Archive for the ‘dessert’Category

Inniskillin icewines hit the sweet spot

Debi Pratt at Inniskillin in Niagara
Like many wine drinkers, we’ve always thought of icewine as an after-dinner treat. But if Inniskillin (www.inniskillin.com) has its way, we’ll be drinking it with dinner as well. As Debi Pratt told us when we toured the property, icewine makes an excellent, if somewhat extravagant, table wine.

Inniskillin is another pioneer in the Niagara wine region. It was founded in 1975 by Austrian-born Karl Kaiser and Canadian Donald Ziraldo. “Karl said, ‘If I’m going to live in a new country, I’m going to drink the wines of my new country,’” Pratt told us.

Ziraldo had actually planted Riesling, Chardonnay, and Gamay vines the year before at his commercial nursery. But when Inniskillin launched, the winery relied heavily on two winter-hardy French hybrid grapes, Vidal Blanc and Maréchal Foch. The early Vidal plantings survive for icewine, but nobler vines have displaced the old red hybrid as well as the original Gamay. Today’s Inniskillin Niagara table wines lean heavily on Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Riesling, and Pinot Noir. (Inniskillin also has a branch in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia.)

When cold is cool


Inniskillin icewine vineyard in NiagaraBut Inniskillin electrified the wine world with its distinctive New World icewines. Winemaker Kaiser produced Niagara’s first icewines in 1984, using the thick-skinned Vidal grapes. Familiar with German and Austrian icewines, he suspected that the climate in Niagara should be perfect to produce icewines in most harvests. Subsequent years proved him right, and the consumer response to the once-exotic product was strong.

“Donald and Karl are pioneers of Ontario icewine,” Pratt said. Today, Inniskillin reserves 5 percent of its grapes for icewines. They hang on the vines until at least early December and sometimes aren’t harvested until early March. The optimal temperature for harvesting is -10°C (14°F). VQA regulations state that the harvest must be carried out at -8°C (17/6°F) or lower.

Thick-skinned Vidal grapes last longer on the vine than other varietals. As a result, the grape accounts for about 85 percent of Canada’s icewine production. But Inniskillin and some other Niagara wineries have also had good luck with Riesling and Cabernet Franc. They also have thick enough skins to become desiccated on the vine without rotting.

Icewine with food


icewine glass at Inniskillin in NiagaraYou can taste icewine flights at the dedicated Icewine Tasting Bar. We headed instead to the Riedel Room, which is named for the premium maker of wine glasses. After Kaiser’s prompting, Riedel developed a specific glass for tasting icewine. “It evolved from an aromatic glass, a port glass, and a Sauterne glass,” said Pratt. “The shape maximizes the layers of aromas in icewines.”

Food, we were to quickly learn, also brings out the nuances of the wine. We sampled three dishes prepared by chef Tim MacKiddie to pair with Riesling, Vidal, and Cabernet Franc icewines.

icewine and food pairing at Inniskillin in Niagara

Riesling pairing

In the Riedel icewine glasses, the Riesling icewine showed a lot of flowery notes and citrus that ranged from Meyer lemon to bergamot. MacKiddie served a goat cheese croquette with a fennel salad lightly dressed with a cumin-lime vinaigrette. The citrus notes balanced the ashen cheese nicely, while the bright anise of the fennel echoed the aromatics of the wine.

Vidal pairing

The Vidal icewine was rounder and more luscious, tasting of apricots and gooseberries. MacKiddie explained that baking spices pair nicely with Vidal, which tends to preserve its fruitiness even as an icewine. He then proved his point by serving a rhubarb tart with cinnamon butter pastry and a crumble topping.

Cabernet Franc pairing

The “dessert” course among the icewines was reserved for the Cabernet Franc, which displayed a luscious concentrate of blackberries and elderberries spiked with black pepper. MacKiddie offered a “Canadian s’more.” It consisted of a block of chocolate ganache with a few toasted homemade marshmallows, all sitting in a small pool of Cabernet Franc syrup. “A match made in heaven,” he called it—and we agreed

We were convinced: Icewine can pair nicely with food. Pratt pointed out that Inniskillin’s sparkling icewines—either Sparkling Vidal or Sparkling Cabernet Franc—might be even more food friendly. “The bubbles cut the sweetness,” she said.

