Monday, June 18, 2012

California Walnut Wine

Walnut Wine version one
 On June 7th my green walnuts arrived.  Fresh, cool, with a slight sheen of moisture, smelling like an entire walnut orchard in a box: acrid, pungent. If you've ever walked amid an orchard of walnut trees on a warm late spring day, you'll know what I mean.

On June 9th, I made walnut wine.  Three slightly different ways, but basically following this recipe on Lucy's blog.

I've been wanting to make walnut wine, or vin de noix as it's known in France, for about 4 years but the timing was never right.  Green walnuts are picked and shipped around the first week in June here in California, sometimes mid-June in the foothills if the weather is cool, and they cannot sit around waiting until one can "get to them".

Green walnuts do not wait.  They age and get wrinkles.  They get dark blemishes.  The green husk can turn mushy, the center changes from embryonic to, well, more like a nut.

You don't want any of these things to happen.

No, your green walnuts should be so young and nubile that you can stick a pin through them and these babies passed the pin test with flying colors.

Well, this year the harmonic convergence of time, ingredients and nuts came together and my first attempt at making walnut wine is now in process.  And after making up the first jar, I took some liberties, made a few tweaks.  You will too once you get the hang of this.  I thought of so many more possibilities after cutting that last walnut and placing it in its jar that I've already made notes for next year's bottling.

Walnut Wine, Jars #1 and 2

The two jars above hold 3 liters each so I doubled Lucy's ingredients list and more than doubled the amount of walnuts per jar because I had a total of 56 walnuts and wanted to use them all in this endeavor.

Jar #3 in the middle of this photo holds 2 liters

For the 3-liter jars I made the following adjustments (follow the basic recipe here):

Jar #1:  20 quartered green walnuts,  1 liter vodka, 1 bottle white Bordeaux wine to top off the jar,  3 cloves, 2 star anise and 4 Sichuan peppercorns, 3 thick slices Cara Cara orange.

Jar #2:  Same amount of nuts, California Rare White, which is a blend of Sauvignon blanc, Chardonnay, Marsanne and Semillion, 5 cloves, 1 star anise, 4 Sichuan peppercorns, 1/2 cup maple syrup plus 1/3 cup vanilla sugar (home made), 4 orange slices, and only 1/3 of a vanilla bean.

Jar #3 (the 2-liter one):  15 nuts (yeah, it should be 16 but one had some damage so I tossed it), 700 ml vodka, 3/4 cup coconut palm sugar, 1 star anise, 4 clove, 1/2 of a vanilla bean, 2 slices of orange and topped it off with the white Bordeaux.

These lovelies are sitting in our cool wine vault.  I visit them often, cooing sweet nothings to their impervious glass walls.

I'll be bottling them around the 9th of August.  Check back for an update.

This year's walnuts came from Haag Farms in Esparto, California, a few miles up the road from where Mr CC and I lived almost 20 years ago.

And for comparison, another source I hope to try next year is Clary Ridge Ranch, where the green walnut harvest is shipped about 2 weeks later than valley nuts.

Copyright © 2005-2012, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved

Monday, June 4, 2012

Apple-Cinnamon Bread Pudding with Fresh Apples

Once in a great while I just have to make something sweetly ooey-gooey delicious (and, um, fattening), not just to satisfy a personal craving, but also to assure Mr CC that I've still got the chops.  Plus, lucky him, he gets to eat (most of) the results.

So, this here before you is a moist, creamy, crusty, raisin-walnut-apple-y, boozey bread pudding that I defy even the staunchest dieter to resist:  It's got sugar but not too much; it's got cream but just enough to make your belly grin; it's got toasted, challah-like cinnamon-apple bread (mine was locally produced. Plain challah would be fine as would any sturdy bread but you may have to up the sweetness a bit); it's got fresh, chunked up apples, and it's got a tipple of bourbon - just because.

I won't lie; one of my favorite celebrity chefs (and I don't have many), Michael Symon, made a version of this and I've adapted that recipe for myself.  And you.

Plan ahead for this one; there is some refrigeration time before baking.

Apple-Cinnamon Bread Pudding with Fresh Apples
Print recipe
Adapted from Michael Symon's Sunday Suppers
1 loaf cinnamon-apple bread - cut into 1-inch cubes, toasted, makes 6-8 cups
4 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
unsalted butter for the dish
6 large eggs or 12 ounces (my chickens lay very large eggs so I measure by volume)
2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream (plus more for serving - optional)
1/3 cup Splenda/Sugar Blend or 2/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon great bourbon such as Maker's Mark
1 teaspoon good vanilla
1/2 teaspoon fine kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon (preferably organic Saigon)

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.  Place the bread cubes in a single layer on several baking sheets. Bake in the oven until golden brown, shaking the pan several times so it won't burn.  You may have to switch the pans around to avoid oven hot spots.  Remove croutons from oven and allow to cool completely.
Butter an eight to ten-cup dish, rectangular or round, and set aside.
Peel, core and dice the apples, placing them in a large bowl. As you work, sprinkle the diced apples with lemon juice as they layer up in the bowl; this will keep them from getting discolored.
When the croutons are cool, place them in the baking dish topped with the diced apples.  Toss briefly to lightly mix.
Whisk together the eggs, milk, cream, sugar, vanilla, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg until well blended.  Whisk in the bourbon.
Pour the egg mixture over the crouton-apple mixture, pushing the croutons into the custard as much as possible (they will pop up of their own accord anyway, so what you want to do is get them moistened).  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours, occasionally pushing the croutons into the custard.

To bake:
Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Place the pudding-filled baking dish inside of a larger roasting pan and fill the roasting pan with hot water so it comes halfway up the sides of the baking dish.
Place the whole thing into the oven and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until the top is golden brown and a wooden pick comes out clean when inserted into the center of the pudding.
Allow the pudding to cool to just warm or room temperature.

Serving suggestions:
Spoon several tablespoons of heavy cream onto a dessert plate and top with a scoop of warm bread pudding.  Drizzle a bit more cream over the pudding and serve immediately.
- Or -
While the pudding is baking, whip some heavy cream, adding a bit of sugar and a few teaspoons of bourbon, until stiff peaks form.  Keep chilled. Top pudding with a dollop of whipped cream and a dusting of cinnamon just before serving.

To refrigerate leftovers, don't cover with plastic wrap which will cause condensation to form which will water the top of the pudding. Instead loosely drape with parchment paper.

Bon app├ętit.

Copyright © 2005-2012, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved