cranberry apple brandy

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When I was simmering sugar syrup, smashing fruit, and measuring alcohol for these cocktails, my mom made the excellent point that opening a bottle of wine is a heck of a lot easier. And while I appreciate how wine compliments food and how beer signals relaxation, I love cocktails too. Cocktails are special. They mean fun and celebration. You can’t help but be happy when enjoying a cocktail with friends and family. And that’s why they’re worth the trouble.

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This one takes more work than the citrus squeezing, liquor measuring, and syrup simmering of my favorite vodka gimlets and magaritas, as apples need to be sliced, then crushed along with cranberries before the liquor and syrup are stirred in – and that’s in addition to the squeezing, measuring, and mixing of citrus, liquor, and syrup, respectively.

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It’s a strong drink, undoubtedly, as it is mostly brandy.  But it has all of the ingredients in a good apple dessert – sugar, a touch of citrus to brighten the flavors, cranberries in case you needed another reminder that it’s the end of fall and the beginning of winter.  Fortunately, that’s just the time for celebrations worthy of the trouble involved with mixing up a seasonal cocktail.

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One year ago: Cranberry Apple Galette
Two years ago: Carne Adovada
Three years ago: Baked Eggs with Spinach and Mushrooms

Printer Friendly Recipe
The Normandy
(from The Essential New York Times Cookbook by Amanda Hesser)

Serves 1

9 cranberries
2 thin slices green apple
1 teaspoon dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon simple syrup
2 ounces Calvados or other good-quality apple brandy

Combine 6 cranberries, 1 apple slice, the brown sugar, and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker and muddle (crush with a muddler or the back of a wooden spoon). Add the simple syrup, Calvados, and a few ice cubes, cover, and shake well. Strain into a rocks glass filled with ice and garnish with the remaining 3 cranberries and apple slice.

alsatian apple tart

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I recently congratulated myself on having become more practical now that I’m older and then almost immediately had to call my own BS. I tried to think of one example of having taken the more practical route lately and came up blank. My tendency to go overboard nearly always wins.

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Just to prove that I can, indeed, tone things down, I kept myself from perfecting the edges of my pastry cloth that always get crinkled after washing. Also, I only rearranged the apple slices on this tart once when they didn’t look the way I’d hoped. Even then, it wasn’t perfect, and I had at least a third of the apple slices leftover, but I had to move on with my evening.

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In the end, I think the tart came out very nicely. It’s pretty and it’s tasty. But. I think with the rest of the apples, it would have been even better – a little more tart to balance the sweet custard, and the apple slice design would have stood out more. I have to admit though, the difference isn’t so significant to make the time it would have taken to perfect it worthwhile. Sometimes, good enough is just fine.

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Jessica chose this tart for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has the recipe posted. The recipe indicates that the tart will need to bake for 50-55 minutes, but mine was done around 35 minutes. The shorter time could be because it wasn’t as full, or it’s possible that I should have left it in the oven until the custard started to brown.

Two years ago: Alice Water’s Apple Tart
Three years ago: Basic Mashed Potatoes

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cranberry sauce with port and dried figs

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Have you ever looked at the ingredients of canned jellied cranberries? They’re exactly the same as homemade cranberry sauce: cranberries, sugar, water. The first time I made homemade cranberry sauce, I eagerly took my first bite and then…huh. It tastes exactly like the canned kind. Don’t bother making cranberry sauce from scratch if it’s because you’re expecting it to taste better than it is from the can.

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But there are other reasons to make it from scratch. The first is that it’s fun. Raw cranberries are neat, pucker-inducing and hard and dry. Then when you cook them, they pop. It only takes 15 minutes and can be done up to a week in advance, so why not spend a few minutes playing with your food?

The other reason is that you can play around with flavors, personalizing the sauce. Orange is the most common addition and after doing that for several years, I was ready for more experimentation. Sweet port wine and balsamic vinegar seemed like they would complement the tart cranberries perfectly.

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Even with all of the extra flavors in this – port, balsamic vinegar, figs, rosemary, black pepper, cinnamon – it didn’t taste so different from the stuff in the can. It had a warmer tone to it, and I liked the crunch of the fig seeds. But everyone would have been just fine with the canned stuff too. And that’s okay, because the few minutes I spent making this cranberry sauce were well spent just for the fun of it.

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Two years ago: African Pineapple Peanut Stew
Three years ago: Pumpkin Goat Cheese Ravioli

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Cranberry Sauce with Port and Dried Figs (adapted from Bon Appétit via epicurious)

At first, I served this as you see it here, but for the leftovers, I put the sauce through a food mill to separate the skins, and I much prefer the smoother version.

