In our home, half-bottles of leftover wine tend to suffer an ignoble fate. All too often, the last glass or two is forgotten once the movie ends and the dinner dishes are cleared away. The wine is left to languish on the table, forgotten among the weekday jumble of keys and junk mail. On Wednesday or Thursday, when the sudden rush to clean hits, one of us will grab it and tilt it towards the light to count a half-dozen or so fruit flies floating in a boozy grave. Useful, perhaps, but a bit sad considering the cost. Fly paper, after all, costs much less than a DOCG.
This week I decided to do something about it. I toyed around with the idea of homemade vinegar, but what I really wanted was something a little sweet and just a touch more indulgent. I was thinking about those lovely looking individual Vin Santo cakes I'd seen in Gourmet earlier this year. Suddenly I became obsessed with the idea of wine cake. I did a quick search online for other wine cake recipes, but all I found were several "semi-homemade" versions of doctored-up cake mix that were definitely not what I was looking for.
So I just went for it, using the Gourmet recipe as a rough guide, I increased the sugar to make up for the missing syrupy sweetness of Vin Santo (incredible, by the way, if you haven't tried it. It was a staple at every dinner table when I lived in Florence.) I also added a touch of orange flower water, scraped in a vanilla bean, and covered the top with a generous sprinkle of turbinado sugar and sliced almonds. In the oven, the topping toasted and caramelized into a crisp shell that gave way to a delicate wine-scented inside. Leftover wine, in case you're wondering, makes for an incredibly moist cake. It's sophisticated and adult, without tasting boozy. And I guarantee that you'll be able to throw it together and get it on the table in just a little over an hour and a half. (You don't even need to tell your guests that you've served them leftover wine!)
Oh and about that wine, the rule of thumb when it comes to cooking with wine is "if it's good enough to drink, it's good enough to cook with." Except that I confess I liked this wine much better in my cake than in my glass. I actually think this cake lends itself well to those wines that are maybe just a little too cloying to enjoy as a beverage.
**By the way (and this has nothing to do with the recipe), I just finished typing up a Recipe Index that collects and categorizes all the recipes available on this blog in one handy-dandy page. I hope you'll find it useful if you're looking for any specific recipes (or just want to explore ones that you may have missed!).
Chardonnay Cake with an Almond Sugar Crust
Inspired by a recipe in Gourmet Magazine, January 2009
You can use any leftover white wine to make this cake, although ones with slightly sweet or fruity notes will likely work best. If your wine is very sweet, be sure to adjust the sugar accordingly.
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
1 stick of unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated white sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 tablespoons grated orange zest
1 teaspoon orange flower water (optional)
1 vanilla bean split in half or 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup Chardonnay
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar ("Sugar in the Raw")
1/3 cup sliced almonds
Equipment: One 9" springform pan
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour your springform pan and set aside.
Sift together your flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
In the base of your electric mixer, beat the softened butter with the 3/4 cup of granulated white sugar until light and really fluffy (about 2 minutes). Add the eggs 1 at a time, beating each well until incorporated. Whisk in the orange zest, orange flower water, and scrape in the vanilla seeds from the inside of the vanilla bean (or add your extract).
Add the flour mixture in two steps, alternating with the wine, and mixing only until both are incorporated
Pour the batter into the prepared springform pan and use a spatula to smooth out the top. Sprinkle the top with the turbinado sugar, making sure to cover the whole cake. Then sprinkle the sliced almonds over the sugar crystals making sure they cover it completely and evenly.
Bake in the oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the top turns golden and puffs slightly. A cake tester inserted in the center should come out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool in the springform pan for 10 minutes before removing the sides and sliding the cake onto a dish. Let cool completely before serving.