Ask Peter: Using up dessert wine
I serve dessert wine when entertaining and most of the time discard the rest of the bottle as we don’t drink it on a day-to-day basis. Any ideas on how I could incorporate it in to the midweek menu? Jill
Dessert wine comes in half bottles, mainly I’m sure, because many people feel the same way you do. On the weekend at a friend’s home I had a small glass of the most delicious French Sauternes after dinner. The wine was perfect with the cheese we were served and really rounded off the meal. However, had it been a large bottle, a normal 750ml, there would have been plenty left over. Unlike a digestif, which has a much higher alcohol content, it simply won’t keep.
There are many things you could do with your leftover wine, but if yours is a very expensive Chateau d’Yquem (and I recently saw a half-bottle of 2005 vintage for sale in New Zealand for $1700) I’d suggest you do drink it — anything else would be sacrilege.
If, on the other hand, it’s a good bottle without an excessive price tag, there are many things you can do. Poach fruit — this might seem too simple, but add the remnants of the bottle to a sugar and vanilla syrup to poach fruits.
At this time of the year peeled halved pears would be perfect. Allow around 500g caster sugar per litre of water (and your wine) and add a few slices of peeled ginger root, half a vanilla pod and a slice or two of red chilli — I find the warmth it gives works well with a sweet syrup.
You can also freeze the wine in ice cube trays and save for another time — not to drink as a melted dessert wine, but you can add the cubes to a jug of punch or a jug of pineapple juice mixed with rum or vodka. As the ice melts — and it will melt quicker than a water ice cube because the sugars and alcohol in it stop it freezing so hard — it’ll add a subtle flavour to your pitcher.
You can also add the wine to a custard. The reasoning behind this is that it’s simply a liquid — albeit one with sweetness and alcohol. Assuming you had 200ml of it, you would warm that first to burn off some of the alcohol and just as it begins to simmer mix in 300ml cream and bring almost to the boil. The more fat in the cream the better, as you want a lovely thick custard. If you can find double cream use it, or you could make this using coconut milk — again, the thicker the better.
Depending how sweet your wine is, whisk about ¼ cup sugar with five egg yolks until quite foamy. When the cream begins to rise in the pan, take the pan off the heat and slowly whisk a third of the hot cream into the yolks, making sure there are no lumps. Whisk the egg mixture back into the warm cream and place over medium-low heat. Stir continuously until the custard thickens and coats the back of your spoon. Strain into a clean bowl (to remove lumps and help it cool quicker) and stir every now and then for a few minutes until it cools. (I have made custard and had it curdle just sitting there.)
A sabayon (or zabaglione in Italian — but made with marsala) is also a lovely thing to make and it’s great spooned over a thin fruit crumble or tart, on poached pears (or berries in season) or over a chocolate fondant. It’s also a great simple dessert spooned on to vanilla or coffee ice cream and eaten with a crunchy biscuit.
A sabayon is what you make first when making a hollandaise — the frothy egg mixture into which you whisk melted butter. A sabayon is made by the same principle in that the protein, the lecithin, in the eggs emulsify the liquid and fat — which is why a hollandaise made well (and also a mayonnaise) won’t split.
The difference with a sabayon is that all you really want is that initial frothy foamy mixture. In a large heatproof bowl whisk together 150ml dessert wine and 3 tablespoons caster sugar. Whisk in five large egg yolks. Sit the bowl over a gently simmering pan, making sure the bottom of the bowl isn’t touching the water as you’ll scramble the mixture.
Whisk the mixture as it warms up — the eggs will begin to thicken, but you do need to keep whisking it to beat air bubbles into it. You can use an electric hand-held beater. Once it looks nice and firm (it won’t go stiff) it’s ready to serve and MUST be eaten warm. If you don’t have quite enough wine for the sabayon, use some apple juice or similar instead.
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you're stumped over something food-related, send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes on our site.