It's also my favorite time of year to explore beer styles of a richer, maltier nature. One such craft brew style to consider is American Barleywine, especially since winter is the perfect time of year to drink this strong, robust, intense brew.
There are folks who like to say that this beer is "too big" for food. Or at the very least, too overwhelming to embrace a wide culinary range.
But I strongly disagree.
Sure, the flavor profile is extreme, thanks to its high malt content, which has typically been boiled and reduced to a rich essence of caramelized burnt-sugar flavors prior to the brewing process.
But there's also an extreme level of hops, which tempers the sweetness about midway through the tasting experience, so on my palate, everything comes out nicely balanced
Rich and flavorful to be sure, with a high alcohol content in relation to other beers, Barleywines are actually quite food friendly. You just have to know which food!
For example, the most classic pairing with Barleywine is Stilton cheese. It's a lovely match. Two extreme flavors joining forces.
Of course, by following through with the blue cheese concept, you'll land on such simple fare as Buffalo wings, which would bring blue cheese to the party in the form of a tasty dip.
Consider a platter of salami, huntsman cheese (which is layerings of Stilton and Double Gloucester), marinated Kalamata olives and roasted Marcona almonds.
Another absolutely winning combination that I discovered by accident last summer is an American Barleywine and freshly cooked artichokes. It can be a real challenge to find an inspired beverage pairing for those big thistles. But the malty sweetness in the beer latches on to the inherent sweetness in this wonderful orb to produce an amazing caramel sensation.
American Barleywines also go well with a number of sweet offerings, including creme brulee and a nutty-figgy panforte.
You may already be aware of Deschute's Brewery's collaboration with Rogue Ales and North Coast Brewery to produce three interpretations of the barleywine style.
Brewers traveled to each other's locations and teamed up to brew all three ales. Each breweries' Class of '88 Barley Wine Style Ale commemorates the year all three breweries were founded. The ales were released nationwide in March.
Other West Coast breweries producing American Barleywine are Hopwork's Boomstick, Bridgeport's Old Knucklehead, Pike's Old Bawdy, Rogue's XS Old Crustacean, Sierra Nevada's Big Foot, Lagunita's Olde Gnarlywine, and — if you can find it — Ninkasi's Critical Hit.
If you decide to explore American barleywines this winter, here are a few recipes that would heighten the experience.
This first recipe makes a great appetizer alongside a bowl of quick aioli sauce with stone ground mustard (recipe follows).
Bon appetit and cheers!
Whole artichokes simmered with lots of garlic and lemon
4 fresh artichokes
Half of a fresh lemon, sliced
10 fresh cloves of garlic, smashed and coarsely chopped
About 2 teaspoons salt
Quick aioli sauce with stone ground mustard (recipe follows)
Prepare the artichokes by trimming the stems to within ¼-inch of the base. Using a serrated knife, trim about 1-inch from the pointed end of each globe.
Place the artichokes (stem-ends up) in a pot large enough to accommodate all four, but not large enough to allow them to move around. Add enough water to reach about halfway up the sides of the artichokes. Add the lemon slices, garlic, and salt. Bring the water to a boil over high heat, then cover, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook until the stem ends test tender when poked with a sharp knife.
Remove the artichokes from the water. To make extra-sure they are cooked through, you may want to pluck an inner leaf to determine the fleshy portion is tender. Let the artichokes drain well with their stem ends up, then place on a serving platter.
Note: You can cook the artichokes up to 24 hours ahead and refrigerate. Serve cold or warm them slightly in the microwave.
Quick aioli with stone ground mustard
1 tablespoon fresh-squeezed lemon juice
3 medium-sized cloves of garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 cup good quality mayonnaise (I use Best Foods)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon stone ground mustard (I use Inglehoffer Original Stone Ground Mustard; see note)
Place the lemon juice and garlic cloves in a blender jar. Now add the mayonnaise and blend, turning the motor on and off and scraping the sides of the blender jar often, until the mixture is smooth and creamy. With the motor running, add the olive oil a teaspoon at a time, giving the sauce a chance to absorb one addition of the oil before adding the next. You may have to stop the motor and give the sauce a brief stir each time. Scrape the sauce into a small container then stir in the mustard.
The sauce will keep for weeks in the refrigerator (just like commercially made mayonnaise).
Note on stone-ground mustard: Inglehoffer Original Stone Ground Mustard is prepared by Beaverton Foods in Beaverton, Oregon. It's widely distributed, so you shouldn't have a problem finding it where most mustards are sold. It has a rich mustardy-whole grain character that I love. If unavailable, use another brand that describes itself as being a classic whole grain mustard, which means it isn't too sweet or seasoned in an unusual way.
Makes a scant 1¼ cups.
This is an elegant spread, featuring roasted bits of hazelnuts, gently warmed extra-virgin olive oil and coarsely chopped black and nicoise olives.
Add a platter of local grapes, which compliment the blue cheese perfectly, and you will improve the flavor profile 10-fold.
Red onion and blue cheese spread
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup chopped red onion
½ cup chopped roasted and skinned hazelnuts
¼ cup pitted and coarsely chopped kalamata olives
1 large clove garlic, minced
¾ cup crumbled blue cheese
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 French bread baguette, sliced into ¼-inch thick rounds (optional: for extra flavor and crunch, lightly toast the slices)
1 bunch of sweet table grapes
In a small saucepan over medium heat, gently warm the olive oil with the onion, hazelnuts, olives and garlic. Keep the mixture hot but not simmering, and cook until the onions are softened, about 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to warm.