Nonetheless, it’s hard to give up the sheer indulgence of simply sipping and enjoying icewine as a special pleasure all its own.

For an overview of Niagara wineries, see the web site of the Vintner’s Quality Alliance of Ontario (vqaontario.ca) or Visit Niagara (visitniagaracanada.com).

20

07 2017

77° West establishes New World flavors at Atlantis

main dining room at 77° West
Patti and I had barely sat down at 77° West when a server delivered a bowl of tortilla chips and four salsas to sample while we studied the menu. The combination of pico de gallo, roasted tomatoes, roasted tomatillos, and guacamole telegraphed the kitchen’s culinary bent.

empanadas at 77° WestThe chefs at 77° West, the newest fine dining option at Atlantis (atlantisbahamas.com), work in an open kitchen to create dishes that fuse South American and Caribbean flavors and cuisines. My meal felt like a whirlwind tour through South America. For example, I couldn’t resist the empanadas starters. The flaky turnovers are among my fast-food standbys when I’m in Spanish-speaking countries. The chefs at 77° West elevated this staple of hand-held cuisine by filling the flaky crust with duck, cotija cheese, and chorizo. A pineapple and avocado crema was the perfect accompaniment.

moqueca at 77° WestMoqueca is one of Brazil’s best-known dishes. The chefs at 77° West build on the base of the Bahian moqueca, which shows up at casual fish shacks and fine dining restaurants alike. This version placed an oven roasted grouper fillet atop the signature stew of coconut milk, onion, tomatoes, garlic, cilantro, and palm oil. A bed of coconut rice helped trap all the flavorful broth. This moqueca was a perfect synthesis of Portuguese and African culinary influences.

I grew to love dulce de leche during a visit to Buenos Aires where cooks use this mixture of caramelized sugar and milk in almost anything sweet. 77° West offers an elegant dulce de leche cheesecake with a thick topping of tres leche cream and a drizzle of salted caramel sauce. It made a rich and delicious ending to the meal. The following recipe, developed once I got home, is simpler but preserves the signature flavors and creamy texture. The photo, however, shows the restaurant’s beautiful presentation.

INDIVIDUAL DULCE DE LECHE CHEESECAKES


Serves 6dulce de leche cheesecake at 77° West at Atlantis

Ingredients

3/8 cup graham cracker crumbs
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 8-ounce package cream cheese
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs, separated
1 tablespoon flour
13.4 ounce can dulce de leche (Nestle La Lechera is good)
1/4 teaspoon fleur de sel finishing salt

Directions

Set oven to 325°F.

Mix graham cracker crumbs, brown sugar, and salt in bowl. Add melted butter and mix thoroughly. Divide into 6 paper (or silicon) muffin liners and press down to compress. Set aside.

In large bowl, place cream cheese and sugar. Beat until well blended. Mix in vanilla and egg whites and beat until very smooth. Spoon into muffin liners (about 3 tablespoons each).

Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool on a rack.

While cheesecake is cooking, prepare the topping. Heat dulce de leche gently in small pan until warm. Stir in egg yolks until smooth. Slowly bring mixture to a simmer, stirring all the while. Remove from heat.

When individual cakes cool enough to shrink slightly in the liners, reheat the dulce de leche and spoon over the top of the cakes. Smooth surface. Continue to cool on rack. When room temperature, sprinkle with fleur de sel and refrigerate until served.

20

02 2017

Panna cotta Christmas style

Peppermint panna cotta
As I mentioned in the last post, Broussard’s served a dynamite version of panna cotta tweaked for the holiday season. Not only was it an intense pink and redolent of peppermint, it also had a luscious chocolate topping. While my homemade attempt doesn’t indulge in some stray raspberries as a garnish, it does boast that winning combination of peppermint and chocolate.

Many restaurant chefs offer panna cotta as a dessert option because making it doesn’t require a pastry chef’s skill set. In fact, it is about as easy as making Jell-O. Still, it’s rich and satisfying and can be made to look fabulous. This recipe is a simple adaptation of the restaurant classic, but scaled down to dinner-party volume. To make it even easier, the chocolate layer is a commercial ganache in a jar. It’s just the right texture.

