Pairing Wine with Dessert

As an avid pastry baker and consumer, I’ve thought a lot about how to pair wine with various desserts, and what wines are universally – or almost universally – good choices with sweets. There are a few that come to mind, but dessert is a difficult category to pair with wine because there are so many types of sweets, and what you’re looking for may be different. Wine pairing generally comes down to either complementing or contrasting with a dish, and this remains true when pairing with the last course of a meal. And then there are sweet wines in and of themselves, some of which pair nicely, and some of which ARE dessert on their own – treat them as such!

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The number one, almost-no-fail dessert pairing choice is a crisp, dry or semi-dry (demi-sec) Champagne. The bubbles cleanse the palate both between courses and between bites, and the acidity creates a nice complement with a bright, fresh dessert like a lemon bar, say, and contrasts nicely with something rich and custardy like creme brulee. If your final course has fruit or cream in it, you’re definitely safe with Champagne alongside. However, if you’ve selected a chocolate confection, Champagne may either be too stark a contrast, or simply lost in the intensity of your sweet, so think of something else.

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The classic choice for anything chocolate is to go with Port, which is generally a late-harvest, fortified red wine. It’s higher in alcohol (from the fortification, usually with brandy or grappa), and has some sweetness leftover from the fermentation process too, so it’s intense in several senses. The sweetness and intensity work together, and the toffee and toast in a Port wine will play nicely with the other flavors that often come in a chocolate pastry – nuts especially. Now, neither Tala nor I are huge fans of the Port-with-chocolate pairing. It can be overwhelmingly sweet and, well, saccharine. Another option with chocolate is a fizzy red like Brachetto, Lambrusco or sparkling Shiraz. The same principles from the Champagne-with-fruit-or-cream pairing apply, but with the structure and intensity that can only come from a red wine. Just keep the tenor of the wine in line with whatever you’re pair – more intense wine like Shiraz with a dark chocolate cake, and a lighter, brighter one like Brachetto with something maybe in the milk chocolate raspberry vein.

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Sweet wines like Sauternes, late harvest Rieslings, and Tokajis are very complementary to dishes that have some depth but also some sophistication – think Tarte Tatin, peach crostata or brown butter shortbread. Anything with butter or caramel will shine here, and pastry goes great too – which is how you know this is my favorite category. The nutty and subtle complexity of anything with a crust – pastry or just oven crispness really bring something out in these selections. The apple-y flavor of an aged late harvest Riesling will seamlessly integrate with a caramel-based sweet. These wines tend to be well aged, rare, and quite expensive, which means you should also consider serving them on their own. Let the wine be the finish to a great meal, and a great topic of conversation over the glasses you share.

Recipe: Pie Crust a la Rose (Levy Beranbaum)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s Thanksgiving, so let’s talk about pie crust, y’all. I started making pie crust with my grandma – affectionately called Yakima Grandma, because, well, she lives in Yakima, WA. Yakima is in the agricultural heart of Washington state, so I grew up making apple, peach, and other fruit pies with her. We always used a shortening-based crust. That’s just how I learned. I remember the finesse with which she moved her hands and manipulated the dough, and how perfect the pie came out – every freaking time. As I got into cooking myself, I became attracted to the science-based work of Alton Brown and Harold McGee, and eventually, Rose Levy Beranbaum. I think actually Shuna Lydon first led me to Beranbaum, but I’ve never looked back. I’ve got at least two of her cookbooks, and my copy of The Pie and Pastry Bible is well-worn and commonly spotted on the counter. I can’t get enough of it. She really knows the hows and whys of flour and all the great things you can do with it. And her pie crust recipe works for me, every time. It’s specific, hoo boy, but if you follow it, the payoff is great. I’ll re-post her recipe here, with some details, tips, and tricks to guide you through the process. This recipe does require a food processor. I’ve tried to do without, in a pinch, and it really just doesn’t work the same. If you don’t have a food processor, stick with whatever recipe is working for you so far!

Rose’s Favorite Flaky and Tender Pie Crust
(An update of Rose Levy Beranbaum’s original cream cheese pie crust from The Pie and Pastry Bible)

Ingredients
Enough for two single-crust pies, or one double-crust pie

6 oz frozen butter (12 T)
10.5 oz frozen pastry flour
4.5 oz cream cheese
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
3 T heavy cream
1 T cider vinegar

A note on ingredients: there are only 7 ingredients in this recipe, which means each one counts. You should get the best of each one that you can manage, but definitely buy the absolute best butter, heavy cream, and cream cheese you can find and afford. The better taste will reward you in the final product, I promise.