1½ cups ruby Port
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) packed brown sugar
8 dried black Mission figs, stemmed, chopped
1 6-inch-long sprig fresh rosemary
1 3-inch cinnamon stick
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 12-ounce bag fresh cranberries
¾ cup (5.25 ounces) granulated sugar

Combine the port, vinegar, brown sugar, figs, rosemary, cinnamon, and pepper in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Reduce the heat to low and simmer 10 minutes. Discard the rosemary and cinnamon. Mix in the cranberries and granulated sugar. Cook over medium heat until the liquid is slightly reduced and the berries burst, stirring occasionally, about 6 minutes. Transfer the sauce to a bowl; chill until cold. (Cranberry sauce can be prepared 1 week ahead. Cover and keep refrigerated.)

steel cut oatmeal with maple sauteed apples

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On a holiday, who wants cold cereal and milk for breakfast? No, something special is in order for the morning of Thanksgiving, but with a day of feasting ahead, it’s nice to get a somewhat healthy start. And with a day of cooking ahead, breakfast can’t be too complicated.

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Steel-cut oatmeal fits the bill perfectly. Because steel-cut oats take the better part of an hour to cook, you’re probably saving it for weekends already. The oatmeal itself is healthy, but the caramelized apples make it a treat without overdoing the decadence first thing in the morning.

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Steel-cut oatmeal isn’t mushy like oatmeal made from rolled oats is. The larger chunks of groats never completely soften, so it’s almost like eating tapioca pudding for breakfast – if tapioca pudding was packed full of fiber. It tastes nutty and slightly sweet on its own, especially after being toasted, but slices of browned apples make this oatmeal just right for a holiday – without being so decadent that it can’t be enjoyed any weekend.

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One year ago: Shredded Beef Tacos
Two years ago: Pumpkin Mushroom Soup
Three years ago: Decorated Sugar Cookies

Printer Friendly Recipe
Steel-Cut Oatmeal (from Cooks Illustrated)

Serves 4

3 cups water
1 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 cup steel-cut oats
¼ teaspoon table salt

1. Bring the water and milk to a simmer in a large saucepan over medium heat. Meanwhile, heat the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat until just beginning to foam; add the oats and toast, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until golden and fragrant with a butterscotch-like aroma, 1½ to 2 minutes.

2. Stir the toasted oats into the simmering liquid, reduce the heat to medium-low; simmer gently, until the mixture thickens and resembles gravy, about 20 minutes. Add the salt and stir lightly with the spoon handle. Continue simmering, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon handle, until the oats absorb almost all of the liquid and the oatmeal is thick and creamy, with a pudding-like consistency, about 7 to 10 minutes. Off the heat, let the oatmeal stand uncovered for 5 minutes. Serve immediately with maple sautéed apples.

Maple Sautéed Apples (slightly adapted from Bon Appétit via epicurious)

2 tablespoons (¼ stick) unsalted butter
3 large firm apples (about 1½ pounds), peeled, cored, cut into ½-inch-thick slices
1 tablespoon plus ½ cup pure maple syrup
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Melt the butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the apples and 1 tablespoon maple syrup; sauté until the apples are tender, about 5 minutes. Mix in the remaining ½ cup maple syrup and cinnamon; simmer until slightly reduced, about 1 minute.

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far breton

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This doesn’t seem to be a very popular opinion, but I love custards. Far Breton isn’t the most custardy custard I’ve ever eaten, but it’s certainly on the eggy side of the cake spectrum. I was looking forward to a light, lightly sweetened and beautifully browned cake.

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I wasn’t so sure about the dried fruit, but I thought using small fruits like a mix of raisins, cherries, and cranberries would meld better with the batter than large prunes, and softening them in brandy couldn’t hurt. Unfortunately my math skills failed me and I messed up the proportions of the batter, using one-third of the total amount of egg and milk, and one-half of the full recipe worth of sugar, flour, and butter.

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Dave and I both enjoyed the cake, even with the mixed up ratios of ingredients in the batter. I still think the dried fruit were out of place, probably because I like cake/custard so much more than I like dried fruit. I think, for my tastes, pure custard would be just right.

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Nicole chose this recipe for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has it posted. Like I mentioned above, I made a handful of involuntary changes that I don’t recommend (even if the final result was quite good)!

My post on the honey nut scones, also chosen for TWD this week, will be up tomorrow.