PEPPERMINT PANNA COTTA

serves 6

Ingredients

2 cups heavy cream
3/8 cup (75 grams) granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons gelatin
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
6-8 drops red food coloring
Hershey’s Spreads chocolate
whipped cream
crushed Starlight mints or candy canes for garnish

Directions

Pour the cream into a saucepan and sprinkle the gelatin on top of the cream. Let it dissolve on the surface for at least 10 minutes.

Move pan to burner over medium heat. Begin stirring with a small whisk. When cream is warm, add the sugar and the two extracts. Continue stirring until the lumpy gelatin is completely dissolved and cream is smooth. Stir in food coloring and stir to distribute evenly. At no time should the mixture boil.

Remove pan from heat and pour warm cream into six juice glasses or clear tulip cups. Cover each with plastic wrap and refrigerate six hours to overnight to fully set the panna cotta.

Warm the Hershey’s Spreads chocolate in a pan to liquefy. Pour a thin layer atop each glass of panna cotta and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Top each serving with a dollop of whipped cream and garnish with crushed peppermint candy.

Co Couture embodies the artistry of chocolate

Deirdre McCanny at Co Couture in Belfast
Deirdre McCanny had never made a chocolate in her life when she decided to leave her job in international sales and marketing to start a chocolate shop in Belfast. From modest beginnings in her apartment, she moved into her cozy shop with a big workroom in back in December 2009. It’s just a few steps down from the sidewalk on the corner of Donegall Square East, literally around the corner from Belfast City Hall. It has become, as Deirdre calls it, “a chocolate oasis in the city center.” The first time we visited, a regular customer had just stopped in for a cup of hot chocolate and a cherry-sencha truffle as a treat at the end of the work day. (The tart cherry and herbaceous green tea are a perfect match.)

Deirdre calls her shop Co Couture in homage to Coco Chanel. “Whenever you think of chocolate, think Coco Chanel,” she explains. “Less is more in chocolate as well as in fashion. The fewer the ingredients, the better.”

broken chocolate at Co Couture in Belfast If you are going to limit your ingredients, they had better be really good, she reasoned. “A lot of chocolatiers were playing in the middle ground,” Deirdre says. “I decided to go right to the top.” She sources her deeply flavorful organic chocolate from Madagascar, where the cacao trees are grown in the shade of a rain forest and the beans are transformed into chocolate. “It’s a sustainable economic model,” she says, “fairer than fair trade.” For other ingredients, she works with local producers.

But good product is not enough. Deirdre trained as a chef before taking another career path and is flexing those culinary muscles again. “I have quite a classic palate,” she says. “I try to keep things classic.” She learned the basics of candymaking by training in Barcelona with renowned chocolatier Ramon Morató.

Exquisite tastes


Cup of hot chocolate at Co Couture in BelfastThe proof, of course, is in the pudding—or in this case, the cup. Nothing seemed more appealing to us than settling in at one of the shop’s tiny tables for cups of hot chocolate—accompanied by small truffles. The hot chocolate (also available as a mix to take home) was so rich and thick that we actually found ourselves thinning it a bit with milk from a small pitcher.

“Hot chocolate,” says Deirdre, “is like a hug for the soul.”

She is most proud of the ganache fillings that she has perfected for her truffles. She was one of the first in the United Kingdom to work with water-based ganaches. Not only are they dairy-free, they lack any of the additives like butter, cream, or lecithin that would coat the palate and mask the pure chocolate flavor. Her ganaches are not technically vegan, as she sweetens with honey rather than refined sugars.

Deirdre uses locally distilled Bushmills Black Bush whiskey for her Irish Whiskey and Irish Coffee truffles. The pure chocolate notes melt away to reveal the high sweet whiskey flavor harmonized with the caramel treacle of the oloroso sherry casks where the spirit was aged. The Irish coffee variant adds the round richness of dark roasted coffee beans for an additional complexity. At the other end of the taste spectrum, her Fresh Mint and Honey Truffle has an airy delicacy, like walking through a patch of blooming summer mint surrounded by the buzz of honeybees. No wonder it won a gold medal from the British Academy of Chocolate.