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A note about the coldness: It’s your pie crust’s best friend and the secret to all your success here. The ingredients really do need to be as cold as possible. Start by slicing your butter into cubes, then put the cubes on a small plate and freeze them for about 20 minutes. Make sure your heavy cream and cream cheese are coming straight from the refrigerator. As for your pastry flour, I just keep a small bag in the freezer for pie crust time. It’s easy and convenient.

Method
Measure your flour, salt, and baking powder, then  combine them in the bowl of your food processor. Run the processor for about 10-20 seconds to combine the dry ingredients thoroughly.

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Slice the cream cheese into 3-4 small chunks, and add them to the bowl of the food processor all at once. Close the lid, leave your hand over the spout to keep the processor from bouncing all over the counter, and turn it on. Let the processor run for about 20 seconds. You want the cream cheese to get fully integrated at this point, the the final product will look like damp sand, and you won’t be able to find any cream cheese chunks. You want chunks of butter in the pastry, not chunks of cream cheese. The cream cheese just ups the flavor and fat content of the dough.

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Once the dough looks like it does below, you’re ready to add the butter. See how it looks fluffy, like fresh snow or damp sand? You can’t see any cream cheese, but you know there’s something adding moisture and fat to the flour mixture, which is exactly what you want.

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Next, add the frozen chunks of butter to the food processor. Generally, I add about 2/3 of the butter, pulse for about two seconds, then add the second batch. From here, you’ll want to pulse it somewhere between 10-20 times or so, total. Start with 5, then take the lid off. Grab a fork, and toss the mixture around a little. Does it look like there are massive boulders of butter in the bowl? If so, you’re not done yet. Pulse again 5 more times, and toss. Keep going until the pieces you can see are, as Beranbaum says, the size of peanuts. Below, we are about at the peanut stage. You don’t want to over mix, so go gently and carefully along, a few pulses at a time, tossing and checking.

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Once you get to the stage here, with the butter peanuts, it’s time to add the liquid. Take the lid off the processor, and add in the heavy cream and the cider vinegar. Pulse a few times (say, 3-5) to combine. Toss with the fork and check to make sure all the liquid is integrated. Scrape down the sides and the corner edge of the food processor bowl, because liquid can collect there. Give it 1-2 more pulses, and you’re done. That’s it! What? It doesn’t look like pie crust? It looks more like crumble topping? I know, I know. This is where the magic happens.

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Take a small chunk of the crumbly mixture in your hand, and squeeze. Does it hold together in a ball, like play-doh? If it crumbles apart, you should run the processor for 1-2 more pulses and check again. If it still won’t hold, add a half tablespoon more heavy cream and pulse 1-2 more times. Once it will hold together, you know you’re golden. It should look like this.

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Since the recipe we just made is for a double crust pie, you’ll need to divide the dough into two separate ziploc bags. I am a fanatic, and I weigh the contents. This dough will come out to around 21-22oz, so approximately 11 oz per bag is where you want to be. Dump your portioned crust into the ziploc bag, and start kneading – hands on the outside of the bag, dough on the inside. Use your palms and knuckles for this job. You’re incorporating the moisture further, and also developing gluten, which will help it hold together and become flexible and workable when rolling. It will take about 2-3 minutes of kneading to get the dough to form into a ball, and you’ll be surprised and impressed when that bag of crumbs turns into a disk, almost as if by accident. Once you can make a ball with the dough, you will want to flatten it into a workable disk. You can then take the disk, wrap it in plastic wrap, put it back in the ziploc bag, and store it in the freezer for several months. Or, since Thanksgiving is in a few days, just throw this bag into the refrigerator and pull it out 15 minutes before you need to start rolling your crust.

Did I answer your questions? Are you now a newly competent and confident baker? Do you have other worries? Let me know in the comments!

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Secret Wine Club: Jura

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis weekend, Colleen and I hosted another wine tasting for our friends. The theme was Jura wines.

The Jura is a a cool-climate, mountainous region in France between Burgundy and Switzerland, and is composed of six regions including Arbois, Macvin du Jura, Côtes du Jura, Crémant du Jura, Château-Chalon, and L’Étoile. Within these regions, wines are produced from poulsard, trousseau, savagnin, chardonnay, and pinot noir. White, red, rosé and sparkling wines are produced from these grapes.

The most famous wine from the Jura is called vin jaune (literally, yellow wine). This wine is made from the white savagnin grape which is picked when it’s very ripe. The finished wine is put into large oak barriques, and is allowed to evaporate through the staves of the barrel until a pocket of air forms at the top. A special strain of indigenous yeast forms a veil (or voile, au Français) over the surface of the wine, imparting a unique salinity and oxidative quality that gives vin jaune it’s trademark aroma and flavor. Vin jaune is quite intense, an acquired taste, and very hard to find.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMany white wines from the Jura have a similar (but not as intense) oxidative quality to them, since they are often made in the same method. However, the difference between vin jaune and standard white wine from the Jura is the duration for which it’s aged. Vin jaune must be aged for a minimum of 6 years, while other white wines aren’t required to age for as long. Some whites from the Jura are aged in a barrel without that pocket of air, creating wines that are still very uniquely Jura, but much fresher in flavor and less intense.

