccino is a common beverage and flavoring in many a baked good. I have since learned in the many years since high school that sophistication isn’t based on what you are consuming, and is something only ever achieved by Audrey Hepburn. Also, life is too short to drink gas station coffee.
Common Cappuccino Brownie Questions (and Answers!)
If you, like me, enjoy the flavors of a cappuccino, don’t own a cappuccino machine, are going broke at your local coffee shop, and think you might like trying to EAT those flavors: this recipe is for you.
I made these cappuccino bars for something different. I mean, who doesn’t think “chocolate” when you think “brownie?” And who hasn’t made more than a few chocolate brownies. I hauled myself up and out of that rut. Now, you can too.
My husband, Jeremy, walked by, saw the bars, and sliced one. Later, I noticed him sneaking another. That’s before I had put on the glaze. Jeremy was once a “no glaze, no frosting” on brownies kind of person. He is also a total chocolate fanatic. After I glazed the soft bars, he kept going back to them.
A Word about Cinnamon
No one could resist these soft, nicely spiced bars. I left out the cinnamon the first time around. I wasn’t sure about cinnamon. So, I made a second batch of these brownies with the cinnamon. Yes, still good. If you are out of good cinnamon, don’t worry. The cinnamon adds a little something-something but it’s not boring at all without it.
You do need good cinnamon, and not the stuff that is little more than a red-colored powder for $2 at the store. What you want is Indonesian Cinnamon. It’s more subtle (and sweeter) than other varieties like Vietnamese cinnamon.
Our oldest son was 14 at the time, and declared these bars his favorite dessert ever. I was shocked. I mean, he had different ideas on “best dessert” anyway. This was the kid who asked for a pound cake each birthday instead of the typical frosting-covered birthday kind of cake. But still.
Do Cappuccino Brownies Travel Well?
Yes, indeed, they do. At the time I first made this recipe (and started writing this post two years ago), we lived in Indiana. Before our boys left for overnights up in Northwest Indiana with a family friend, I made a quick batch. Even with sinusitis. See? These non-chocolate brownies are easy to make. Simple, fast, and brainless. If I could do it through an allergy fog, so can you.
Like most brownies, these survived the trip without any issues. I recommend using a pan that has a hard cover. Your brownies won’t become squashed while traveling, it’s better for the environment, and you won’t have to deal with anyone not properly sealing foil or cling wrap (and drying out the brownies).
How Do You Make Cappuccino Brownies
If you ever wanted to make cappuccino without a machine, here you go. No special equipment here. If you have a 13 x 9 pan, you can make these bars no problem. It’s nothing more than measuring, melting, and mixing.
You will end up with a thin layer of batter across the bottom of the pan. That’s normal. It might throw you off but it’s expected.
The batter will look like it won’t be enough to spread in the bottom of the pan. It is. You do have to futz with it for a minute. Use a spatula to work the batter across the lightly greased pan as evenly as you can. Don’t forget the corners.
Take a Look at Instant Espresso Powder
I knew I wanted to experiment a little with espresso powder. I kept reading how it improved the taste of chocolate everything.
Two years ago, when I began writing this post (life got interesting there for a while, so I had frequent pauses), I finally remembered to grab a jar of DeLallo Instant Espresso Powder to see what all the fuss was about (and also the only brand my store carried). All II needed was something to bake.
You can usually hunt down at least one brand at your local grocery store mixed in with the rest of the stuff in the baking aisle. Check by the baking cocoa first. I’ve found it hiding eye-level or on the top shop. Note: I’m 5’2″ so, *my* eye-level. The images below will take you to Amazon if you need to purchase online. As I’ve posted, these are affiliate links so I will get a small kick-back at no extra cost to you if you make a purchase.)
How Much Caffeine is in these Brownies?
Of course instant espresso powder contains caffeine. But does the caffeine translated into the final baked item?
Instant espresso powder retains its caffeine even when you cook or bake with it, so consider using decaffeinated if you want to avoid caffeine.Instant Espresso Powder, Bon Appetit, April 3, 2008.