“I am a chocolate addict,” says Deirdre. “If one must work, working with chocolate is one of the heavens on earth.”

Co Couture, 7 Chichester Street, Belfast, 078 8889 9647, cocouture.co.uk

07

12 2016

Lincoln Inn emerges as Vermont’s gourmet destination

Lincoln Inn in Woodstock, Vermont
The Lincoln Inn in Woodstock is among the most European of the little inns in Vermont, and not just because chef Jevgenija Saromova hails from Latvia. She and innkeeper partner Mara Mehlman describe the property as a “restaurant with rooms.” That’s a model common in the European countryside, and often signals great dining. Think, for example, of Maison Troisgros, one of the pioneers of modern French cuisine.

Woodstock isn’t Roanne, of course, and Jevgenija Saromova (or Chef Saromova, as she prefers) isn’t Jean or Pierre Troisgros. Not yet, anyway. But she has impressive classical culinary credentials and a personal style unique in northern New England. She worked in top restaurants in Italy, France, and England before joining Mehlman in Vermont. The two women have applied the model of the French “auberge” to an 1875 farmhouse with six charming, carefully decorated rooms and green lawns that roll down to the Ottauquechee River.

Innkeeper Mara Mehlman of the Lincoln Inn in Woodstock, Vermont A native Californian, Mara first dreamed of living in Vermont when she took a Vermont foliage bicycle tour. Years later, she purchased the property, thoroughly renovated the building, and re-opened the inn rooms in July 2014. It became a gastronomic destination when Chef Saromova arrived from England a few months later. The women clearly love Vermont—skiing in the winter, kayaking in the summer—but they have no intention of replicating traditional New England fare.

“We’re not about maple syrup and cheddar cheese,” says Mara. “This is fine dining.”

Chef Saromova explains. “I don’t like boring food plates,” she says. “I like to combine textures and flavors.”

Refined Dining


Chef Jevgenija Saromova of the Lincoln Inn in Woodstock, VermontChef Saromova spent nearly two decades as a member or leader of a kitchen brigade, but she works alone in the Lincoln Inn kitchen. Every dish is created to her taste and executed precisely as she envisions it. In effect, every diner gets the personal attention of the master chef. During most of the year, the restaurant serves a four-course prix fixe dinner Thursday through Sunday, with a more casual tavern night on Wednesdays. During foliage season, nights for dinner increase and tavern night goes on hiatus. The four-course meals—$55 per person—are gourmet pleasures. The menu changes daily. True to Chef Saromova’s word, it’s anything but boring. The Inn at Woodstock and other area lodgings send their foodie guests here for the full-blown fine-dining experience—complete with an excellent and surprising wine list.

Paul Newman Dining Room at the Lincoln Inn in Woodstock, Vermont In addition to the main dining room tables, one party per evening can book the Chef’s Table for a seven- or twelve-course tasting menu. Some of the plates are variations of those on the four-course menu, while others include specialized or especially precious ingredients. The Chef’s Table is served in the Paul Newman dining room (left). Newman and his family used to vacation here and a previous owner enclosed a side porch as their private dining room. One diner at the table faces a photograph of Newman in his prime, and some ladies have been known to fantasize that they were having dinner with the actor. We enjoyed a seven-course meal that ranks as one of the most memorable we’ve eaten stateside in a long time. Each course demonstrated another aspect of the chef’s ability to exploit taste and texture combinations for yet another striking composition.

Gazpacho served at the Lincoln Inn in Woodstock, Vermont

Chilled Gazpacho and Olive Tapenade Crostini


Chef Saromova grows her own kitchen garden in the river bottom land behind the inn. Despite this year’s drought, she had good crops of tomatoes. Her take on chilled gazpacho is especially sweet from both the tomatoes and the roasted red peppers. It also has just a hint of red onion. The saltiness of methodically hand-pitted ripe olives (Kalamata and Niçoise by the taste) in the tapenade brings out the fresh vegetable flavors, while the paper-thin crostini give visual interest to the composition of the dish and a satisfying crunch. The dish was reveille for the taste buds: Fall in and stand at attention.

