Homemade Vermouth

Sure, I’m familiar with vermouth…it’s that mixer in the green bottle pushed to the back of the liquor cabinet that plays a supporting role in martinis and manhattans. The alcohol that, along with Galliano, has a shelf life longer than Twinkies. The perpetual cocktail bridesmaid – never the bride.

How very wrong I’ve been.

A bottle of homemade vermouth
I discovered vermouth – real vermouth – a few months ago at Amar Santana’s Vaca restaurant. He’s managed to elevate this non-descript mixer into something sublime – it’s house-made, poured from the tap, served on the rocks and garnished with a thick slice of orange zest. And it tastes like…well…on my first sip, I proclaimed it tasted like, “Thanksgiving and Christmas all rolled into one.” His version is redolent of warming spices – cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg, slightly sweet with hints of vanilla, and tertiary notes of herb (sage? thyme?) and orange.

Thus began my quest to make my own vermouth at home. Vermouth, I’ve discovered, is aromatized, fortified wine; wine that has been infused with herbs and spices (aromatized) and has alcohol (in this case, Sherry) added to it (fortified). The sweet version of vermouth also has caramelized sugar added. My final version below is a world away from Vaca’s recipe ( I can aspire!), but still quite tasty; similar to higher-end bottled vermouth I’ve sampled in recent months – like an Amaro – a bit sweet, a bit bitter, and loaded with spices and herbs.

The first thing you’ll notice is there’s a daunting list of ingredients. But don’t be deterred, the actual hands-on time is about 30 minutes total once you have your supplies. My recommendation is to order your herbs and spices online from a reputable retailer (I bought mine from Monterey Bay Spice Company) and the remaining ingredients can be purchased from a well-stocked grocery store.


Homemade Vermouth Recipe

  • Servings: about 4 cups
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The perfect aperitivo – a bit sweet, a bit bitter and loaded with spices and herbs. Play with the proportions to highlight your favorite spice.


Ingredients

  • 5 green cardamom pods
  • 8 whole cloves
  • 2 star anise
  • 6 juniper berries
  • ½ teaspoon coriander seeds
  • ½ teaspoon wormwood
  • ½ teaspoon chamomile flowers
  • ¼ teaspoon dried sage leaves
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • Entire zest of an orange, peeled using a potato peeler
  • 2 strips of zest from a lemon, peeled using a potato peeler
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • Scraped seeds from ½ vanilla bean
  • 1 bottle light white wine such as Pinot Grigio (I use Tesoro della Regina)
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 cup sweet Sherry (I use Osborn Cream Sherry)

Directions

  1. Crush cardamom pods, cloves, star anise, juniper berries, and coriander seeds in a mortar and pestle. Scrape them into a medium stock pot. Add wormwood, chamomile, sage, nutmeg, orange zest, lemon zest, cinnamon sticks, and vanilla seeds. Pour white wine over ingredients, bring to boil, remove from heat, cover with lid and let steep for 24 hours.
  2. In a small pan, make a caramel by combining sugar with 2 Tablespoons of water. Cook over medium heat, without stirring, until caramel is dark golden. Carefully add sherry to caramel – the caramel will bubble and splash. If the addition of Sherry causes the caramel to harden, return to stove to re-melt the caramel.
  3. Strain and squeeze the wine mixture well through a coffee filter or two layers of cheese cloth. Add the Sherry mixture and stir to combine. Serve on the rocks with an orange zest.

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Hazelnut Orange Cookies

Delicate, crumbly cookies with a wonderful snap, flavored with the unique combination of hazelnuts and orange – a perfect addition to a holiday cookie plate.

A stack of Hazelnut Orange cookies tied with a green ribbon

It was 1997 and the Barnes and Noble store at the nearby suburban strip mall had recently opened. I wasn’t a competent baker then; my sister was the baker. The book I chose was the Pillsbury Best Cookies Cookbook – plenty of recipes, plenty of photos. These hazelnut orange cookies were the first recipe I tried. I thought they were delicious at the time, with a delicate, crumbly texture and pretty appearance. I resurrected the recipe this year for our neighborhood Bunco cookie exchange and they are just as special as I remember them. This recipe makes a ton of cookies – about eight dozen, enough for the Bunco cookie exchange and a few dozen for the office, or just cut the recipe in half.