One year ago: Peanut Butter Blondies
Two years ago: Cherry-Fudge Brownie Torte
Three years ago: Rugelach

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apple brandy hand pies

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Adding ‘brandy’ to the title of this recipe is probably an exaggeration, because I suspect most of the brandy gets left behind in the sugary liquid given off by the apples. Plus, with two teaspoons of brandy in over a dozen hand pies, that’s approximately one drop per pie. On the other hand, how much more fun do apple brandy hand pies sound than apple hand pies? A lot more fun, that’s how much.

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And these are fun. To eat, that is; to make, they’re a lot of nitpicky chilling steps. You measure the ingredients and chill them; make the dough and chill it; roll it out and chill it; cut circles and chill them; fill the hand pies and chill them.

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It isn’t too bad though; you don’t have to actually do anything during those chilling steps, so it’s really just an issue of starting early. The reward at the end is crust so flaky it’s almost like puff pastry dough, not to mention a sweet and spicy apple filling – whether it’s actually spiked with brandy or not.

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One year ago: Coconut Cream Tart/Pie
Two years ago: Sun-Dried Tomato Jam
Three years ago: Peter Reinhart’s Pizza

Printer Friendly Recipe
Apple Brandy Hand Pies (adapted from Smitten Kitchen and from Cooks Illustrated’s apple pie recipe in The New Best Recipe)

Makes about 14 pies

Dough:
1¼ cups (6 ounces) all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
½ tablespoon sugar
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
¼ cup Greek yogurt or sour cream
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
¼ cup ice water

Filling:
2 large apples, peeled, cored, diced into ¼-inch cubes
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon apple (or regular) brandy
¼ teaspoon lemon zest
¼ cups (1.75 ounces) sugar
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
⅛ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
⅛ teaspoon ground allspice

1. To make the pastry, in a bowl, combine the flour, sugar and salt. Place the butter in another bowl. Place both bowls in the freezer for 1 hour. Remove the bowls from the freezer and make a well in the center of the flour. Add the butter to the well and, using a pastry blender, cut it in until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Make another well in the center. In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream, lemon juice and water and add half of this mixture to the well. With your fingertips, mix in the liquid until large lumps form. Remove the large lumps and repeat with the remaining liquid and flour-butter mixture. Pat the lumps into a ball; do not overwork the dough. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour. If preparing ahead of time, the dough can be stored at this point for up to one month in the freezer.

2. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out one half of the dough to ⅛-inch thickness. Using a 4-inch-round biscuit cutter, cut seven circles out of the rolled dough. Transfer the circles to a parchment-lined baking sheet, and place in the refrigerator to chill for about 30 minutes.

3. Toss the apples with the lemon juice and zest. In a medium bowl, mix the sugar, flour, salt and spices. Toss the dry ingredients with the apples.

4. Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator, and let stand at room temperature until just pliable, 2 to 3 minutes. Spoon about 1 tablespoon of filling onto one half of each circle of dough. Quickly brush cold water around the circumference of the dough, and fold it in half so the other side comes down over the filling, creating a semicircle. Seal the hand pie, and make a decorative edge by pressing the edges of the dough together with the back of a fork. Repeat the process with remaining dough and filling. Place the hand pies back on the parchment-lined baking sheet, and return to the refrigerator to chill for another 30 minutes.

5. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Remove the chilled hand pies from the refrigerator, cut 3 small slits in each and lightly brush with the egg yolk wash. Sprinkle sanding sugar generously over the pies. Bake until the hand pies are golden brown and just slightly cracked, about 20 minutes. Remove the pies from the oven; let cool slightly before serving.

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apple nut muffin cake

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I wasn’t expecting great things from Pisa, although that wasn’t Pisa’s fault. I had a cold, because I learned the hard way that you have to eat the occasional fruit or vegetable, even on vacation. We had to get up early and rush to the train station, spend 2 hours on a train to get to Pisa, where we had 3 hours before we had to board another train to get to Rome, where I had a suspicion we’d get lost looking for the hotel. I knew it would be worth it to see the iconic Leaning Tower, but I wasn’t looking forward to the trains, the constant concern over my Kleenex supply, or the crowds I assumed surrounded the famous tower.

pisa

But I was wrong. Not about getting lost in Rome, which we did, and not about the need for Kleenex, which lasted for the next few days, but about Pisa having nothing to offer other than a poorly constructed tower and hordes of tourists. Instead, we took a relaxed walk down a lovely street full of bicyclists, shops, and cafes; peeked into a dark, quiet church that was perhaps my favorite of the trip; and detoured to a wonderful street market where, having learned our lesson, we bought some fruit to snack on while I ogled the squash blossoms, giant porcini mushrooms, crates of fresh figs, bins of artichokes, and baskets of uncured olives. Best of all, we found a farmacia that sold six-packs of Kleenex packets – a lifesaver for the 4-hour train ride ahead.