Lobster served at the Lincoln Inn in Woodstock, Vermont

Lobster and Mascarpone-Enriched Orzo


Butter-poached lobster tail is a classic of French haute cuisine. The technique demands a low temperature to keep the butter from browning. Lobster cooked this way is more tender than boiled or steamed. Orzo and chopped mild greens mixed with a judicious bit of mascarpone form a presentation base for the lobster meat. The sweetness of the cheese calls the lobster’s sweetness to the fore.

Sea bass and scallop served at the Lincoln Inn in Woodstock, Vermont

Sea Bass and Seared Scallops


Neither sea bass nor scallops strike any diner as unusual, but Chef Saromova’s approach to serving them together as a fish course speaks volumes about her classical training and her command of technique. The sea bass—striped bass, in this case, rather than more conventional farmed sea bass—is roasted in a persillade. Traditionally, persillade is a chopped parsley and garlic preparation that most chefs use throughout a meal. This version was light on the garlic and included enough mustard and breadcrumbs that it sealed in juices of this sometimes dry fish. The scallop was perfectly seared—just barely cooked through. For contrast, the sea bass came with stewed black-eyed peas. The legumes emphasize the meatiness of the fish. The scallop sat on a pasta-like salad of thin strips of cucumber and white radish lightly dressed with champagne vinegar—sharp flavors that highlight the scallop’s delicacy.

beet and goat cheese salad served at the Lincoln Inn in Woodstock, Vermont

Beet, Goat Cheese, Granita Salad


The photo above doesn’t really do justice to this inventive salad where so many things were happening on the plate. The slices of red and yellow beet (left side) were sweet and delicious. They paired nicely with fresh lettuce leaves and a slice of soft goat cheese. The pomegranate-orange granita, however, elevated everything with a tart punch. The pickled cherry was, well, the cherry on top. The “dust” on the plate was dehydrated beet that had been pulverized in a blender. It was a pretty touch. The salad completely refreshed our palates before the meat courses began.

Filet and escargot served at the Lincoln Inn in Woodstock, Vermont

Filet Mignon, Ravioli, and Escargot/Oyster Fricasee


This dish is an embarrassment of riches. Fortunately, each of the premium ingredients was restricted to a small portion. The raviolo atop the small piece of perfectly cooked, perfectly salted filet mignon was filled with an explosive mix of truffle and foie gras—pretty much an orgy of umami. Surprisingly, the oyster shell filled with a fricassee of escargot and oyster was equally dark, savory, and garlicky. Even more surprising, the snails were juicy and tender. (Face it—snails are usually rubbery.) The sweet potato purée provided a contrast of smooth and sweet to chewy and meaty. It was a brilliant dish.

Lamb two ways served at the Lincoln Inn in Woodstock, Vermont

Lamb Chop and Smoked Lamb Breast


Lamb two ways is another Escoffier classic, but Chef Saromova’s variant is pure Vermont country. The lamb chop here is cut from a roasted rack. It was perfect. The second lamb dish was the breast—or brisket. She boned, rolled, and tied it up with string. After brining it for 20 hours, she cold-smoked with cherry chips for two hours, and braised it six hours until it was falling apart. As if the meats weren’t unctuous enough, Chef Saromova served them with figs poached in port wine. The little “berries” are actually balsamic glaze mixed with agar-agar and olive oil, then frozen so that they form little beads of explosive flavor. It’s just proof that such touches predate so-called molecular cuisine.

Chocolate delice served at the Lincoln Inn in Woodstock, Vermont

Chocolate and Fruit


Chef Saromova clearly favors creamy desserts. The chocolate delice—essentially a chocolate terrine with cookie crumb base and chocolate icing—is the ostensible star of this plate. The “bars” are a champagne and strawberry terrine. The flavor favors the wine over the fruit. By contrast, the strawberry sorbet tastes more intensely of strawberry than most fresh strawberries do. Capping it all off, the sweetened vanilla yogurt has a skin that makes it explode in the mouth.

Coffee, anyone?

Lincoln Inn & Restaurant at the Covered Bridge, 2709 W. Woodstock Rd., Woodstock, VT 05091; 802-457-7052; www.lincolninn.com.