A bar or two don’t affect me in the least. Think about the proportions here. Still, if you want to avoid it, just use decaf instant espresso powder. All the flavor, but without the caffeine.
I Don’t Have Instant Espresso Powder, Can I Sub in Coffee?
Nothing sucks more than when you go to bake something and you realize you are out of it. I hate that more than anything. It happens much more than it used to because our kids sometimes make things. The oldest makes waffles a lot, while the muffins does more muffins or dips than anything.
While I’m working on getting everyone to add whatever they’ve used the last of to the Post-It on the fridge (or to just TELL ME), it’s a work in progress. Instant Espresso Powder is about the only thing I can rely on them NOT using in their kitchen baking. So, I haven’t had to resort to a swap. I’m sure it isn’t far off, however, since both of them count cappuccino baked goods as their favorite (muffins for the youngest, these brownie bars for the oldest).
But, if you are out of instant espresso powder, and you aren’t making a trip to the store (who can blame you?), you have options.
You can substitute regular instant coffee, preferably a dark roast. When cooking or baking, instant coffee will yield the same results, but it may lack the rich, roasted flavor of espresso.
In a real pinch, you can substitute very finely ground coffee or espresso, but use less since these grounds haven’t been brewed.Instant Espresso Powder, Fine Cooking, Accessed October 19, 2021.
Easy, right? Don’t forget: If you don’t want caffeinated brownies, use decaf versions of instant coffee, coffee grounds, or otherwise.
Why Do the Brownies Need to Cool Before Glazing?
Just like with most other recipes using a glaze or frosting, this cappuccino bar cookie needs a total cool down before you try to add a glaze to the top of them.
Sugar melts. If you pour the glaze or frosting over the top, the mixture will change its form into something ugly. You’ve seen it on Nailed It hundreds of times. Instead of a pretty topping, the glaze will become thin and separate. It will be a runny mess.
You won’t get the cohesive brownie covering Instagram dreams are made of so the end product will look more like a #PinterestFail. If you plan on slicing your brownies for serving, I would slice them first, and then glaze them. Then I would transfer them to your platter. If you don’t need to take them anywhere, it is best to keep brownies uncut. They last longer and keep their freshness that way.
Recipe for Cappuccino Bars
- 13 x 9 pan
- 6 Tablespoons Butter or Margarine
- 2 teaspoons Instant Espresso Coffee Powder
- 1 1/4 Cups Light Brown Sugar, Packed
- 2 teaspoons Vanilla Extract
- 2 Eggs
- 1 Cup Flour
- 2 teaspoons Baking Powder
- 1 teaspoon Salt
- 1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon (optional)
- 3-4 teaspoons Milk or Water
- 2 teaspoons Vanilla Extract
- 1 teaspoon Instant Espresso Coffee Powder
- 1 Cup Powdered Sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon Cinnamon (optional)
Make the Brownies
- 350* oven.
- Grease a 13 x 9 pan and set aside.
- In heavy medium pot, melt Butter with Coffee Powder over low heat. Remove from heat.
- Whisk in Brown Sugar, Vanilla, and Eggs until combined.
- Using a wooden spoon, mix in Flour, Baking Powder, Salt and the Cinnamon (if using) until just mixed.
- Spread into greased pan, smoothing the batter into the corners.
- Bake 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick near the edge of the pan is clean.
- Cool on wire rack. If using the glaze, be sure to cool COMPLETELY before topping with the glaze.
Make the Glaze
- Combine Milk, Vanilla, and Coffee Powder in a bowl until dissolved.
- Add in Powdered Sugar and Cinnamon (if using).
- Spread the glaze over the cooled bars.
These cappuccino brownies smell homey and warm and remind me of Autumn. They are pillow-like, with a nice chew. The glaze isn’t necessary—but it was fantastic.
This recipe for cappuccino bar cookies is the total package. It’s easy to make, looks great, tastes great, and is portable. Slice them into triangles before serving for added visual appeal.