THAT'S NOT A SPRAY TAN, THIS IS NAPA!
This past Thursday as Tracy and I were arriving at a hotel for the weekend, we passed a sign saying "Welcome to Bedford Falls". Ah, snow, angels, George Bailey, sand, cactus...The La Quinta Hotel, near Palm Springs, was actually where the screenplay for "It's a Wonderful Life" was written and I doubt it was snowing. The Christmas Song was actually written during a sweltering Los Angeles summer by a profusely sweating Mel Torme. It was only with great imagination that Mel and his writing partner were able to conjure up Jack Frost. So, what does all this mean? Tracy and I may live in the Napa Valley now, but we grew up in Southern California where the average temperature on Christmas day hovers closer to 70 then 32. To us, a white Christmas meant the tree was flocked! Now we live in a land of four seasons: one month of Fall, two months of Winter, two months of Spring and seven months of Summer. Contrary to popular opinion, it does snow in Napa Valley. Not Minnesota snow, but snow that every couple of years floats down and immediately melts because the ground is too warm. You could attempt a snowman, if you were very fast, but it would require a spatula. The difference between Northern and Southern California on Christmas day? I still wear shorts but now I wear a sweater. That's why it's important we hold on to the symbols and tradition of the Holidays even if the reality doesn't really match the archetype. It can be 90 degrees outside and with the use of a few chocolate Polar Bears, Penguins and Igloos anyplace can become the North Pole! So as you scurry along for the next few weeks in the Holiday rush; whether you are wearing snowboots or flip flops remember that Santa will still show up, even on waterskis and we're here to help you with the gifts!
John & Tracy Anderson
FORTIFY YOUR HOT CHOCOLATE!
After telling you about the harshness of a Napa winter, you can understand why Woodhouse Chocolate makes seven different kinds of Hot Chocolate. One does need to keep warm when the thermometer plunges into the 40's and further still when it continues into the 30's and even 20's at night, that's when we break out a little fortification to add to our cup of liquid chocolate. In honor of the Holidays, when most good things can be improved with a wee dram, we tasted through our line of Hot Chocolates to find just the right combination of chocolate and liquor to warm your bones. Now, don't feel that you must add alcohol as all of our Hot Chocolates are delicious on their own, but here are a few ideas:
Madagascar - Add a little Meyer's Rum to bring out the vanilla and add a deep, molasses like character.
Caramel Cappuccino - Kahlua "takes it to the next level!"
Nutmeg - Bulleit Bourbon makes this the perfect egg nog.
Peppermint - All you need is Rumplemintz. Without being overpowering, it is like "drinking Hot Chocolate on a sleigh ride."
Quatre Epices - An addition of Cointreau gives it a spicy "kick", enhancing the clove and creating a Pomander aroma. Pomanders are those oranges covered with cloves you see at Christmas.
So, even if you get tough winters like we do (I'm thinking of you, Miami) it's always time for Hot Chocolate and you have our permission to experiment. If you hit on something wonderful by all means share, we're trying to keep warm too!
FIGGY PUDDING WITH BROWN BUTTER HARD SAUCE
Here at Woodhouse Chocolate we are lucky enough to make chocolate to music. This time of year, we invariably have one day of Christmas Carols (one day is all we can take) and this year, somebody finally asked "what IS figgy pudding?". Having lived for a time in London, I was able to answer that it was a very moist cake made with figs. Then of course, someone else asked "if it's a cake, why do they call it pudding?". Again, having lived in England I had that one too - they call any dessert "pudding" over there. But I had never actually made figgy pudding. Well. ever up to a challenge and after a little research, I came up with this one. The consensus was a big thumbs up for figgy pudding. We DO want figgy and we WON'T go until we get some.
For the Pudding:
1 lb. dried figs, chopped (I used Calmyrna golden figs)
1 cup boiling water
1 cup salted butter
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
finely grated rind from 1 orange
4 ozs. dark chocolate, chopped
4 ozs, toasted walnut pieces (optional)
4 ozs. diced candied ginger (also optional)
butter for greasing pans
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter two 6-cavity mini bundt cake pans (a total of 12 mini cakes). Put the figs in a small mixing bowl and cover with the boiling water. Let sit about 30 minutes. After soaking, put the figs and whatever water is left in a food processor and puree. It does not need to be smooth, a few figgy chunks are fine. In a larger mixing bowl, preferably a kitchen-aid type mixer, whip together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until smooth in between. Add the fig puree and the orange rind. Mix until smooth. In a small mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Add to the fig mixture and mix until combined thoroughly. Stir in the chocolate, walnuts and ginger if you have decided to go there. Divide the batter evenly between the buttered cake pans. Put in the oven and bake. Start checking them after 45 minutes - they should test like any other cake - firm to the touch on top and a toothpick should come out relatively clean (I don't know why they say "clean" for that test - it is never without a little moist crumb clinging to the toothpick- unless you have overbaked it). Let cool about 10 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack. Okay, we're not done yet.
For the Brandy Syrup:
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup brandy
In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and water. Put a lid on it and heat to a simmer. Simmer until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is clear. OR, if you are impatient like I, put the water and sugar in a 2 cup Pyrex measuring cup, and microwave it about 3 minutes, stirring after the first two minutes. In any case, you want the mixture to end up in this 2 cup measuring cup. Add the brandy and stir to combine. Now, this is what I do, but you can make it work however you wish - when the brandy syrup is cool enough for you to stick your hands in it (that sounds wrong, but just go with it) don some latex gloves, pick up a warm cake and submerge it in the syrup. Place on a wire cooling rack over some parchment, foil, or plastic wrap, it doesn't matter, you just won't want syrup all over your counter. Repeat with each cake, then go back and do it again for the double dip. Let cool.
For the Hard Sauce:
1/2 cup salted butter
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 Tablespoons brandy
Put the butter in a small saucepan. Melt over low heat and keep going at a low simmer until the solids have turned a nice nutty brown. Put in a small bowl and let come to room temperature, stirring occasionally to incorporate the solids evenly. When the brown butter is cool and softly solidified, put it and the remaining ingredients in the bowl of a mixer and whip until light and fluffy. Serve alongside the puddings, or if you are really zippy, pipe some on top. Happy Holidays to you!