As a way of making summertime lunch or dinner parties a shade simpler, try combining the drink with the dessert.
Hundreds of options are available for using wine to upgrade standard cold dessert dishes of American tables. With fresh fruit now in abundance, combinations of all sorts are available to the home chef.
Contrary to popular use, the potentials of wine in cooking extend far beyond seasoning occasional soups and preparing marinades, and one of the directions it can take is the dessert.
But why wine in desserts, instead of the old standby liqueurs like Grand Marnier, Chambord or Triple Sec to give a hefty tang to a meal's end? My feeling is that as a finishing touch in warm weather, wine flavorings make a better effect than spicy cordials . . . less assertive and more subtle. The aromatics, the herbs of hefty cordials, sometimes can dominate. There's just something heavy about them.
Wine has never been neglected as a dessert seasoning in European cuisines. In Austria it is used to prepare short pastry batter for making deep-fried rolls stuffed with fresh fruit -- the simple street snack called "weintag."
Ever basically simple and often elegant, French cooking goes the whole hog in the dessert department and makes the wine the star. A northern French tradition is winding up the meal with a glass of champagne, escorted by the "biscuit de Rheims," a dense, mildly sweet rectangular cookie made by bakeries in the champagne country that you eat along with the bubbly. In a more general way, watered wine is often a favorite poaching medium in many Euopean cuisines for preparing choice fruits for the dessert treatments. The proportions are usually 2 of wine to 1 or 1 1/2 of water.
If you are lucky enough to have champagne, don't despair if it goes flat on you. Stale champagne is a favorite ingredient in preparing Gallic snacks including desserts. Novices can try out less lofty wines on simple, inexpensive and regularly available ingredients. Here are some options:
Use a tablespoon or two of marsala in your favorite pudding, sweet sauce or chocolate mousse for extra dimension. A little sherry, sweet or dry, say a couple of ounces, can do wonders with desserts involving moistened vanilla wafers, ladyfingers or crushed gingersnaps. Sherry does well in desserts involving peaches or pears.
The pear is ideally poached in dry white wine with a little bit of lemon juice and a little bit of sugar. A tad of madeira, say a teaspoon or two, can add luster to a caramel or butterscotch dessert mix. One quarter of a cup of marsala in your fruit pie filling will do wonders. It's cognac or brandy, a tablespoon or two, in your dessert souffles, hot or cold, for glamour. Fold in as a final step before cooking or freezing.
There's nothing new or trendy about recognizing a wine role in dessert preparation. Wines have played a role in cooking back to the days of the Roman empire and earlier.
Frothy syllabub comes out of the centuries with tradition behind it, too. It was an obligatory offering at receptions and dinners of mid-Victorian years. We know that it graced homes like Nashville's Belmont, the greatest mansion in Tennessee, during the antebellum tenure of Elizabeth Harding. It was a regular, too, in thousands of other houses where, in a pre-air-conditioning age, a cold drink was one of few remedies for lethal American summers.
The following traditional late spring or early summer concoction of the old South can be served in a punch bowl with a flourish, reception-style, to seated or standing dinner guests. It's really better sitting down since punch cups do not hold enough of the frothy stuff to be worthwhile. Liquid items should be thoroughly chilled before beating.
Serves eight to 10.
Mix 2 cups of white wine (sauterne or Moselle preferred) with about 5 tablespoons of grated lemon rind, a cup of sugar and 1/3 cup lemon juice. When sugar is dissolved, add to a blend of 3 cups milk and 2 cups of light cream, then beat until frothy. Beat 4 egg whites with 1/2 cup sugar until stiff. Pour wine mixture into a chilled bowl and top with mounds of egg white. Sprinkle with nutmeg and serve.
Wine and fruit compote
A big, chillable ceramic or glass bowl, or separate smaller bowls, are ideal for this simple, refreshing and winy way of winding up a meal. If you alternate kiwi and single grapes on top with the orange and ivory notes of the oranges and bananas, the effect can be jewel-like.
3 kiwi, chilled and then peeled and sliced
6 large oranges, chilled
2 tablespoons lemon juice
4 medium or three large bananas, chilled
1 pound of seedless grapes, purple preferred, chilled
1 cup of marsala, red vermouth, madeira or malaga wine, or sweet white wine of your choice
18 vanilla wafers, crumbled
1 or 2 --es of Angostura bitters
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon