Vanilla Cake and Wine

Happy July! I hope you had a great Independence Day and that you’re ready for a new month of desserts and wine! This month, we’re going to talk about one of the most versatile desserts I know: vanilla cake (and cupcakes). This classic dessert is an important part of any baker’s repertoire because, while it’s great on its own, it can be turned into different flavors and combined with different fillings and frostings to become something entirely different. If you can successfully make a vanilla cake you can make hundreds, if not thousands of desserts.

Here are just a few ways you can transform vanilla cake:

  1. Add fruit juice or extract to the cake to change the flavor
  2. Add a filling to the cake, like jam, whipped cream, fruit, cookie dough, or ganache
  3. Add fruit juice or extract to the frosting to change the flavor
  4. Do 2 of these options at the same time (or all 3) to come up with something completely different

A few of my favorite combinations that all start with vanilla cake and vanilla frosting are lemon cake with raspberry filling and lemon frosting, vanilla cake with strawberry filling and vanilla frosting, and vanilla cake with cookies n’ cream frosting. To create these, you seriously only add one additional ingredient to the cake batter or frosting and turn it into something special. And you only need one recipe

Another wonderful thing about vanilla cake is that it pairs really well with wine! I absolutely love vanilla cake and vanilla frosting with Vermentino. Vermentino is similar to sauvignon blanc in terms of body and taste- light and refreshing with a mild citrus flavor. With the cake, the citrus and vanilla combine to produce a mellow, lightly sweet combination that is very smooth and pleasing. I hadn’t had Vermentino previously but it will definitely be part of my regular stock in the future, especially with vanilla desserts.

You can also try an off-dry white with citrus and vanilla flavors. I don’t recommend anything too heavy, like a dessert wine, because the body of the wine is going to overwhelm the delicate flavor and texture of the cake. A nice, light wine is a good option to match the vanilla cake. I had a Lobo e Falcao white wine with vanilla cupcakes and it was a really good combination. It was a touch more tart than the Vermentino, which was fun.

If you opt to change up the flavor of the cake or frosting or add a filling, you may need to change up the wine. The Vermentino and white blend are both nice and versatile so they might work, but it all depends on the flavors you choose. I am a big fan of sauvignon blanc or white Bordeaux with lemon or lime cake, or even an orange one. If you add a chocolate ganache, try a light red, since the ganache makes the cake a little more substantial.

Stay tuned next week for the best boxed cake mixes for those times you just don’t feel like measuring a lot. After that, we’ll have a round-up of fillings to change up the flavor and texture of your cakes and cupcakes. At the end of the month, I’ll show you how to turn one frosting recipe into five different flavors.

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Crazy for Cookies and Cab

I’m so excited for this post because I’ve been doing a lot of work behind the scenes that I finally get to share with you! The Sugar Vine is 9 months old this month and it has been an awesome ride so far. My goal with this blog is to share delicious, approachable recipes and wine pairings with you. I am going to continue to do that, but in a slightly different way. In order to really help you up your wine and dessert game, each month I am going to focus on one type of dessert. Yes, one. Why? We are going to dig into it and find the best places to buy it around Houston, talk about what kind of mixes and pre-made doughs are worth your money, and find the best recipes. We’re also going to find the absolute best wine pairing for that dessert. By the end of each month, I want you to feel totally ready to tackle the featured dessert and pair it with the perfect wine, whether it’s the one I recommend or one you pick out yourself. And please, share your pairings! I love hearing about the wines you love, desserts you make, and pairings you discover!

Now, let’s get started with our first monthly theme. This month, we’re covering chocolate chip cookies. They’re a delicious classic that you can’t go wrong eating during a quiet night on the couch or taking to a summer picnic. You can make the classic Nestle Tollhouse semi-sweet cookie, or you can go wild changing up the chocolate chips, adding frosting, or turning them into cakes. What other dessert gives you that many options with the exact same base?!

It’s also surprisingly easy to find wine pairing ideas online. With many desserts, there is a dearth of information on the internet, so you kind of have to fly blind when coming up with ideas. However, chocolate chip cookies are so fantastic there are a lot of people who have jumped on the wine and dessert pairing bandwagon. And that is so exciting! The three most common options I found online were cabernet sauvignon, syrah, and pinot noir. With so many people recommending these options, what could I do except try them out for you?

I didn’t love the syrah because I felt like the flavors in the wine were competing with the chocolate chip cookies. Pairings should enhance or complement each other, not compete, so I personally don’t recommend this option. The pinot noir, on the other hand, wasn’t bad. The cookies I used for the tasting had dark chocolate chips, and I felt like the wine mellowed the dark chocolate a good bit. They almost tasted like traditional semi-sweet cookies, so it definitely wasn’t a bad pairing. My favorite was the cabernet sauvignon. With both the dough (not that I would ever eat raw cookie dough) and the cookies, the pepper in the wine was really accentuated. I actually hadn’t noticed it that much until I tried it with the cookie. There wasn’t any underlying harshness, just good ol’ fashioned chocolate chip cookie and a nice, peppery cab.

What’s your favorite way to enjoy your chocolate chip cookies?

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Easter Candy and Wine- The Perfect Pairings

Easter is right around the corner and the store shelves are stocked full of candy. Chocolate bunnies, cream filled eggs, jelly beans, and marshmallow chicks are EVERYWHERE. There is something about Easter candy that makes it taste better than candy at any other time of year. I don’t know if it has something to do with the pastel dye used on the candy corn, or the chocolate to peanut butter ratio on the Reese’s eggs, but everything is just oh, so amazing, and it has been since I was a little kid. I remember how exciting it always was to wake up in the morning and find an Easter basket on the table filled with sugary treats.

Adults don’t have to miss out on the magic of Easter just because they don’t get baskets from the Easter bunny anymore. They get to enjoy Easter in a whole different way because they get to have wine with their candy. Yes, I said it. Wine and Easter candy is one of the many wonderful things about being an adult.

Here are my picks for the best pairings this Easter:

Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs

Easter could be the only time Reese’s had candy on the shelves and I would personally ensure they stay in business. The thin coating of chocolate over the peanut butter creates the perfect ratio of peanut butter to chocolate. The big eggs are the best but the small ones work, too. The eggs are really GOOD with pinot noir and merlot. The peanut butter helps mellow out both wines so they’re nice and smooth without being harsh or bitter on your tongue.

Jelly beans

The jelly bean pairings really surprised me. The rosé and jelly bean combination was almost fizzy with a really sweet, fruity flavor. Equally surprising was that the sangiovese didn’t overwhelm the fruity flavor of the jelly beans and tasted really good with the candy.

Chocolate Bunny

I never used to eat the chocolate bunny in my Easter basket. Every year, one was right in the center of my basket waiting for me but I couldn’t eat it. I didn’t want to hurt the bunny. I didn’t have a problem with eggs, cookies n’ cream bunnies, or anything else; but for some reason the hollow chocolate rabbits were too real to me. I understand now that the bunny won’t hurt if I take a bite out of its head, so I happily eat any chocolate rabbits sent my way. The milk chocolate ones pair really well with both rosé and pinot noir. They’re both smooth and easy to drink with the chocolate.

Cadbury Crème

I personally prefer Cadbury caramel eggs to crème in the Cadbury eggs, but the crème is pretty good when you pair it with zinfandel or rose. They’re smooth and creamy without any harshness.

Peeps

Marshmallow peeps are probably THE guilty pleasure of Easter. Everyone claims to hate them but they appear in more forms every Easter, so obviously someone is buying them. If you’re going to eat Peeps, try them with a viognier, which gives them a nice fruitiness in the back of your throat or with a table white that is just a tad on the sweet side. The peeps will make it nice and sugary without bitterness.

If none of these options float your boat, try moscato with everything. I could not find a candy that didn’t work well with it. The wine was sweet and smooth with everything.

Do you love Easter candy as much as I do? What’s your favorite and what wine do you recommend with it?

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A Fresh and Fruity Berry Crisp and a Bright, Sweet Moscato

I don’t understand people who don’t like fruit desserts. One of my sisters doesn’t like them and I think something’s wrong with her taste buds (sorry sis!). Fruit desserts have everything you could possibly want- taste, texture, versatility. The fruit is sweet but can have a little tartness depending on what kind you use and how much sugar you add. You have texture from the crust and topping. They’re good either hot or cold. You can even add extras like ice cream or chocolate sauce and it tastes amazing. Plus, they pair wonderfully with wine! Fruit desserts are amazing!

One of my favorites is the fruit crisp from the Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Baking cookbook. I mentioned this book before as a great resource and this recipe doesn’t disappoint. They have 3 options for the crisp- the main one is strawberry rhubarb and the other two are apple or pear and mixed berry. I love that it’s such a versatile recipe and can be made at any time of year. Since rhubarb isn’t available in the grocery store right now, I opted to make a mixed berry crisp using frozen berries. Frozen berries can be a great substitute for fresh if the fruit you want to use isn’t in season. Just make sure to get the kind with no sugar added or it will throw off your recipe. You also need to account for the extra water you’ll have when the berries thaw. You can either do this by lightly coating the berries in flour or by letting them thaw and then draining off some of the juice.

To make the crisp, just assemble your ingredients….

Mix the berries with sugar and cinnamon and pile them in your baking dish….

Then mix up the topping with melted butter, sugar (white and brown), oatmeal, flour, cinnamon, and a smidge of salt and put it in a layer on top of the fruit….

Side note: I love the topping, so I usually make 1.5 to 2 times the recipe. In this case, I doubled it but didn’t use all of it. In a 13×9 pan I can use a full doubled topping.

And bake until it’s golden brown.

Seriously easy, right? As long as you don’t burn it, it’s virtually guaranteed to be delicious! I love how the crisp is both sweet and tart with just a hint cinnamon to spice it up. The topping has a wonderful crunch that balances the softness of the berries for a really pleasing texture.

Like I said earlier, fruit desserts are fantastic with wine. The fruit in the crisp helps enhance the fruit flavors in the wine. The key here is to find a wine with similar flavors to the fruit you used but that won’t taste sour with the sweet topping. If I had done an apple crisp I might have paired the dessert with a chardonnay or a Riesling. With a cherry crisp, I might have cut back a little on the sugar and paired it with a gamay or Sangiovese. So what wine wins with the mixed berry crisp?

The Abbazia Moscato Dolce, a 93 point gold medal in 2016 Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition!!!!!

This Moscato made my taste buds sing when paired with the crisp! It’s a sweet, floral wine with just a touch of sparkle that draws out the fruit and sweetness of the dessert in a burst of flavor. I knew after just one sip that I didn’t need to try anything else because this was the perfect pairing. It’s absolutely irresistible!

Have you tried making a crisp before? Let me know what kind, if you loved it, and what wine you think would pair with it!

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How to Host THE BEST Wine Tasting Party

What is the absolute best party to have if you want to get old and new friends together, encourage them to mingle, and ensure they have a great time? Wine tasting. There is something about wine tasting that just naturally generates conversation. Everyone wants to talk about what they’re tasting, if they like it, and tell stories about other wines they’ve tried. Even if you somehow end up with terrible wine, everyone has a great time talking about it! Another wonderful thing about this type of party is that it can be as complicated, formal, simple, or informal as you want. The key is to think about the vibe of the party you want to have and who you’re inviting.

Wine tasting parties generally fall into 3 categories- a formal pairing, a blind tasting, or an informal event where you have lots of wine and food and everyone can mix and mingle as they choose. A formal pairing is where food and wine is chosen so as to create a pleasing experience on the palate. You want pairings with flavors and textures that will enhance or balance each other. A way to make this fun is to provide a tasting menu to guests with the different flavors they will note in the wine and what aspects of the wine the food was chosen to enhance or balance. You can also provide this on tasting cards next to the pairings if you want your guests moving around.

A blind tasting is one where you have all the wine labels covered and guests have to figure out which wine varietal they are drinking. If you have very experienced tasters, you can have them do this completely unassisted, but if you have less experienced tasters you may want to provide notes on how to taste (swirl, sniff, sip) and which varietals they have to choose from. You may even include some notes on the characteristics of each.

Finally, an informal wine tasting is one where you set out wines, foods, and desserts and let your guests decide what to eat and drink. This is great for a more casual setting where you want guests to mix and mingle with minimal structure.

A friend of mine is hosting a wine tasting in a couple weeks that is actually a combination of these and I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. First, she’s going to have a blind tasting of some of her favorite wines to see if her guests can choose the correct varietal, with a prize for whoever gets the most correct. Then she’s going to have a more informal set up where foods and wines are generally paired together (reds with a few food options in one area, whites in another) but the guests will be able to choose what to eat and drink together. This is a great way to provide some structure to your guests but still allow the party to flow in a relaxed manner.

One decision you need to make is if you are going to provide all of the food and wine or if you want to make it a potluck. Again, you have a lot of options here. If you provide everything, it gives you more control over the pairings and makes set up a little easier for a blind tasting because you won’t be trying to cover wine labels while your guests arrive. If you opt for a potluck style, either you can provide the wine and have your guests bring food, or you can have your guests bring their favorite food and wine pairing. Both of these are fun ways to let your guests participate a little more and showcase a favorite recipe or bottle of wine. Any of these options allows you to focus on a theme if you choose- wines from a specific country or region, a particular grape from different countries, or an around the world style with each wine from a different place. Just make sure to let your guests know your theme so they can get excited about the theme.