Hazelnut Orange Cookies

A delicate, crumbly cookie with a wonderful snap, flavored with hazelnuts and orange.


Ingredients

  • 4 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ (generous) teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 2 teaspoons orange zest
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup finely chopped toasted hazelnuts
  • Sugar
  • Hazelnut halves for garnish

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, salt and nutmeg. Set aside. In a large bowl, beat sugar, powdered sugar, softened butter, oil, orange zest, vanilla and eggs until light and fluffy. Stir in flour mixture until combined. Stir in finely chopped hazelnuts. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.
  2. Heat oven to 375⁰ F. Shape dough into scant 1” balls (15 grams each) and roll in sugar. Place 2” apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten each ball with the bottom of a glass dipped in sugar, top with a hazelnut half.
  3. Bake for 7-9 minutes or until barely golden around the edges. Cool for 1 minute; remove to racks and cool completely.

Holiday Baking Round-up

It’s December and my holiday baking is in full swing.  This week, I baked fig and orange sweet buns and made 8 dozen soon-to-be-on-the-blog hazelnut-orange cookies for the neighborhood cookie exchange (yes, orange plays a starring role in my holiday baking, as you will see below). I also picked up paper baking molds to try my hand at Panettone this weekend.  In addition to all of this baking, there’s some annual holiday treats that I would be remiss not to bake again this year…it’s tradition, after all.

A basket of Gibassier

Gibassier
Gibassier are a Christmas morning tradition in my house.  My sister and I originally discovered them during our Christmas escape to Portland in 2013.  Best consumed with a steaming coffee drink, these yeasty fists of dough are subtly flavored with olive oil and orange blossom water and studded with candied orange peel and aniseed.  Once they emerge hot from the oven, they are given a bath of clarified butter and coated with sugar, giving them a sandy crust worth licking from one’s fingers.  If I could pop one of these in my mouth every day along with my morning cuppa, life would be grand, but for the sake of my waistline, I limit baking them to once a year.

4 loaves of Stollen

Marzipan Stollen
In 2016, my sister, S, was inconsolable upon hearing I was forgoing the annual holiday Gibassier to try my hand at Christmas marzipan stollen. If this fruit-studded yeast bread didn’t pass muster, I’d receive coal in my stocking for sure.  Fortunate for me, it was a holiday triumph, the downside being that sis now expects Gibassier AND Stollen each Christmas morning.

A Plate of British Eccles Cakes

Eccles Cakes
An Eccles cake is a small, heavily spiced pastry filled with currants and candied orange peel wrapped in a flaky (rough puff) pastry.  The Eccles cake may have been created about 20 years before Dickens was even born, yet these are just the type of sweetmeat I imagine gracing Mr. Fezziwig’s overladen Christmas Eve party table. So, if you aren’t tired of candied orange peel after the Gibassier and Stollen, these may just be the ideal holiday treat for you.

Macadiamia Nut Pie

Coffee Caramel Macadamia Pie
If you aren’t planning to make figgy pudding to finish off your holiday meal, I’d like to suggest a slice of this oh-so-sinful tart as an alternative.  This pie is inspired by Hawaiian coffee-glazed macadamia nuts – a little salty, a bit sweet, with a dash of coffee to compliment the buttery richness of the nuts…all encased in a flaky pastry crust. A small slice is the ideal ending to a big holiday meal. And, no orange!

Fig and Orange Sweet Buns

Soft, fluffy, lightly sweet buns studded with dried figs and candied orange peel – the ideal accompaniment to a steaming mug of coffee.

