Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Chestnut Liqueur for Christmas

Chestnuts are starting to appear in the shops ready for roasting over the fires for Christmas. I love roast chestnuts and if you haven't got an open fire you can roast them in the oven – but be careful to prick them first in case they explode. Chestnuts have been a staple food in the Mediterranean for thousands of years as they can be made into a form of flour for unleavened bread making.

Chestnut flour can also be used to make cakes, pancakes and pasta – it was the original ingredient for polenta. The chestnut bread can stay fresh for as long as 2 weeks and in the ancient world it was widely used as army rations. Alexander the Great planted chestnut trees across Europe whilst on various campaigns and the Greek army is said to have survived their retreat from Asia Minor in 401-399 BC thanks to their stores of chestnuts.

Candied chestnuts appeared in the chestnut growing areas North of Italy and South of France shortly after the crusaders brought sugar back with them from the Middle East. You can still buy them today in the form of Marrons Glacés (for a home made recipe see Christmas Sweets and Treats – Marrons Glacés and Crémant d'Alsace).

The Italians soak their chestnuts in wine before roasting and this reminded me of Liqueur de Châtaigne – Chestnut Liqueur. This is a very aromatic liqueur and makes a great Autumnal Kir if you add it to white wine or champagne – a different twist to cassis! It is also fantastic served over vanilla ice cream, in coffee or with slices of melon.

There are a few companies that produce Liqueur de Châtaigne – it's well known in France and Italy - and in Madeira it is a traditional beverage. However you can make it at home.

Chestnut Liqueur

500g chestnuts
150g sugar
200ml water
500ml brandy

How to peel your chestnuts:
Boil the chestnuts in a large saucepan of water for 20 minutes.

Remove and drain. Peel them whilst they are still hot – use rubber gloves to protect your fingers! Make a cut through the skin almost all the way round the chestnut and peel the skin away.

Place the chestnuts in a saucepan with the 200ml of water and simmer for 10 minutes with the lid on. Do not stir. Remove the chestnuts and stir the sugar into the water. Return the chestnuts to the saucepan and gently cook with the lid off for another 5 minutes. Place the chestnuts in a jar with a good seal; add the sugar solution from the pan and the brandy. Leave for liquor via a fine sieve then add the brandy. Store in a cool dark place for 2 weeks.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Christmas Nougat

Nougat is a popular treat at Christmas in Europe and it's name comes from the old French Occitan "pan nogat" which means "nut bread". The French town of Montelimar is renowned for making it, dating back to the 18th century. There are three basic kinds of nougat: The first, and most common, is white nougat (which appeared in Cremona, Italy in the early 15th century) is made with beaten egg whites and honey. The second is brown nougat (referred to as Mandorlato in Italy, Turrón in Spain and Nougatine in French) is made without egg whites and has a firmer, often crunchy texture. The third is the Viennese or German nougat which is essentially a chocolate and nut (usually hazelnut) praline.

Nougat is made with sugar and/or honey, roasted nuts (almonds, walnuts, pistachios, hazelnuts and recently macadamia nuts are common), and sometimes chopped candied fruit. You can vary the flavours of Nougat by adding lemon zest, liqueurs, pine nuts, coffee and chocolate. Adding dried cranberries would be a good idea if you are making this for Christmas!

In the Middle East Nougat is made with pistachios and rosewater and I have found a recipe for you to make at home. You will need a sugar thermometer as trying to make Nougat without one usually results in a mess. Glucose syrup is one of the ingredients and you can find this at most super markets. Glucose Syrup helps control the formation of sugar crystals when making cake-icing, desserts, confectionery and jam.

2 cups granulated sugar
1 ½ cups glucose syrup
pinch of salt
1/4 cup water
2 egg whites
1 ½ tsp rose water
1 cup toasted pistachios

Line a pan with foil and spray with non stick cooking oil. Place the egg whites in the bowl of a large stand mixer, and whisk until stiff. Combine the sugar, glucose syrup, salt, and water in a pan over medium-high heat. Stir until the sugar is dissolved, and continue to cook until the mixture reaches 250 degrees. Remove from the heat and slowly pour a quarter of the mixture into the stiff egg whites, with the mixer running constantly. Continue to beat the egg whites until the mixture holds its shape.