Film Row gives a new twist on OKC fun

Film Exchange on Film Row in Oklahoma City
Hollywood met the High Plains in Oklahoma City as early as 1907. By the 1960s, literally hundreds of film exchanges operated in OKC as distribution points for almost every film studio in the U.S. Films fanned out to 37 cities from Film Row, until changes in movie technology changed the means of distribution. The heart of the current Film Row (www.filmrowokc.com) is the corner of Sheridan and Lee Avenues. Many old buildings remain, complete with ghost paintings of their studio names. The neighborhood has begun to emerge as a center for arts, entertainment, and dining.

A concert venue/dance club is rising behind the 21c Museum Hotel. Meanwhile, there’s plenty to entice, ranging from the main gallery of Individual Artists of Oklahoma (www.iaogallery.org) to the quirky coffee bar/art gallery/potting shed known as The Plant Shoppe (www.plantshoppe.com). Paramount Arts & Entertainment (www.theparamountokc.com) contains the bar and bistro Noir as well as a black-box theater used by contemporary drama companies. Its cinema shows movies on weekends in one of the original Paramount Studios screening rooms.

That Pie Truck on Film Row in Oklahoma City Only stretching about four blocks on Sheridan Avenue, Film Row is blocked off on the third Friday of the month for an event called Premiere. The main feature is a gathering of food trucks selling everything from barbecued brisket, pulled pork, and giant plates of nachos to bowls of vegan mac and cheese (made with cashew cheese) and green chile pork tacos. One truck serves only variations of s’mores and shaved ice with fresh fruit. No matter how enticing, save room for dessert from That Pie Truck (@thatpieplaceOK), the mobile variant of the brick-and-mortar bakery That Pie Place. We were so taken with the tequila key lime pie that we figured out how to make it at home.

TEQUILA LIME PIE


This variant of the time-honored condensed milk key lime pie comes out higher and a little lighter, thanks to the incorporation of some meringue into the custard. And because it is fully set by baking, it’s less likely than the original to weep or make the crust soggy. If you’re not a tequila drinker, you don’t have to buy a whole bottle to make the recipe. A standard nip provides just the right amount.

Tequila lime pieIngredients
14 oz. can of sweetened condensed milk
4 large egg yolks
zest of 2 limes
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 cup (50ml) gold tequila
2 large egg whites
1 tablespoon sugar
1 prepared graham cracker crust
sweetened whipped cream

Directions
Set oven at 325°F.

Place condensed milk in large bowl. Stir in egg yolks, lime zest, lime juice, and tequila.

In separate bowl, place egg whites and sugar. Whip with egg beater or electric mixer until soft peaks form.

Stir about a quarter of the meringue into the milk-egg-lime mix. Then fold in remaining meringue.

Pour mixture into prepared graham cracker crust. Place pie into preheated oven and bake for 25-30 minutes. When jostled, it should seem mostly set but jiggle a little in the middle. Top will be slightly dry and perhaps just beginning to brown.

Cool on rack, then chill for at least 2 hours. Serve with sweetened whipped cream.

08

09 2016

Say cheesecake in Kaimuki

cheesecake
With its bright red and yellow exterior, Otto Cake (1127 12th Ave., Honolulu; 808-834-6886; ottocake.com) is one of the most colorful storefronts in Kaimuki—and proprietor Otto is easily one of the neighborhood’s more colorful characters. Otto, who uses only one name (“like Sting,” he says), plays bass in the band 86 List and is a cheesecake maker extraordinaire. He opened his shop in Kaimuki in 2013 and tempts customers with nine different flavors per day from a total of 270 that he has developed.

cheesecake with otto On any given day he might draw from the flavors of the island for haupia (coconut milk) or lilikoi (passionfruit) cheesecakes or for a combination such as macadamia-pineapple-coconut. Less subtle choices might include chocolate peanut butter, orange chocolate chip or Chinese almond cookie. He also delights in finding just the right crust to complement the flavors of the filling. He uses an orange cookie crust for the lilikoi cheesecake and pairs a cinnamon crust with a Mexican chocolate filling.

Otto declined to share a recipe. But he did offer a few tips to help home bakers avoid some of the most common mistakes in making cheesecake. To begin with, he says, all ingredients should be mixed by hand to avoid over-emulsified, pasty results. And neither the crust nor the filling should be overly sweet. If you are using ingredients that have a lot of natural sugar, he says, cut down on the amount of added sugar.