The red wines from the Jura are very unique as well, and a little more approachable than their white counterparts. The reds are light but structured, with aromas of fruit, spice and earth. Poulsard makes the lightest of the red wines, while trousseau makes more robust (but still pretty light) reds. Pinot noir is also grown in the Jura and made into red wine, but the straight varietal wines are difficult to find.

Our wine list for the evening:
2011 Les Dolomies Savagnin, Côtes du Jura
2009 Domaine de Montborgeau Chardonnay/Savagnin, L’Etoile
NV Phillipe Bornard “Tant-Mieux” Pétillant Naturel of Poulsard
2012 Michel Gahier Trousseau, “Les Grands Vergers”, Arbois
2011 Jacques Puffeney Poulsard, Arbois
2006 Jacques Puffeney Vin Jaune, Arbois

Choosing the correct food pairings for these wines was really fun, as they are wonderful with food and the Jura has some really interesting regional culinary specialties. Wild mushrooms seemed to be quite common in the Jura, and in the winter I’ve been told that potatoes topped with melted raclette are a staple. The Jura is also a fly-fishing destination (weird, right?), so I wanted to make something out of freshwater fish. We also found some regional cheeses, and a rustic cream tart sort of thing called a Toétché, for which I could only find a recipe in French. Our resident Francophile Colleen was able to follow it just fine, no surprise there.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur menu for the evening:
Toétché (above)
Trout rillettes
Fresh baugette
Sautéed wild mushrooms (yellow foot, black trumpet, oyster, hedgehog)
Warm salad of roasted rose finn potatoes and wild mushrooms
Morbier & Comté cheeses
Wickson apples
Breakfast radishes with cultured butter and grey sea salt
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe found that the Toétché paired perfectly with the vin jaune. This made me very happy, since I wasn’t sure what the Toétché would even taste like. Big ups to Colleen for making it come out perfectly, it was absolutely beautiful and delicious. The morbier and comté cheeses were also wonderful with the white wines, although they did not pair particularly well with the reds. The trout rillettes were lovely with all of the wines, while the apples provided a nice, palate-cleansing counterpoint to all of the savory foods. I especially loved the breakfast radishes with cultured butter and sea salt, while others in the room weren’t so enthused (I learned of this snack from a Frenchman who was so graciously hosting me at a winery some time ago). Perhaps it’s an acquired taste, but I find that radishes are an excellent vehicle for butter. The sautéed mushrooms were lovely piled atop fresh bread and enjoyed with the poulsard and trousseau.

As for the wines, we found that most people loved the ‘Les Dolomies’ ($28)– a white savagnin aged in a topped-up barrel. It was fresh, rich, and awesome with food. The Gahier trousseau ($39) was definitely the stand-out, everyone really loved it (it was my favorite as well). The Puffeney vin jaune ($80) was intense, too intense for a lot of people in the room. I also wish I’d opened it earlier and possibly decanted it, but my decanter was full of the Bornard ‘Tant-Mieux” ($32)which was absolutely reductive, sweet, and generally awful (not surprisingly, it tasted much better the next day). A friend also brought a bottle of Chardonnay from Côtes du Jura, which was great to balance out all the savagnin in the room.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI hope everyone who came had a great time and learned a lot about these rare, unusual wines. I had a blast curating the list and finding foods to pair. I hope that everyone took away some useful knowledge and would feel confident ordering a glass from the Jura section on the wine list at their favorite French restaurant.

Recipe: Raclette Popovers

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOnce upon a time, my husband surprised me with a wine club subscription for Robert Sinskey Vineyards. They were the first local Organic/BioDynamic winery I ever fell in love with and he wanted to surprise me for my birthday by purchasing me a subscription to their wine club. This was way before I really got into wine, and I learned so much from the experience. I honestly think that wine club is what opened the doors to the wine world for me.

The RSV proprietor’s wife, Maria Sinskey, is somewhat of a dynamo in the kitchen, and with each club shipment came some of her delicious recipes. If you’ve ever been in their tasting room, you will remember the gougeres that come with each tasting flight. This is the recipe for those gougeres, but made in a popover pan.

I changed the recipe a little – just the type of cheese used in the gougere batter. I prepared this recipe for a Chardonnay wine tasting I was hosting, but wanted to use a more regional cheese than cheddar. You see, raclette pairs beautifully with Jura blanc, and I was pouring a Jacques Puffeney Chardonnay from Arbois. Raclette and Jura blanc are a match made in heaven.

