'Desserts'

Guittard Chocolate & Wine – Specific Pairings Make the Difference!

The pairing of wine and chocolate is a media darling.  Like clock work, you can expect the tired topic to be rolled out before every Valentine’s day.  But few wines actually pair well with chocolate, truth be told.  And those that do, well, they tend to be wines that work best as cocktails.  Or shooters.  Ripe, fruit-driven, and big, big, big.

Which is why it was so refreshing to see this new take on pairing wine and chocolates, undertaken by the gourmet chocolate company, Guittard.  With San Francisco roots that go back to the gold rush, founder Etienne Guittard continued his family’s chocolate tradition right here in the Bay area.  And given our proximity to CA wine country, perhaps the only question is why it took Guittard so long to hit upon this brilliant idea!

I send hearty congratulations to our friends at Four Graces and Roederer, two of the four wines picked by the tasting panel Guittard put together, and wines that you’ll frequently find on my own list of favorites.

Read the full story here.

Cheers!  Dave “the Wine Merchant”

Simple Chocolate-Walnut Tart

Choc-Walnut TartAnother simple dessert you can make in a matter of minutes!  But one that will get raves whenever it’s served.

Here, the walnut’s natural bitterness is balanced by the chocolate, and the rich combination of the two will make you want to squeeze this tart between your teeth on a regular basis.  It yearns for a good red dessert wine such as port, late-harvest Zinfandel or the one I’ve recommended below – the sweet Tannat from Vinedos de los Vientos.

A note on the crust, while anyone with a food processor can turn out a sweet tart crust in ten or fifteen minutes, I would encourage the use of a frozen crust if it means you’re more likely to try this recipe!

Ingredients
One tart crust (Pate Brisee), recipe of your choice, or a frozen store-bought crust
5 Oz bitter-sweet chocolate
4 Tbsp butter
1 Cup dark corn syrup
1/4 Cup sugar
3 Eggs
2 Tbsp Brandy, rum or cognac
2 Cups toasted walnuts, cooled and chopped, with enough whole walnuts to place on top if you choose
Confectioner’s Sugar for dusting, plus sweetened whipped cream for topping (optional)

Procedure
Preheat your oven to 350.  Using a microwave or double-boiler, melt the chocolate and the butter together.  If using the microwave, use 30-second intervals, stirring in between with a wooden spoon until well melted and all lumps are gone.  If using a double-boiler, bring the water to a boil, turn the heat to very low, then place a large metal bowl on the pot – it should not touch the hot water, and the bowl must be large enough to keep any steam from entering the chocolate (water makes hot chocolate seize, and this is difficult to repair!)

Combine the corn syrup and the sugar and heat in a microwave for 30 seconds (stir and repeat as needed until the sugar dissolves), then add it to the chocolate, stir for a few seconds and turn off heat.

Break the eggs into a bowl, add the alcohol and whisk until foamy.  Temper the eggs by drizzling the melted chocolate into the egg bowl, whisking constantly.  Gradually introducing the hot chocolate to your eggs like this keeps the eggs from scrambling,

Add the toasted walnuts, blend well and pour into your tart crust, distributing walnuts as evenly as possible.

Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 min or until fork comes out clean.  Allow to cool, then dust w/confectioner’s sugar.  Serve with sweetened whipped cream.

Wine Recommendation

You may have heard me say this a million times, but just in case… one of the keys to a successful wine and food pairing is to make sure the sweetness of the wine is at least equal to the sweetness of the food.  So, a sweet dessert such as this one calls for a dessert wine.  And I think  this one goes better with dark chocolate than just about any wine I’ve tried (with the possible exception of some ports).

Vinedo de los Vientos, Alcyone N.V., Sweet Tannat (500ml), $30 – from the unlikely country of Uruguay, this wine has taken San Francisco wine bars by storm.  My initial order was a trial run of just six bottles, which quickly sold out once I poured it during wine classes.  And when I went to order more I was told the importer had sold out and was awaiting another container of it to arrive.  Ugh.  Fortunately, it has arrived, and I was able to get a small allocation for my customers.  Enjoy!