“Timing in the oven is the most important thing,” he says, noting that most people overcook their cheesecake. If your cakes tend to be crumbly, that’s probably why. Finally, he says, “do not use a water bath.” That might be fine for a pudding, but not for a cake.

And, it almost goes without saying: Have fun!

25

02 2016

And the winning Champagne is…

Barons de Rothschild blanc de blancs with raspberry tart

What was our best bubbly of 2015? We’ve been fortunate this year to enjoy some spectacular sparkling wines, from a range of proseccos to an elegant pink Franciacorta to several cavas and crémants that we simply drank without taking notes or photographs. (Even wine and food writers are entitled to a day off.)

Barons de Rothschild brut But the champagnes of Barons de Rothschild (www.champagne-bdr.com) really took us through the seasons. We started off in warm weather with the non-vintage brut, which is the company’s anchor champagne. It’s blended with 60 percent chardonnay (mainly grand crus in the Côte des Blancs) and 40 percent pinot noir (principally from the villages of Verzenay, Ay, Mareuil-sur-Ay, and Bouzy). It has a Rumpelstiltskin straw-gold color, a faintly yeasty aroma, and fine and persistent bubbles, The full mouth feel and abundant acidity make it an excellent food wine, even with something as complex and spicy as mole amarillo. (Mexico did have a French emperor for a while, after all.) The BDR brut retails around $80.

BDR rose Come fall, we moved along to the non-vintage rosé, which might be our favorite sipping champagne of BDR’s non-vintage portfolio. It is produced from 85 percent chardonnay (again, mainly grand crus in the Côte des Blancs) and 15 percent pinot noir from the Montagne de Reims. Some of that pinot noir juice goes in with the chardonnay at first fermentation, and some is fermented as a red wine before being blended together. The blend marries in the cellar for at least three years before dosage, then another six to nine months after disgorgement. The result is a wine with strong fruit and floral characteristics, with undertones of raspberry, rose petals, and sweet-tart wild strawberries. The color is a salmon pink, which accentuates the spiral of bubbles from the bottom of the glass to the top. We like watching the dance of the bubbles. How long do they last? They’re still prickling the tongue when we empty the last glass. The BDR rosé retails for around $105.

For our money (about $115), the blanc de blancs is the most elegant of BDR’s non-vintage champagnes and the perfect wine for the winter holidays. It is crafted entirely from chardonnay grown in the signature Champagne crus of Avize, Cramant, Mesnil-sur-Oger, Oger, and Vertus. It is a little paler than the brut, slightly more acidic, and infinitely more sophisticated. Although it has a citrus-like freshness, some of the flavor notes include raw almonds and white peaches. The bubble profile can only be called creamy. It’s great by itself, but we think it’s the perfect pairing with a fresh raspberry tart (as shown above), since the bubbles cut through the unctuousness of the butter crust and pastry cream, while the acidity and mineral notes accentuate the flavor of the raspberries.

31

12 2015

Whimsical cake beets all

Culinary students at Hawaii Food & Wine Festival
Of all the culinary students assisting guest chefs at the Chopstix & Cocktails event of the Hawaii Food & Wine Festival, those assigned to Bill Corbett certainly seemed to be having the most fun sampling dishes from the different tables (above).

The whimsy wasn’t lost on guest chef Corbett himself. Named one of the Top 10 Pastry Chefs in America by Dessert Professional Magazine in 2013, Corbett is currently executive pastry chef for the Absinthe Group of restaurants in San Francisco. He turned a savory dish into a sweet by creating a Beet Cake with Fromage Blanc Frosting.

“It’s kind of a joke,” he told me. “At one time everyone in the Bay Area had the same beet salad on the menu: beets, goat cheese, walnuts, maybe fennel or citrus. So I figured why shouldn’t the same thing be on the dessert menu.”

Cut into small squares, Corbett’s cake was better suited to fingers than chopsticks. With its rich red color, it would be a good addition to a holiday dinner. Note that the cake can be made ahead and frozen, which will help cut down on last-minute party preparations. Instead of fromage blanc, Corbett used a local goat cheese produced by Big Island Goat Dairy.

