Originally created 06/18/97

Nutty dessert needs sweet wine



Granted, it's not the culinary crisis of the year. But for those lucky few who invest $75 and more for a choice bottle of dessert wine, it is a matter of some concern: What desserts go with dessert wine?

Probably, the best advice is: none.

The problem with pairing sweet wine and sweet food is, well, sweetness. If the dessert is too sweet, it makes the wine taste harsh and discordant.

If you really must serve dessert wine with a dessert, Lindsey Shere, pastry chef at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., says there's one dessert that almost always works:

"I think `blancmange' is perfect with sweet wine. It's not very sweet, and the nuttiness is a flavor that echoes a little bit the flavor of a sauterne."

Actually, though, Ms. Shere would rather talk about cooking with rather than cooking to dessert wines.

"There are combinations that are really wonderful," she says. "Things like sherry with peaches, sherry-flavored ice cream with nectarines."

This recipe comes from Ms. Shere's Chez Panisse Desserts (Random House, 1985). She notes the importance of having a strong kitchen towel, as well as maybe a strong assistant: "It is very demoralizing to have to start squeezing all over again when the nuts break through a weak towel into all the milk you have laboriously produced. The squeezing can be left to a strong assistant who wants to lend a hand."

BLANCMANGE

1/2 pound unblanched almonds (about 2 cups), plus a few bitter almonds if possible

1 cup half and half

1 cup water

1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin

11/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream

1/4 cup sugar

Pinch salt

Few drops almond extract, optional

Sweet almond oil or other flavored oil

Toast almonds in single layer on baking sheet at 375 degrees until they smell nutty, about 6 minutes. Grind very fine in blender or food processor and gradually add half and half and 1/2 cup water to make thick gruel.

Dampen center of very sturdy kitchen towel with cold water and wring out well. Set strainer over mixing bowl and center wet part of towel in strainer. Pour in about 1 cup almond mixture. Twist towel closed over top and squeeze into bowl as much almond milk as possible. Empty dry almond mixture from towel and discard. Repeat process until all almond gruel has been squeezed dry. You should have about 11/8 cups almond milk.

Sprinkle gelatin over remaining 1/2 cup water in small saucepan and let stand 5 minutes. Whip cream in mixing bowl until it holds slight shape when some is dropped from beater.

Warm gelatin mixture over low heat, stirring, until completely dissolved, 3 to 5 minutes. Add sugar and salt and stir until dissolved, about 2 minutes. Stir gelatin-sugar mixture into almond milk and set over ice water bath. Stir constantly with rubber spatula, scraping bottom and sides to keep mixture from jelling there first, until mixture coats spatula thickly. Remove from ice water and immediately and quickly fold almond mixture into whipped cream. Taste and add few drops almond extract if necessary to bring out almond flavor.

Oil 1-quart mold very lightly with almond oil. Pour mixture into mold and chill until completely set, 2 to 3 hours.

To serve, loosen one edge gently with tip of flatware knife, set plate on top of mold and invert. If dessert won't come loose, lift one corner of mold away from plate and loosen edge with knife; blancmange usually slides out then.