The First S - SeeCheers!
Dave the Wine Merchant

Quote for the Day
“Put “eat chocolate” at the top of your to-do list today.  That way, at least you’ll get one thing done.” ~ Author Unknown

Simple Apple Crisp

apple-crisp-bigResearch tells us Americans are cooking at home less and less.  They say this is because planning and preparing a meal takes more time than we have in our busy schedules.  And I can believe it – what with two incomes required to cover expenses, time is already tight.   Throw in a bit of business travel, a late night or two at the office, a play date for your kids and maybe a soccer practice and… it’s no wonder we all rely so heavily on fast food and take-out.

If that sounds like a typical week in your household,  this simple dessert may just change your mind about cooking at home.  It’s easy to prepare as well as delicious.  Relatively healthy too, if you can resist the scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.

And remember, one of my keys to good food and wine pairing is to be sure the sugar in the wine is at least equal to the sweetness in the dish, so forget about that Chardonnay that worked so well with your roast chicken at dinner time – this dish gets ecstatic when paired with a good white dessert wine.  Scroll to the end to see my recommended pairings.

Ingredients
2/3 Cup raw oatmeal
1/3 Cup all-purpose flour
1/3 Cup dark brown sugar
2 tsp Cinnamon
1 tsp Ground allspice
1/3 Cup pecans, toasted until aromatic, cooled and chopped
Pinch salt
6 Tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into bits and kept cold
4 Medium baking apples (though not a traditional baking apple, I like the tart Granny Smith, as the Malic acid compliments my recommended wine)
Whipped cream or ice cream (optional)

Procedure
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly butter a pie plate or small casserole dish.

In a food processor (note, this recipe can also be done by hand, combining the butter with yourfingertips until it is in even, pea-sized pieces), combine all the dry ingredients (up to and including the salt), pulsing until just combined.  Add the cold butter piece by piece, pulsing two or three times after each one until all the butter is added and the mixture resembles pea-sized pieces. Don’t over-process or your topping will be one big butter clump instead of moist and crumbly.

Peel, core, and coarsely chop the apples and place in the bottom of your buttered baking dish, then sprinkle the topping evenly over the apples.  Place your baking dish on top of a baking sheet (in case it bubble over) and cook until the fruit bubbles around the sides and the top is golden, ~30 minutes.

Remove the crisp from the oven and preheat your broiler until it’s screaming hot.  Raise your oven rack so the crisp will sit about 4 inches from the broiler, then cook until golden brown, about 30 seconds (note, if you happen to own one of those fancy kitchen blow torches, it works just fine and provides a lot more satisfaction for your flame-lovin’  inner caveman!)   Let cool about 15 minutes before serving.

Wine Pairings
Nothing tops off a great dessert (or a great evening) like a well-paired dessert wine.  And this dessert pairs well with a good late-harvest white wine or ice wine.  Check our dessert wine section for possibilities ranging from the affordable to the luxurious.  My current recommendations:

Affordable – the Trecini Cellars, 2007 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc ($30/half bottle) – this relatively affordable dessert wine is made from grapes, 10% of which were affected with the sought-after “Noble Rot”, Botrytis Cinera.  At just 11.5% alcohol, this wine is sufficiently sweet to stand up to dessert, but has a delicious mouth-watering quality that prevents it from being cloying.

Nobility 72 px WideLuxurious R.A. Harrison Family, 06 “Noility”, Late Harvest Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc ($75/ half-bottle) This product comes from the talented hands of Roger Harrison, who spent 25 years perfecting his dessert wine skills at Beringer before starting his own family label.  This wine is so pricey simply because of how it was grown and produced.  For starters, the grapes were infected in the vineyard by the benevolent mold known as Botrytis Cinera, which concentrates the remaining juice in these late-harvest grapes.  The fruit is then picked BERRY BY BERRY, with the harvesters trained to select just the most perfectly formed grapes.  Further selection occurs in the cellar before fermentation begins.

Speaking of fermentation, it takes place in barrel, following the procedure established at the famed Chateau d’Yquem, perhaps the most famous of all botrytised dessert wines.  A scant few hundred cases available.