BEET CAKE WITH FROMAGE BLANC FROSTING


Makes 4 dozen squares beet cake at Hawaii Food & Wine Festival

Chef Corbett notes that soft goat cheese works well as a substitute for fromage blanc, which can be harder to find.

For the cake
2 large eggs
2 3/4 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups olive oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups cake flour
1/2 tablespoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 cups beets, grated and squeezed of excess liquid

Preheat oven to 325°F. In a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whip eggs and sugar on medium speed to full volume. Drizzle in oil and vanilla while continuing to whisk.

Sift all of the dry ingredients, then add in three stages to the egg mixture. Once emulsified, fold in the beets. Split cake batter between two 12×18 (half sheet) pans lined with parchment paper.

Bake until cake springs back to the touch and slightly pulls away from the sides (about 1 hour). When almost fully cooled, wrap and freeze.

For the frosting

1 cup cream cheese, room temperature
2 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
1 cup butter, soft
1 cup fromage blanc or goat cheese, room temperature
1 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped as garnish

In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, slowly mix cream cheese and half of the sugar until completely smooth. Add the butter and remaining sugar and continue mixing until smooth again. Pass fromage blanc through a wire strainer. (Goat cheese does not need straining.) Add fromage blanc or goat cheese to cream cheese/butter mixture and incorporate until smooth.

To assemble
Remove parchment from cakes while frozen. Cut each cake into two equally sized squares and place back in freezer.

Spread 1 1/2 cups of frosting evenly on each layer of cake, stacking as you go. Use an offset spatula dipped in hot water to smooth out each layer.

Spread a very thin layer of frosting on the cake to hold in crumbs and refrigerate until firm. Then frost the cake more thickly to finish and garnish with toasted walnuts. Cut cake into small squares with a clean knife dipped in hot water.

19

12 2015

Coles keeps faith by reinventing the classics

Bourbon ball cake at Coles in Lexington Lexingtonians have been heading to the brick building at the corner of East Main Street and South Ashland to dine for decades. The spot opened in 1938 as The Stirrup Cup, adding the iconic murals of English hunt scenes—complete with a blessing of the hounds—in 1949. A succession of restaurants have occupied the space, but none more felicitously than current occupant, Coles 735 Main (735 East Main St., Lexington; 859-266-9000; coles735main.com).

More than six decades after they were painted, those murals still lend a sense of occasion to the pretty dining room. And, as you might expect, executive chef Cole Arimes concocts a sophisticated mix of local and global tastes just right for a big night out. He might add truffle-infused lobster cream to a bowl of shrimp and grits (made, of course, with grits from Weisenberger Mill) or coat Scottish salmon with a bourbon-maple glaze and slowly smoke it to perfection.

Bourbon also features in the dessert that’s perfect for a candle in the middle and a round of “Happy Birthday.” In a witty play on the local popular bourbon ball candies, Arimes elevates the now-familiar flourless chocolate torte with bourbon-soaked pecans and then serves each slice with Woodford Reserve gelato and housemade caramel. Here is his recipe for the torte—as he reeled it off the top of his head. (We tested and tweaked it a little.)

BOURBON BALL FLOURLESS CHOCOLATE TORTE


Makes one 9-inch torte

Ingredients

1 cup bourbon
2 cups pecans, coarsely chopped
12 oz. semisweet chocolate
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 lb. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
6 eggs

Directions

Pour bourbon over pecans and let soak at least 1 hour. Place in a small saucepan, and cook off bourbon from pecans until dry. Transfer to mixing bowl.

Chop chocolate in 10-cup or larger food processor.

In a second saucepan, combine sugar and water and bring to a boil over medium heat. Once boiling, count to 90 and then drizzle into chocolate as food processor is running. Add butter, small portions at a time, until fully incorporated. Add all 6 eggs at once. Once incorporated, scrape sides and run for another 20 seconds.

Combine chocolate mixture with pecans in mixing bowl. Scrape into a 9-inch buttered springform baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes, rotating every 15 minutes or so. (Cake should spring back when touched in the center and not stick to a cake tester or toothpick inserted in the middle.)

Let cake cool to room temperature before releasing from pan. Then chill before serving.

13

09 2015