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But that was Pisa and now I’m back in southeast New Mexico, where fresh figs are nowhere to be found, to say nothing of squash blossoms and fresh porcini mushrooms. (They do have Kleenex here, gladly.) So I skipped the fig cake chosen for Tuesdays with Dorie – but here’s the apple cake I missed while traveling.

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I tried to pretty it up by adding streusel, but it melted into the cake and didn’t contribute much more than a delicious sugary crust. Not that the cake needed any help in the taste department, as it was already moist and sweet and pleasantly appley. Next time I’m in Pisa, I’ll pick up some fresh figs to make Dorie’s fig cake with; until then, apple muffin cake will have to do.

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Katrina chose this for Tuesdays with Dorie a few weeks ago, and she has the recipe posted. If you want to add streusel to the top, try this one; the one I used didn’t work very well.  I doubled the salt, as usual, since I like my desserts saltier than Dorie.

One year ago: Apple Pie
Two years ago: Sweet Potato Biscuits
Three years ago: Chocolate Cupcakes

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flip over cherry cake

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Unless I did something very wrong, calling this a cake is a bit of a stretch. In fact, it’s very similar to a cobbler recipe I’ve made, which used the same technique of pouring batter over melted butter, topping that with the fruit, and baking. It seems an odd method to me; why not mix the butter with the rest of the batter?

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Maybe leaving the butter separate contributes to the “flip-over” aspect of this “cake”, which can also turn it into a cobbler with the dough on top of the fruit. It’s perfectly edible – sugary, fruity, and buttery – but I have to admit that I like my bready parts to be more substantial. On the other hand, a scoop of Greek yogurt made this a good excuse to eat dessert for breakfast.

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Becky chose this fruity cake/cobbler/pudding for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has the recipe posted. I substituted cherries for the plums and increased the salt.

One year ago: Tarte Fine
Two years ago: Cottage Cheese Pufflets
Three years ago: Creme Brulee (comparison of 2 recipes, in which Dorie’s won)

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cooks illustrated’s ultimate banana bread

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I’ve always wanted to do a banana bread comparison post, and I still plan to someday, but usually I make banana bread for one primary purpose: to use up old bananas. And this recipe is the best for that, because it uses five bananas (six if you include the garnish, which I usually don’t), which is about twice as many as most other banana bread recipes. Furthermore, this recipe actually works better with previously frozen bananas, which mine always are.

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It manages to fit so many bananas into one loaf because the liquid is extracted before the batter is mixed. I love sucking the liquid out of ingredients before using them in recipes, especially quick breads like this zucchini bread. But I have to admit that I hadn’t realized bananas contained so much water. With zucchini, it’s obvious because water droplets immediately appear on a newly cut surface, but bananas had always seemed relatively dry to me.

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That’s until you freeze and then defrost them, when they turn into a pile of gross brown mush soaking in gross brown liquid. And this is perfect, because the mush is ready to mix right into the batter, and the liquid can be simmered down into a concentrated banana syrup, so not one bit of banana flavor is wasted. And if you don’t constantly have a bag of bananas taking up space in your freezer, of course you don’t need previously frozen bananas for this recipe – a quick trip to the microwave achieves the same effect.

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The end result is a banana bread that’s moist and tender, even if I go ahead and utilize my favorite quick bread tricks of subbing half whole wheat pastry flour and reducing the fat by 25% by replacing some of the butter with oil. Plus I figure that all that extra fruit in there contributes more fiber and nutrients. It’s not over-the-top banana-y either, despite containing so much more banana than most loaves. It’s so good that it’s actually worth making just for the sake of eating it, not just to use up the ingredients!

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One year ago: Pappa al Pomodoro
Two years ago: Risotto with Swiss Chard
Three years ago: Gazpacho

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Ultimate Banana Bread (from Cooks Illustrated)

I’ve reproduced Cooks Illustrated’s recipe exactly below. However, I don’t particularly care for the sliced bananas on top. They’re pretty, but they’re too sweet and candy-like (which really doesn’t sound like me, come to think of it).

