Saturday, December 23, 2006

My cheese and wine dessert

Here's what I put together in response to my eGullet Baking and Pastry Challenge.

On the left, red grapes on the stem, covered in Stilton and rolled in chopped port-glazed walnuts. You can see some of the whole walnuts scattered around the sauce. The sauce is the reduction of the glazing liquid, and has port, sugar, black pepper and bay leaf. On the right, a Seckel pear, which was roasted in a baking dish with a mixture of Carlos VII and sugar at the bottom (recipe adapted from here). That was used as a basting liquid, and later reduced to the caramel sauce. Lying jauntily against the pear is a crisp of 5-year Boerenkaas aged gouda. And a few toasted hazelnuts for good measure.

I invited a few friends over to kibbitz and taste. Here are their comments, so you'll have some idea of the flavors as well as the looks!

Dave: There is great synergy in the pear-sherry-hazelnut-cheese combination. Not only is the pear taste accentuated, but you get an added taste of fig, and a nutty flavor that comes not just from the nuts, but from the cheese wafer, that finishes with a smoky, almost a charcoal taste.

The combination of Stilton cheese and grapes did not work as well, not because of any discordance in the tastes, but I believe because of texture. The grapes are too watery to be paired with this cheese. I recommend chilling the grapes first to firm them up.

Beth: you can never go wrong with Stilton in my book, and the combination of Stilton and 'ported' walnuts was a fantastic combination of sweet and shocking-salty. however the taste of the grape itself was lost. i found that drizzling further with the port reduction added back a nice, fruity flavor.

the pear-gouda had a nice nutty taste as well - i've never had an aged gouda, and the process intensified the nutty flavor that worked well with the pear.

Hope: the stilton-grape-ported walnut combination was absolutely delightful - the delicacy of the grape wasn't overwhelmed by the stilton, and the walnuts gave a wonderful contrasty texture. There could've been a little more of the port reduction sauce, which had a wonderful flavor. The pear-gouda-sherry reduction combo was a little too sweet for my tastes, but the gouda laces set off the sweetness very nicely, and were very tasty all on their own. There were some delightful Montgomery cheddar 'eclairs' that were wonderful, but sadly didn't work with the red wine gelato - though both were very good on their own. All in all, a wonderful evening - it's so much fun being one of Tammy's 'guinea pigs'!
My comments: I over-reduced both sauces, which made it easy to make them stay where I wanted on the plate, but made them too sticky and sweet for good eating - I'd correct that in the future. The pear-gouda-sherry combo worked as well in reality as it did in my head, so that was cool. I'm with Dave and Beth on the issue of the grapes - the Stilton did overwhelm the grape. I think because the amount of Stilton needed to wrap the grape made it too much. I probably should have done what most recipes suggest and cut the Stilton with cream cheese. If I make these for a party sometime (and I might - they are tasty and unusual), I will do that. And chill them - these ones warmed up while I was getting everything else ready. Oh, and the plate needed more of the port sauce for that amount of grapes/cheese.

The two parts of the plate didn't really go together, but neither did they clash. If I was serving the pear on it's own, I would do it in a little bowl, because then I could use the unreduced sauce, and that would be very tasty. And while the crisp was fun and made for a nice presentation, I think some of the sweet butterscotchy flavor of the aged gouda was lost, so I'd just do shavings of the cheese.

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