When ready to serve, place the blue cheese in the center of an attractive platter, then pour the warm oil mixture over the cheese. Add freshly ground black pepper to taste.
Arrange the baguette rounds and the grapes along side on a separate platter and serve with the spread.
Makes 8 to 10 servings.
Chock-full of toasty hazelnuts and almonds, luscious dried figs and thick, golden honey, this is a trail treat that pairs fabulously with richer, maltier beers such as barleywine.
And because it's sturdy in nature, it gets high grades in the transportability department too.
You can make several batches so that you'll have it on hand for gifts or to tuck into your backpack for winter hikes and ski trips.
Back country panforte
8 ounces dried black Mission figs (see note below)
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons freshly grated orange peel
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup roasted and skinned hazelnuts
1 cup whole, roasted almonds (see instructions for roasting hazelnuts)
2/3 cup granulated sugar
½ cup honey
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Butter and flour a 10-inch springform pan and set aside. If you don't have a springform pan, line a 10-inch round or square baking pan with heavy-duty foil, then butter and flour the foil. The foil will help you lift the baked panforte from the pan after it's cooled.
Trim the tiny stem end from each dried fig. Slice the figs into very thin pieces (each tiny little dried fig should be cut into at least 6 slender pieces); set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, orange peel, cinnamon, and ground cloves.
Coarsely chop the hazelnuts and almonds. By "coarsely chop" I mean simply cut each nut into 2 or 3 pieces. Naturally, during the chopping some pieces will get even smaller than that, but the idea is to have fairly large chunks of nuts in the finished panforte. Add the nuts and the prepared figs to the flour mixture and toss thoroughly to evenly coat the fruit and nuts; set aside.
Pour the sugar and honey into a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan and stir gently to combine.
Scrape the sides of the pan with a rubber spatula to remove any honey and sugar crystals. Now set the pan over low heat. Without stirring, let the mixture heat up so the sugar can begin to dissolve. Increase the heat to medium and continue cooking without stirring. The syrup will become quite foamy as it boils. Do NOT stir the mixture. Hook a candy thermometer to the side of the pan and continue to let the mixture boil without stirring until the thermometer reaches between 240 and 245 degrees, which is the soft ball stage in candymaking terminology.
Remove the syrup from the heat and immediately stir it into the flour/fruit/nut mixture. The mixture will firm up immediately, but keep stirring to make sure the syrup is evenly distributed throughout. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan. Moisten your fingers with tap water and use them to press the thick-and-sticky mixture evenly into the pan.
Bake in the preheated oven until the mixture puffs slightly and releases a wonderful toasty aroma, about 35 minutes. At this point, the panforte will be soft and sticky when prodded with a dull knife. Remove from oven and let cool on a rack at room temperature. Once the panforte has cooled thoroughly, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and store in a cool, dry place. It will keep for months.
Traditionally, panforte that has been baked in a round pan is cut into wedges. But for backpacking or hiking purposes, I prefer to cut the round into thirds, then cut each third into ½-inch wide bars.
Note on figs: I found mine in the bulk foods section of a natural foods grocery store. Wherever you go, if the black Mission variety isn't available, but another type is, go ahead and substitute.
Makes about 36 1-by-2-inch pieces.
Here's your chance to wow your guests with a little torch work to caramelize the tops of their desserts.
Just remember to sprinkle on the hazelnuts after the torching, or you'll wind up with sprinkles of charcoal.
Jan's creme brulee with caramelized hazelnut topping
3 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup milk
6 large egg yolks
¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Superfine sugar for caramelized topping
½ cup finely chopped roasted and skinned hazelnuts
Combine the cream and milk in a heavy-bottomed medium-sized saucepan. Heat over medium heat until the mixture just barely begins to boil, then remove immediately and set aside.
In a bowl, whisk together the egg yolks with the salt and granulated sugar.
At this point, you'll combine the yolk mixture with the cream. First temper the eggs by whisking a ladle of the hot cream into the eggs. Keep whisking and repeat with 2 or 3 more ladles of hot cream. Now whisk the tempered egg mixture into the hot cream.
Set the pot of custard in a bowl of ice water for about 30 minutes to cool, stirring occasionally. Stir in the vanilla extract.
Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days, if desired.
When ready to bake, pour desired amount of custard into your custard cups. Place the filled cups/ramekins in a baking pan (or 2 pans, depending on how many cups you're using) and fill the pan with enough hot water to reach halfway up the sides of the cups. Place in a 325 degree oven and bake for 35 to 55 minutes, or until the middle of the custards quake just a bit when you move the pan and the custards are not quite set. Remove the cups from the pan and let cool completely. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or up to 24.
When ready to serve (or up to 2 hours ahead if you don't want to do it at the last minute), sprinkle each custard with a tablespoon of superfine sugar and proceed with your torch! As you complete the caramelization of each surface, while it is still molten (do NOT test for this with your fingertip), sprinkle on about 1 tablespoon of the chopped hazelnuts. Bon appetit!
Makes about 5 cups custard, which makes 6 desserts using 8- ounce ramekins, filling each one with about 6½ ounces of custard. You can use smaller or larger ramekins as desired.
Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist, and author of "Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit," and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.
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