You can slightly healthy up this recipe by replacing half of the flour with whole wheat pastry flour, and using 4 tablespoons butter plus 2 tablespoons canola oil instead of 8 tablespoons butter. The oil helps keeps the loaf moist, and of course leaving all that butter in contributes flavor.

1¾ cups (8¾ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon table salt
6 large very ripe bananas (about 2¼ pounds), peeled
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 large eggs
¾ cup packed (5¼ ounces) light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped (optional)
2 teaspoons granulated sugar

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8½ by 4½-inch loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray. Whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl.

2. Place 5 bananas in a microwave-safe bowl; cover with plastic wrap and cut several steam vents in the plastic with a paring knife. Microwave on high power until the bananas are soft and have released liquid, about 5 minutes. Transfer the bananas to a fine-mesh strainer placed over a medium bowl and allow to drain, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes (you should have ½ to ¾ cups liquid).

3. Transfer the liquid to a medium saucepan and cook over medium-high heat until it’s reduced to ¼ cup, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, stir the reduced liquid into the bananas, and mash with a potato masher until fairly smooth. Whisk in the butter, eggs, brown sugar, and vanilla.

4. Pour the banana mixture into the flour mixture and stir until just combined with some streaks of flour remaining. Gently fold in the walnuts, if using. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Slice the remaining banana diagonally into ¼-inch-thick slices. Shingle the banana slices on top of both sides of the loaf, leaving a 1½-inch-wide space down the center to ensure an even rise. Sprinkle the granulated sugar evenly over loaf.

5. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean, 55 to 75 minutes. Cool the bread in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then remove the loaf from the pan and continue to cool on a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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prosecco raspberry gelee

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One New Year’s Eve, I was standing in line at the grocery store buying sushi rice (because I had a very exciting evening of cooking ahead of me to ring in the new year), when I heard the person behind me tell someone on her cell phone, “I’m buying vodka…and Grandma got the good jello!”

raspberry gelee 4The advantage of only making a half recipe – half a bottle of champagne to use up!

What, I wonder, is the “good jello”? Jell-o brand, and not store brand? I assure you that the two will make equally gag-worthy but redeemingly drunk-making jello shots.

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I think I have found my own good jello, and it involves, as all good things must, bubbly wine. Not precisely prosecco, because apparently that Italian sparkling wine isn’t available in my area, but I’m sure my favorite New Mexico champagne will work just as well.

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And good wine is key here, because very little is done to it. It’s mixed with raspberries, of course, and solidified, and slightly sweetened, and that’s it. In the end, it’s a dessert that tastes almost exactly like champagne with fruit, and the best part is that it even keeps its fizz. It keeps its buzz too, as I accidentally learned on a pleasant Sunday afternoon. I wouldn’t call this a jello shot, but it’s definitely good jello.

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One year ago: Whole Wheat Bagels
Two years ago: Quick Baking Powder Pizza Crust
Three years ago: Eclairs

printer friendly recipe
Prosecco Raspberry Gelée (from Bon Appétit)

Mixing fresh raspberries with sugar doesn’t do much if you don’t cut or crush them, but just go with it. You’ll end up breaking them up slightly when you mix them with the rest of the ingredients, which will tint your gelée a pretty blush color.

I might add a couple tablespoons more sugar next time, just to make this feel more like dessert and less like a glass of wine that happens to be solid(ish).

I did use the orange-flower water, and I recommend it if you have it.

2 cups (9 ounces) fresh raspberries
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, divided
1 750-ml chilled bottle Prosecco (Italian sparkling wine), divided
3½ teaspoon unflavored gelatin (measured from two 1/4-ounce envelopes)
¾ teaspoon orange-flower water (optional)

1. Place the raspberries, ¼ cup sugar, and 1 tablespoon lemon juice in a medium bowl; toss gently to combine. Let stand at room temperature until the raspberries release their juices, tossing occasionally, 20-30 minutes.

2. Place ½ cup Prosecco in a small bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin over it and let stand 5 minutes to soften. Bring 1 cup Prosecco to a boil with the remaining ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat; add the gelatin mixture and stir until dissolved.

3. Transfer the gelatin mixture to a large pitcher. Add the raspberries with their juices, the remaining Prosecco, the remaining 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and orange-flower water (if using), stirring to dissolve any sugar.

4. Using a slotted spoon, divide the raspberries equally among coupe glasses or other small wide shallow glasses or cups. Divide the Prosecco mixture equally among the glasses, about ¾ cup per glass. Chill gelée until firm, about 3 hours. (Gelées can be made up to 2 days ahead. Cover and keep chilled.)

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