A woman holds a basket of Sweet Buns

Is there any better partner to a steamy mug of coffee than a warm, yeasty, enriched-dough treat like buttery brioche, cinnamon rolls, sticky buns, yeasted coffee cakes, fruit-studded Christmas stollen or panettone? I think not!

And although the process of making enriched dough can be, well…a process, it’s one of my favorite types of baking. You can’t rush yeasted doughs, you can’t cut corners. They need time – time for kneading, time for proofing. They require a lazy afternoon at home tending to your bread. Even if you want to cross things off your to-do list during those hour-long proofs, somehow you’ll find yourself curled up on the couch watching a TV program waiting for your dough baby to “double in size.” And, ahhh, the smell of yeast dough baking in the oven – if home could be captured in a scent, this would be it for me.

The best part? After the kneading, proofing, and baking – nothing beats the satisfaction of popping a home-baked, oven-warmed, roll, bun, or slice in your mouth, accompanied by a freshly-brewed cup of coffee, of course. I had planned on bringing these beauties to the office, but decided to keep them for my weekday morning cuppas instead.


Fig and Orange Sweet Buns

Soft, fluffy, lightly sweet buns studded with dried figs and candied orange peel.


Ingredients

  • ¾ cup whole milk
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground cardamom (optional)
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ cup dried figs, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup candied orange peel, finely chopped
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Decorator or pearl sugar

Directions

  1. In a small saucepan, heat the milk and honey until warm (105⁰ – 110⁰ F). Sprinkle the yeast over the milk and let rest for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, combine flour, salt, and cardamom (if using) in a large bowl.
  2. Add the butter and vanilla to milk mixture (it should be foamy by now) and then stir into the flour to create a shaggy dough. Let dough rest for 15 minutes.
  3. Transfer the dough to your work surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 12 minutes. Pat the dough into a disk, sprinkle with figs and orange peel, and press into dough. Roll the dough up like a sausage encasing the fruit and then lightly knead to distribute the fruit well. Transfer the dough to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and leave to proof in a warm spot until doubled in size, about one hour.
  4. Divide the dough into 8 even pieces, roll into round balls, picking off any fruit on the outside that is exposed, and place each bun on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and proof again until risen, about 45 minutes.
  5. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Brush the buns with beaten egg and liberally sprinkled with decorator sugar. Bake for 17-22 minutes until buns are dark golden brown and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. If you want to add a bit more sweetness, drizzle with confectioners sugar icing.

Holiday Cookie Round-up

Thanksgiving is behind us and Christmas is just around the corner, which in my house means its cookie-baking season. Here’s a round-up of some of my personal favorite cookie recipes that are sure to get you in the holiday spirit. Happy Baking!

Bakewell Biscotti

Bakewell Biscotti
Crunchy Cranberry Almond Biscotti stuffed and baked with cranberry jam and buttery marzipan crème – ummm…yes, please!

Bizcochitos Cookies

Biscochitos
Biscochitos are a regional cookie from New Mexico and are typically served during special celebrations, especially during Christmas with hot chocolate. In 1989, New Mexico made the biscochito its official state cookie. These cookies are a reminder of a quintessential snowy Christmas Eve I spent in Santa Fe bundled up for the beloved annual farolito walk. My most memorable Christmas Eve ever.

Hermit Cookies

Hermit Bars
Chewy bar cookies from New England heavily spiced and chocked full of plump raisins and crunchy walnuts.

Millionaire's Shortbread

Ginger Hazelnut Millionaire Bars
Inspired by one of my favorite recipes for Ginger Crunch Slices, these rich bars combine buttery shortbread, spicy ginger-cardamom caramel, creamy bittersweet ganache and sweet-salty hazelnut “croquant.”

LU Pim's

Jaffa Cakes
Not technically a cookie, these British biscuits are still a holiday favorite of mine. I usually succumb to the packaged variety, called Lu Pim’s in the States. In addition to chocolate and orange being one of my much-loved combinations, it’s a textural thing – the crack of a think dark chocolate coating giving way to a gelatin layer atop a sliver of moist genoise sponge.