To help generate conversation, you may want to consider having a game or competition for the guests. You can offer a prize (or bragging rights) to the guest who gets the most varietals correct in a blind tasting, you can see if they can tell the difference between more or less expensive wines, rank the wines from best to worst on a scorecard, or even guess the number of corks in a bowl. The options are really endless.

Here are a few resources for party planning supplies in case you need anything to make your party a huge success (Full disclosure: If you click on a link in this section of items I love and make a purchase, I may receive a commission):

Wine Delivery-

Drizly- If you live in one of their service areas and don’t have time to pick up your wine, Drizly can deliver it to you. While there is something special about browsing for the perfect wine, let’s face it- that isn’t always practical.

Wine Insiders- I’m a big fan of the wines I’ve received from Wine Insiders and love that I only receive wine when I place an order, rather than getting a case every few months whether I need it or not. They do have wine clubs but you’re not required to join one to get the benefits.

Wine glasses- You definitely need to have plenty of glasses for your guests. Amazon has a ton of options for wine glasses. I really like this set from Libbey because it’s so versatile. If you’re not doing a really technical tasting, a standard glass is perfectly fine instead of a specific style for each wine.

Games- Amazon also has a ton of kits to help you put together a blind tasting and to learn more about wine tasting. I love this set because it has everything you need for a blind tasting.

Desserts- Send me a message and I will help you put together a great selection of desserts for your party! If you’re in the Houston area I can either walk you through making the desserts or make them for you. If you’re not, I can put together the perfect menu for your party!

No matter which option you choose, a wine tasting is a great way to have fun and try some new wines. Who knows? Maybe you’ll find your new favorite!

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Texas Sheet Cake and Texas Wine- The Perfect Pairing for Texas Independence Day

March 2nd is a big day for Texas residents, because it’s the anniversary of the day the Texas Declaration of Independence was adopted in 1836. Seven weeks later, Texas won the war for independence from Mexico and became a country. While Texas independence only lasted 9 years before they joined the United States of America, the legacy had a lasting impact on Texas residents. We’re proud of our heritage and our independent spirits. We’re also proud of our food- brisket, chili, giant steak, cobbler, pecan pie, Blue Bell ice cream, and the quintessential Texas dessert- Texas sheet cake.

Texas sheet cake is a large, thin, moist, chocolate cake with chocolate icing. No one seems to know where it came from or how it got its name, but one thing is for sure- almost everyone adores this cake. There are probably hundreds of different versions of the cake- some use buttermilk, others use sour cream, and still others have coconut and pecan in the icing or cinnamon in the cake. With all these options, how can someone choose just one to make? Fortunately, I have access to a fantastic recipe, courtesy of Texas Tables, a cookbook from the Junior League of the Woodlands. I knew going with this recipe was a safe bet because I’ve had many things, both sweet and savory, from the cookbook and everything has been delicious.

This recipe is incredibly easy to make with a big flavor punch. You don’t even have to pull out your hand mixer if you don’t want to, although it will make life a little easier. So how do you make this awesome cake? First, you mix together the dry ingredients, buttermilk, and eggs.

Next, you stir in the melted chocolate oil, and margarine. Make sure you’re careful here. If you rush, you’ll splash the hot, melted mixture out of the bowl and burn yourself. No one wants that, so stir slowly. It’ll take a minute to get it all together, but the wait will be worth not having a scar.

Once the cake cooks and cools for a few minutes, you pour another melted chocolate and margarine mixture over powdered sugar and stir until it is completely combined. Take your time again here- you want the powdered sugar to completely dissolve into the chocolate. If it’s not, you’ll have tiny balls of powdered sugar all over your cake. It doesn’t taste bad, but it’s not the prettiest thing in the world. It would also help to sift your powdered sugar really well to help encourage it to dissolve easily. The last step is to let the icing set in the refrigerator and then cut yourself a nice, big piece!

Now what would an independence day celebration be without wine? Fortunately, I have 3 great Texas wines that pair really well with this cake. The cinnamon in the cake cuts the sweetness a little, so it’s a pretty versatile cake, and the chocolate draws out the fruit flavors in the wine for a really pleasing combination. My top picks are all pretty different, so there’s really something for everyone.

Pinot Noir- Bent Oak Winery
It’s a Zin!- Peach Creek Vineyards
Heritage from Windy Winery

Enjoy!

Need your own copy of Texas Tables? You can purchase one directly from the Junior League of the Woodlands: https://www.jlthewoodlands.org/texas_tables/. You can also send me a message and I’ll make sure you get to the right place. Not only is Texas Tables a beautiful book with fantastic recipes, proceeds from the sale of the books goes directly toward supporting many important community programs in The Woodlands and north Houston area.

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