Cheers!
Dave the Wine Merchant

Favorite Holiday Dessert – Marion Cunningham’s Steamed Persimmon Pudding

Click to see Marion Cunningham's cookbooks

The late Marion Cunningham is probably best known as the author of several editions of the Fanny Farmer cookbook.  Or for her years in working with James Beard, who plucked her out of obscurity when he chose her as his assistant.

I once met preternaturally cheerful Ms. Cunningham in 1997 at a Thanksgiving-themed cooking class at San Francisco’s Tante Marie’s.  She led the class with Chuck Williams (of Williams Sonoma), and each dish they made was delightful, of course.  But the highlight of the meal was this dessert.

I’d never heard of steamed puddings outside of Dickens’ tales, but I went out and bought a mold and made it the next week for my family’s Thanksgiving dinner.  It was so popular, It’s been in demand every year since then, both at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Ingredients
1 Cup pureed persimmons (~ 2 large persimmons, skins removed)
2 tsp. Baking soda
8 Tbs (1 stick) butter at room temperature
1 1/2 Cups sugar
2 Eggs
1 Tbs lemon juice
2 Tbs+ rum
1 Cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. Cinnamon (I double this amount, and enhance with a bit of allspice and a whisper of ground clove)
½ tsp. Salt
1 Cup broken walnuts or pecans
1 Cup+ raisins (I like to mix regular and golden)

Procedure
This dessert can be started early in the morning and left to steam for as long as you remember to refill the water.  Once lifted from its bath and the top of the mold is removed, it’s not unusual for the top of the pudding to be runny – ten minutes in a hot oven should be enough time to dry it out before un-molding.

Find a kettle large enough to hold a 2 Qt pudding mold (About $20 – $30.  Click here to purchase).  Fill the kettle with enough water to rise halfway up the sides of the mold as it rests on a metal rack in the bottom of the kettle.  (If no mold is available, two metal coffee containers covered tightly with foil will do, but only fill about ¾ full as the pudding expands a bit.  The mold must have a lid or be snugly covered with foil while steaming.)   Let the water come to a boil while you mix the pudding batter.

Grease the mold well.  Every nook and cranny.  Butter is best, though cooking spray is faster.

Put the persimmon puree in a bowl and stir in the baking soda.  Set aside (the persimmon mixture will stiffen and lighten in color – it really is a rather odd fact of chemistry)

Using a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar.  Add the eggs, lemon juice, and rum and beat well.  Set the mixer to its slowest speed and add the flour, cinnamon, and salt.  When well blended, add the persimmon mixture and beat until well mixed.  Remove bowl from mixer and stir in raisins and nuts.

Spoon the batter into the mold, cover, and steam for at least two hours (it’s nearly impossible to over-steam!).  Remove from the kettle, and let rest for 5 minutes (see opening note about drying in a warm oven).  Use a long, narrow skewer to help remove the pudding from the sides of the mold, then turn out onto the serving plate.  Some parts may stick to the bottom of the mold – just remove them whole and patch back together (the pudding is very moist).

Presentation
The traditional service for this dish is with a sprig of holly stuck into the top, then flamed with more of the rum.  To flame your rum, pour a generous ounce of it into a sauce pot, and THEN put the pot over medium heat.  Swirl the rum to warm it for thirty seconds or so, then carefully light it and immediately pour the flaming rum over the pudding.  It may be difficult to see the flame in strong light, so dim the lights for the 20 seconds or so before the alcohol burns off.

Serve warm with unsweetened whipped cream, or a crème anglais.

Wine Pairing
This dessert requires a very sweet wine – look for a late-harvest or ice wine or a port (shop here for dessert wines).  But I think the best pairing for this moist, spicy dessert is the spiced dessert wine from Vinedo de los Vientos, the N.V. Alcyone sweet tannat ($30/500ml bottle, when available – read more or buy here).

Cheers! 

Dave the Wine Merchant

Quote for the Day
Once again we come to the Holiday season, a deeply religious time that each of us observes in his or her own way, by going to the mall of their choice”
Dave Barry, American Humorist (1947 – )



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