I love this recipe because instead of tiny little gougeres, it produces huge and fluffy gougeres in the shape of a popover. They are crispy on the outside and airy on the inside, with that distinctive, eggy, chewy gougere-ness. These are great as a side dish at a dinner party or just as an appetizer. If you don’t have a popover pan, you can make little gougeres on a cookie sheet, but just be sure to adjust the baking time and temperature so you don’t over-cook them. I haven’t tried to make them this way so I can’t tell you how long or at what temperature, but if you bake at all (like Colleen!) I am sure you can figure it out.

Raclette Popovers
adapted from Maria Sinskey’s Aged Cheddar Cheese Popover Recipe

Special Tools:
Popover Pan
Stand Mixer (helpful, but not required)

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups water
6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 1/2 teaspoons KOSHER salt
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
6 large eggs
2 cups grated good quality raclette (I like Reading)
1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon cold water to brush tops

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
2. Bring the water, butter and salt to a boil in a medium saucepan. Remove the pan from the heat and add the flour.
3. Return the pan to medium high heat and stir until batter pulls away from the side of the pan. Scrape into the bowl of a standing mixer. Turn the mixer on and allow the paddle to cool the dough slightly for about a minute.
4. On low speed, add the eggs one by one. After each egg is added increase the speed to medium and beat until the egg is incorporated. The eggs may also be beaten in by hand. Beat well after all eggs have been added. Add the grated cheese. Beat until well incorporated.
5. Spoon the batter into the pan. Fill the molds 3/4 full. Extra batter can be held and baked in a second round.
6. Brush the tops of the popovers lightly with egg wash.
7. Bake for 15 minutes and then reduce heat to 375 degrees F and bake 10 to 15 minutes more until puffed and golden. Serve warm.

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Recipe: Savory Chanterelle and Gruyere Bread Pudding

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is a recipe featured in our Fall wine club shipment. We chose to feature this recipe because it encompasses everything we love about fall food, and it perfectly compliments several of the wines we are offering in our Fall club shipment. Made with chanterelle mushrooms and delicious cave-aged gruyere cheese, this vegetarian dish is sure to delight your guests. It’s fancy enough for a holiday like Thanksgiving but easy enough to make for any day of the week. We really love it’s umami flavors and creamy/crusty consistency.

You can find Chanterelle mushrooms at your local specialty store during the rainy months. Right now we are getting Oregon chanterelles as well as Pacific Golden chanterelles. I prefer the Oregon variety because they are cleaner, have great flavor, and a better texture (in my opinion). They are smaller and more orange in color than their California-grown counterparts. Chances are you will see only one variety, so get whatever you can. You want to pick out the chanterelles that look the best. Look for firm, dry chanterelles without any red rot or raggedy edges.

Don’t skimp on the Gruyere, either. Get a good-quality cave aged gruyere from France, if possible. This should not be hard to find, as I believe even Trader Joes carries one.

Savory Chanterelle & Gruyere Bread Pudding
Adapted from 100 Perfect Pairings: Main Dishes to Enjoy with Wines You Love by Jill Silverman Hough

Special Tools
One 2 qt. casserole dish or six 1½ cup individual ramekins

Ingredients
3 cups milk
1½ tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
1 tsp. chopped fresh sage
1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
4 tbsp. unsalted butter, plus more for buttering the pan
12 oz. chanterelle mushrooms, coarsely sliced OR 2 medium leeks (white & light green parts only), halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 tsp. fine sea salt
5 large eggs
12 oz. crusty artisan French or Italian, with crusts, torn or cubed into ¾” pieces
8 oz. gruyere cheese, shredded (about 3 cups)

Method
Butter the casserole dish or ramekins and set aside.

Combine the milk, chopped herbs, and pepper in a medium pot with a heavy bottom. Set over medium-high heat until the milk just begins to simmer. Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a wide skillet over medium heat. Then add the mushrooms and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 5 minutes. (If substituting leeks, cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 10 minutes. Reduce heat if necessary to prevent browning.) Remove from heat and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, then temper the eggs by whisking in ⅓ of the warm milk mixture. Once combined, slowly whisk in the rest. Add the bread cubes, shredded cheese, and mushroom or leek mixture and stir until well combined. Set aside for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, to let the bread absorb the liquid.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375°F with a rack in the center.

Spoon the mixture into the casserole dish or ramekins. Bake until the top is golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Serve hot.