Return the pan with the remaining sugar syrup to the hob, and continue to cook over medium-high heat until the mixture reaches 300 degrees. With the mixer running, pour the remaining mixture slowly into the mixer and continue beating until thick and stiff. Add the rose water and nuts and beat until combined.

Spoon the nougat into the prepared pan, and press it smoothly and evenly. Keep it in refrigerator until the nougat is set. Take it out of the mould and cut it into squares. Store in an airtight container in the fridge.


Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Come and Visit Us at the Wine Show 2011

Nick is with Bordeaux-Undiscovered at the Wine Show 2011 in Olympia, London (Thursday 11th - Sunday 13th November) so please come along and say hello!

It's a great opportunity for us to meet our loyal customers and to meet new friends. It's a wine lover's paradise as far as we are concerned as we will be able to enjoy our wines with visitors who are keen to try, discuss and discover our range.

Nick will be there to chat with visitors about what we all get from the wines, what kind of palates they have and which wines suit them. The feed back is very important to us as being an online company it will be great to be able to really interact on a personal level and get down to “talking wine”.

This year tickets include free entry to MasterChef Live and you can see John Torode, Gregg Wallace and the 2011 MasterChef Champion - Tim Anderson. Plus the Show will be jam-packed with over 100 of the best local producers, selling top quality food and drink perfect for a Christmas treat! You can also visit the Restaurant Experience to sample tapas-sized dishes from London’s best restaurants.

The Drinks Tasting Theatre is the place to meet top experts, including wine aficionados Oz Clarke, Susy Atkins and Ewan Lacey who will be holding Wine Tasting sessions. Sessions last 30 minutes.

It's a fantastic way to discover new wines and shop for Christmas! You can book tickets here. The Box Office number is 0844 581 1365.

Olympia is in Hammersmith Road, London, W14 8UX and if you are travelling by car it is best to pre-book a visitor's space in advance (tel 0207 598 2515). London Overground and Southern trains run direct services to West Brompton station (for Earls Court) and Kensington (Olympia). Direct services run from Clapham Junction, Gatwick Airport, East Croydon, Watford Junction, Willesden Junction and Stratford. If you want to hop on the tube you should travel to Kensington Olympia on the District line. Buses serving Olympia are: Hammersmith Road: 9, 10, 27, 28; Holland Road: 49; North End Road: 391 and National Express offer round the clock services to the heart of London via London Victoria Coach station.

Our stand number is WM46 which is located behind the English Wine Pavilion and we look forward to meeting you there should you pop along!

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Christmas Orange and Lemon Slices

Years ago I remember that we used to have jellied Orange and Lemon Slices as sweets for Christmas but they seemed to slip off the shelves once the festivities had finished. I hadn't seen them for ages until I spotted some for sale recently.

I used to wonder how they were made and apparently they are an old German tradition, hailing from Bavaria. They are made from a mixture of sugar, water, pectin, colourants, and flavourings which is boiled and then poured into moulds. When set they are then sanded with sugar.

I have found some recipes that you can make at home and there seem to be two methods – one takes around an hour and the other takes two weeks. The longer method has far superior results and if you are making these sweets to give as Christmas presents it is the one I would choose. During the process of candying the fruits are placed in a sugar syrup which must contain a gradually higher sugar concentration every day so that the sugar permeates slowly through the cell pores. You can skip a couple of days but don't skip the 2 week duration. The Brownie Points Blog has a great version of this recipe for Orange Slices that have been partially dipped in chocolate and is well worth following to make Orange and Lemon Slices.

The Repressed Pastry Chef Blog has a good recipe for Candied Orange Slices which uses the quicker method. The only addition I would recommend is sanding the slices with sugar once they have cooled . . . unless you want to dip them in chocolate!

Home made Orange and Lemon Slices would go really well with a Sauternes and Chateau Sainte Hélène in particular has flavours of orange peel, apricots, cinnamon and honey which will compliment the sweets perfectly.