Recipe: Chocolate Sour Cream Bundt Cake

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’ll be honest – I am not a great baker. I do bake from time to time, but I limit it to recipes that are easy to follow and hard to screw up. I am not one for rules; making precise measurements and refraining from tinkering with things is not really my style. I do, however, enjoy delicious things, so every now and then I’ll make a sacrifice and follow a recipe to the T. This is a requirement if you want to bake a cake, as explained in this video.

Recently, a good friend was throwing a holiday party and I wanted to bring something to share with people and to commemorate her mom’s birthday, who was in town visiting at the time. I needed something fast, easy, and fuss-free. Perhaps I could employ that bundt pan which I have owned for a year but hadn’t used even once? I knew my friend’s madre liked chocolate, and a quick google search for Chocolate Bundt Cake returned one of my favorite food blogs – Two Peas and their Pod. They had an intriguing looking Chocolate Sour Cream Bundt Cake recipe that looked easy to follow and hard to screw up. Perfect!

The key with this cake is the quality of the chocolate you use. Do not skimp here! I used Scharffen Berger bittersweet chocolate baking chunks for the topping and Guittard Dutch Process Cocoa for the cake. Be sure to get a Dutch process cocoa, the authors of the recipe insist on it. That’s what I used and the recipe came out great.

Everyone at the party loved this bundt cake, and I liked it so much I wanted a second piece. Generally speaking, cake doesn’t do much for me. This cake is the exception to that. It would be perfect for a potluck, housewarming party, birthday, or any other occasion that requires feeding cake to a lot of people quickly and easily. It’s rich, gooey, moist, perfectly sweet, and big enough to have leftovers to take home.

Chocolate Sour Cream Bundt Cake
adapted from Two Peas and their Pod

Yield: Serves 10
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients:
For the cake:
1 cup unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
1/3 cup cocoa powder (we use Dutch process)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup water
2 cups all-purpose Gold Medal flour, plus more for the pan
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the chocolate glaze:
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons corn syrup (or agave nectar)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Method:
1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 10 or 12-cup Bundt pan and set aside.
2. In a small saucepan, combine the butter, cocoa powder, salt, and water and place over medium heat. Cook, stirring, just until melted and combined. Remove from the heat and set aside.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, and baking soda. Add half of the melted butter mixture and whisk until completely blended. The mixture will be thick. Add the remaining butter mixture and whisk until combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking until completely blended. Whisk in the sour cream (or Greek yogurt) and the vanilla extract. Whisk until smooth.
4. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan for 15 minutes and then invert onto a rack. Let cool completely before glazing.
5. While the cake is cooling, make the chocolate glaze. Place the chopped chocolate and corn syrup (or agave) in a medium bowl and set aside. Combine the heavy cream and sugar in a small saucepan and put over medium heat. Stir until the cream is hot and the sugar is dissolved. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and whisk until smooth.
6. Generously drizzle the glaze over the cooled cake, allowing it to drip down the sides. Cut into pieces and serve.

Recipe: Lemon Cream Tart

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Anybody who knows me knows how obsessed I am with lemons. They are my favorite citrus fruit because they lend an aromatic & fresh zippiness to cocktails, desserts, and savory dishes. I love lemons so much that Colleen made me a white chocolate & lemon layer cake for my wedding last year. They are also unbelievably easy to grow here in our Mediterranean climate; I have two Meyer lemon trees in my back yard that produce year-round.

When my good friend Kendra asked me to make a dessert for her wedding this last weekend, I naturally wanted to use lemons. They aren’t exactly in season, but our Indian summer had been warm around here and the thought of something heavy and seasonal like pumpkin or ginger made me sad. Lemons are perfect for warm weather because they are refreshing and light, so I decided to make Dorie Greenspan’s Lemon Cream Tart for Kendra & Dan’s wedding. Plus, I am not much of a baker, and this recipe is easy to make. I’d hate to try a new recipe and have it turn out poorly for such an important event.

This lemon cream tart recipe is one that Colleen turned me on to a few years ago. The recipe comes from Pierre Hermé (a famous French pastry chef) via Dorie Greenspan – he is her ‘pastry hero’. It’s different from regular lemon curd because of the technique used to make it. Instead of cooking all of the ingredients together at once (lemon juice/rind, butter, sugar, eggs), you just cook the lemon juice/rind, sugar and eggs until they reach 180 degrees, then let the mixture cool slightly before whipping in room temperature butter in your blender or food processor. The end result is so much lighter, creamier, and luxurious than typical lemon curd. You will never use another lemon curd recipe again after making this one.

I’ve seen a few variations of this recipe online, so I will post the one that I’ve been using from another (now defunct) blog called Eat Me Delicious. The reason I chose this version is because the sweet tart dough recipe she has does not include almond flour, which all the others do.  I try to always be aware of allergens in the foods I cook for crowds, and it seems like tree nuts are a big one. All I can say is that I am thankful that nobody there was allergic to butter. I doubled up the recipe and ended up using a total of 2 lbs of butter, nearly a dozen eggs, and an unholy amount of sugar. DELICIOUS.

Side Note: It was very warm on my friend’s wedding day, and I was concerned about the tart getting warm. This lemon cream tastes best when cold, and with the tart shell at room temperature. Here’s what I did: I made the lemon cream the night before and put it into mason jars which I placed in the refrigerator. I baked the tart shells in the morning, let them cool, carefully wrapped them for transport, and put the jars of lemon curd in a cooler with ice packs. Once I arrived at the wedding, I spooned the cold lemon curd into the pre-cooked tart shells and then decorated them with raspberries in the shape of a heart. It worked perfectly.

Lemon Cream
adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours

1 cup sugar
Grated zest of 3 lemons
4 large eggs
3/4 c fresh lemon juice (from 4-5 lemons)
2 sticks plus 5 tbsp butter (10 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon size pieces, at room temperature
1 9-inch tart shell made with sweet tart dough, fully baked (see below)

Getting ready:
Have a instant-read thermometer, a strainer and a blender or food processor ready. Bring a few inches of water to a simmer in a saucepan.

Put the sugar and zest in a large metal bowl that can be set over the pan of simmering water. Off the heat, rub the sugar and zest together between your fingers until the sugar is moist, grainy, and very aromatic. Whisk in the eggs, followed by the lemon juice.

Set the bowl over the pan and start stirring with the whisk as soon as the mixture fees tepid to the touch. Cook the lemon cream until it reaches 180 degrees F. As you whisk- you whisk constantly to keep the eggs from scrambling- you’ll see that the cream will start out light and foamy, then the bubbles will get bigger, and then, as it gets closer to 180F, it will start to thicken and the whisk will leave tracks. Heads up at this point- the tracks mean the cream is almost ready. Don’t stop whisking or checking the temperature, and have patience- depending on how much heat you’re giving the cream, getting to temp may take as long as 10 minutes.

As soon as it reaches 180F, remove the cream from the heat and strain it into the container of the lender (or food processor); discard the zest. Let the cream stand, stirring occasionally, until it cools to 140 degrees F, about 10 minutes.

Turn the blender to high (or turn on the processor) and, with the machine going, add the butter about 5 pieces at a time. Scrape down the sides of the container as needed as you incorporate the butter. Once the butter is in, keep the machine going- to get the perfect light, airy texture of lemon-cream dreams, you must continue to bend the cream for another 3 minutes. If your machine protests, and gets a bit too hot, work in 1-minute intervals, giving the machine a little rest between beats.

Pour the cream into a container, cover tightly and refrigerate at least 4 hours, or overnight. (The cream will keep in the fridge for 4 days or, tightly sealed, in the freezer for up to 2 months; thaw it overnight in the refrigerator.)

When you are ready to assemble the tart, just whisk the cream to loosen it and spoon it into the tart shell. Serve the tart, or refrigerate until needed.

Sweet Tart Dough
Adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (9 tablespoons) very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk

Put the flour, confectioner’s sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse a couple of times to combine. Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut in – you should have some pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and some the size of peas. Stir the yolk and add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition. When the egg is in, process in long pulses – about 10 seconds each – until the dough, which will look granular soon after the egg is added, forms clumps and curds. Just before you reach this stage, the sound of the machine working the dough will change – heads up. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and, very lightly and sparingly, knead the dough just to incorporate any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing.

Butter a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Press the dough evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan, using all but one little piece of dough, which you should save in the refrigerator to patch any cracks after the crust is baked. Don’t be too heavy-handed – press the crust in so that the edges of the pieces cling to one another, but not so hard that the crust loses its crumbly texture. Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer, before baking.

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375F.

Press a sheet of buttered foil down over the surface of the frozen tart shell. Put the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake the crust for 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil. If the crust has puffed, press it down gently with the back of a spoon. For a partially baked crust, patch the crust if necessary, then transfer the crust to a cooling rack (keep it in its pan).

To Fully Bake the Crust: Bake for another 8 minutes or so, or until it is firm and golden brown. Transfer the tart pan to a rack and cool the crust to room temperature before filling.

To Patch a Partially or Fully Baked Crust, if Necessary: If there are any cracks in the baked crust, patch them with some of the reserved raw dough as soon as you remove the foil. Slice of a thin piece of the dough, place it over the crack, moisten the edges and very gently smooth the edges into the baked crust. If the tart will not be baked again with its filling, baking for another 2 minutes or so, just to take the rawness off the patch.

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe On Earth

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile Colleen is Winelandia’s resident baking expert, I’ve been known to bake a thing or two from time to time… sometimes poorly, other times really well. Either way, it doesn’t stop me from trying! One of the easiest things that anyone can bake (including me) is chocolate chip cookies.

Let’s be honest… everyone loves a chocolate chip cookie. They are perfect for all occasions; birthdays, office parties, get-well-soon gifts (they have magical healing properties), housewarming, you name it. I was recently reminded of this awesome cookie recipe when my husband finished his dinner the other night, then looked over at me asking what was for dessert. I had nothing planned and it was getting late, but I was feeling generous so I told him I’d make him some cookies if he went to the store for the chocolate chips. The store was closing in 15 minutes, he was back in 5.

This cookie recipe really is something special for a few reasons. You don’t need to use “softened butter”, you can just melt it in the microwave. This is a huge time saver as many cookie recipes want your butter to be room temperature, and who plans making cookies? Not this girl. These cookies are big, crispy on the edges, and chewy in the middle. There is an ample amount of salt and butter in this recipe, which makes a cookie that is balanced, not too sweet, perfectly salty, and as buttery as Paula Deen circa 2008. They are not health food, people.

I can’t remember where I found this recipe, but it’s been my go-to for as long as I can remember. Like an old, tattered recipe passed down for generations, I’ve moved this one from blog to blog and now I will share it with you. The only things that I would suggest to ensure 100% cookie success is to line your baking sheets with parchment (this makes for a super crunchy edge) and that you measure them out with a 1/4 c. measuring cup. You want these cookies to be big for them to come out both crispy and chewy. They keep well in an air-tight container for 3 days.

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies on Earth

Tools:
Cookie sheet(s)
1/4 c. measuring cup
Parchment paper
Rubber spatula or wooden spoon
Stand mixer, hand mixer, or good old fashioned elbow grease

Ingredients:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips (16 ounces)

Method:
1. Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 375°F.
2. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
3. Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl.
4. Beat together butter and sugars in a large bowl with an electric mixer or in your stand mixer at high speed until pale and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes.
5. Lightly beat 1 egg with a fork in a small bowl and add 1 3/4 tablespoons of it plus 2 remaining whole eggs to butter mixture, beating with mixer until creamy, about 1 minute.
6. Beat in vanilla.
7. Put your mixer away! The next step should be done by hand to ensure a tender cookie.
8. Add dry ingredients to butter/sugar mixture and mix by hand with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon until just blended, then stir in chips. Do NOT over-work your cookie dough.
9. Scoop 1/4 cup batter for each cookie, arranging mounds 3 inches apart, on 2 baking sheets. Flatten mounds into 3-inch rounds using moistened palm of your hand. Form remaining cookies on additional sheets of parchment.
10. Bake, 1 sheet at a time, until golden, 13 to 15 minutes. Transfer cookies to a rack to cool and continue making cookies in same manner using cooled baking sheets.
11. Crack a jug of milk and enjoy some of these cookies while they are still warm from the oven.

Pastry Perfection, or; What I Did with All Those Sour Cherries

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Were you as crazy for pop tarts and toaster strudel as I was as a kid? I swear I ate them every day for years. Maybe that’s where my love of flaky, crispy pastry started – but I’m actually pretty sure it started with my grandmother making apple pie for me. Anyway, those little toaster pastries filled with jam-like fruit were the first thing that came to mind when I was assembling what came to be known as The World’s Largest Pop Tart for Tala’s birthday party last month.

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This pastry, a riff on Smitten Kitchen’s Sour Cherry Slab Pie, was, as Deb says, the perfect ratio of crust to filling. Tons of crust, some filling – pastry perfection. That giant sheet of pastry up there is the largest single piece I have ever rolled. And not to toot my own horn, but I have rolled a lot of pastry in my life. This is actually the only challenge the entire recipe. I used a double recipe of Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Favorite Flaky and Tender Pie Crust, and split it into two even pieces to rest overnight. I SWEAR BY this recipe, but as I heard once, just use the pastry recipe that works for you. You’ll need double the amount as for a regular double-crust pie, and store bought would be just fine. Roll it into a rectangle that fills any sheet pan that you have.

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The filling is about 4 pounds of sour cherries from that batch we pitted and froze a while back. This is exactly why I did so much – I knew this would be Tala’s birthday treat and I needed a lot of cherries. My pan was 18″ x 13″. Honestly and truly, all that’s in this filling is the freshest sour cherries, the juice of a half a lemon, 1 cup of sugar, 1/4 cup of corn starch, and a half teaspoon of salt. I suggest mixing the cherries, the lemon juice and sugar together, then tasting the cherries to see if they’re sweet enough for you. If not, add more sugar to taste. Stir it, pour it, top it, bake it, ice it. This bakes in a 375 degree oven for about 45 minutes. You’ll probably have a beautiful rustic crack appear, through which you can tell if the juices are boiling or not. All you really need is bubbly filling and golden brown pastry, so once you have both those visual indicators, you can take it out of the oven. Start checking at 30 minutes.

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Rolling the top pastry is a little easier because it can be a bit smaller than the bottom one. The bottom piece has to fold up and over the edge of the top to seal, and that extra 1.5″ may cause you to tear your hair out. It’s true, there may have been a near pie-pocalypse in the baking of my own World’s Largest Pop Tart, but I was able to rescue it. My only advice is this – make sure your pastry’s edges are quite thin, or they may melt off the rim of your baking sheet while in the oven.

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The last touch is a simple powdered sugar and lemon juice glaze. I poured it in a lattice pattern to make it seem even more like a breakfast pastry. The glaze amps up the visual appeal of the entire thing. I just can’t get over the contrast of those magenta cherries and the golden brown crust. They still manage to have that beautiful glow even when baked. But if you’re looking at this and thinking you hate me because you can’t find sour cherries, this recipe is very adaptable. You can easily use about the same amount (4 lbs) of any other fruit. Great variations could be blueberries, apples, peaches, blackberries… Lots of options here. So, did you get any sour cherries this summer? How did you use them? Let us know in the comments!

Seasonal Foods: Sour Cherries

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This past Saturday – with Tala’s help – we did something crazy. We pitted 20 pounds of sour cherries. What? These don’t look like the cherries you find in the grocery store, or even the farmers market? It’s true. These cherries are a different variety, and a different animal altogether. Sour cherries are extremely rare and hard to come by out here on the west coast, but if you’re from the midwest, or even the northeast, you may have had a tree in your yard or neighborhood growing up. Most likely, although we’re not 100% certain, our cherries were Montmorency Cherries – a variety widely available in Europe and scattered throughout the US. They need frost to thrive, you see, and that’s one of the only times I can think of that our amazing Bay Area weather prohibits us from access to a particular produce item. You can’t have everything, I guess.

Anyway, sour cherries are THE pie cherry. Their tart acidity and depth of cherry flavor is what really makes the cherry pie you’re used to what it is. And getting them, pitting them, and making it yourself produces THE BEST cherry pie filling. Trust me. These cherries are also what should be used to make maraschino cherries – or brandied, bourbon, or any other liquor-infused cherry you prefer. I think Tala plans to put some up this way this year, while I’ll be making her a Slab Pie for her birthday with mine. (More about that later.) Just don’t pop one in your mouth expecting to love it – even if you promise me you love sour things! These cherries will make you pucker, though I do recommend trying one just so you understand their raw flavor.

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Miraculously, pitting all 20 lbs only took about 2 hours worth of work, but we did make an assembly line system out of it, which helped. My utensil of choice is a paperclip, but a bobby pin will work as well. You can’t use a pitter on these cherries, because it’ll destroy their delicate, juicy interiors. The pit isn’t as attached to the flesh in these cherries as it is in sweet cherries, it more, well, floats around inside and just needs to be scooped out. You pluck the stem off the top, poke the end of an unfolded paperclip into the stem end, and scoop out the pit. Pretty simple! So what are we going to do with 10 lbs each? Too – late – we already froze them! In that first photo, you can see them in their luminescent glory, all spread out on sheet pans and waiting to be popped into the freezer. Once they’re solid, you can store them in canning jars or ziploc bags. They’ll keep for about a year this way – and it maintains their pure flavor and color very effectively.

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Now that we’ve inspired you, we hope you can find these lovely orbs for yourself! Maybe you can make a pie or turnovers? Some true maraschino cherries for your old fashioneds? These cherries are only available for a few weeks in June, and most certainly the farmers markets are already sold out. You might have some luck at Whole Foods or Berkeley Bowl, or maybe BiRite will have them. Just for reference, you’ll need around 2 or 3 pounds to make anything like a pie or other pastry, so scoop them up if you see them. A handful won’t do it.

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And because this is a wine blog, after all, let’s talk about the wine that accompanied our pitting extravaganza. The 2011 Robert Sinskey Muscat à Petits Grains tastes like flowers in your mouth. It’s fresh, delicate, and crisp. A wonderful and versatile complement to our indoor-picnic lunch of fresh chevre, castelvetrano olives (our fave!), oven roasted tomatoes from last year’s crop, smoked oysters, and Oakland’s own Firebrand Bakery bread. Tala and I both loved it – though she preferred the 2010. This wine is made in very small quantities, so ask for it very nicely if you’re ever at the Sinskey tasting room, and they might sell you a bottle. No promises.