Kristy Wenz is a writer, entrepreneur, wine lover, experimental home cook and avid traveler. She blogs regularly at Eat Play Love, where she and her family explore cuisines and cultures around the globe.
The holiday season is upon us. It’s a celebrated time for traditions and cultures, as varied as they may be, around the world. Whether ice skating at the Christkindlmarkt in Speyer, Germany, taking in the wonder of Niagara Falls and the three million lights at the Winter Festival of Lights in Ontario, or watching the cherry ball drop on New Year’s Eve in downtown Traverse City, Michigan, you might also find yourself toasting the season among friends or family with a glass of local ice wine – at least you should! And no matter your culture, location or celebration, the holidays will no doubt bring an abundance of food from savory hors d'oeuvres to sweet desserts. Perhaps you’ll want to try a Michigan-grown roasted chestnut, or a German weihnachtsgans (roast goose), or even a traditional Canadian Christmas cake, either way, may I suggest a glass of ice wine to complement the dish.
Ice wine, often known as a dessert in a glass, is typically thought to be best matched with desserts. However, the balance of sweetness and acidity found in high-quality ice wines actually makes them a beautiful accompaniment to a variety of dishes. Salty foods? The sweetness of the ice wine will soften the saltiness of the food and cleanse the palate between bites. Spicy cuisine? The cool, crisp qualities of ice wine will soften the spicy heat. Fruity dishes and desserts? The fruit flavors and sweetness of the ice wine will enhance the flavors of the dish, provided the wine is sweeter than the food. Cheese? The flavor and texture pair magically with a strong or sharp cheese. The sheer versatility of ice wine will surprise and delight.
Hors d'oeuvres or Dessert?
In honor of this month’s featured wine and the holiday party season, we’re preparing a dish featuring a tangy ice wine reduction, which can be served as an hors d'oeuvre or dessert, and of course pairs elegantly with a Vidal or Riesling ice wine. Our recommended dish? A Nutty Pear & Brie Beggar’s Purse with a Vidal Ice Wine Reduction. Now, before you run scared from the fancy title, take a deep breath and read on. It’s a simple recipe, yet one that will dazzle guests with its gourmet presentation and seasonal flavors. And the best part, it will come together quickly!
Ice Wine Reduction
While you’re thawing the puff pastry (typically by leaving the pastry to sit at room temperature for 45 minutes), begin the reduction sauce. A reduction thickens a liquid and intensifies its flavor by boiling or simmering. In this case we’re using our ice wine. Before you empty the bottle of ice wine into a sauce pan, reserve a quarter cup for later. Use the remainder of the bottle for the reduction. To reduce the ice wine to a syrupy consistency, first bring it to a boil over a medium heat and then reduce it to a simmer. Stir often and take care not to burn the wine. Within about 20-25 minutes, the ice wine will be thicker, darker in color and have reduced by half. Pour the reduction from the pan into a bowl or bottle and set it in the fridge to cool.
Assembling the Purse
Now you’re ready to tackle the beggars’ purses. A beggar’s purse is dough that has been wrapped around a filling in the shape of a beggar’s purse or hobo’s knapsack. Depending on the filling, you can use puff pastry, as we do in this recipe, phyllo dough or even wonton wrappers to create your purses. Knowing we’d be working with a Vidal ice wine for our reduction, we chose to use a filling of pear and walnuts with butter, brown sugar and fresh orange juice. And for good measure we also tossed in that ¼ cup of ice wine previously set aside to enhance the pear and orange flavors of the filling. Once caramelized, this mixture is then placed on a small rectangle of puff pastry, topped with a slice of brie, shaped into the beggar’s purse and brushed with melted butter.
Baking and Serving
The beggars’ purses are baked until golden brown at 400 degrees Fahrenheit. The dough will turn flaky and puff around the filling, while the brie melts over the sugary pears and walnuts. After you’ve removed the beggars’ purses from the oven, let cool slightly and serve warm. If not serving immediately, cool, cover and refrigerate, but make sure to reheat them before serving. Most importantly of all, drizzle that beautiful amber colored ice wine reduction over the purses just before serving. You can also sprinkle them with raw sugar for a little festive sparkle.
The ice wine reduction lends a tangy and intense contrast to the sweet and salty filling, and the pastry provides a crisp outer bite to the creamy, warm and crunchy filling. Whether served as an hors d'oeuvre at a cocktail party, or dessert following dinner, these beggars’ purses are a beautiful match to a glass of ice wine. The sweetness from the caramelized filling won’t overpower the wine, but rather the wine will help to intensify the natural fruit flavors of the filling. The acidity of the wine also prepares the mouth for the next salty bite of the pastry. It’s a magical combination that’s sure to garner compliments from your guests, family and friends.
Happy holidays! May your season be full of joy, love, family and friends; your plates full of delicious seasonal flavors; and your glasses full of a festive ice wine. Cheers!
Nutty Pear & Brie Beggars Purses with a Vidal Blanc Ice Wine Reduction
Recipe makes 16 purses.
1 bottle of Vidal Blanc ice wine
4 T butter, divided
1 c walnuts, roughly chopped
3 pears, peeled and diced
1 c brown sugar
2 oranges, divided
2 T cornstarch
1 package puff pastry, thawed
Egg wash (1 egg with 1 T of water)
½ wheel of brie, cut into 16 slices
¼ c raw sugar for garnish
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit
Pour ¼ c ice wine into a bowl and set aside. Pour the remainder of the bottle into a medium sauce pan. Bring the wine to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer. Simmer the wine, stirring occasionally, until wine is reduced to desired thickness, approximately 20-30 minutes. Pour into a glass bowl or bottle and reserve in the refrigerator.
Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the crushed walnuts and toss to coat. After one to two minutes of toasting the walnuts, add the diced pears and additional tablespoon of butter.
Cook the walnuts and pears for about three minutes, or until pears are softened.
Next add the brown sugar and ¼ cup of reserved ice wine to the skillet and cook another five minutes to seven minutes.
In a small bowl combine the juice of one and a half oranges with 2 tablespoons of cornstarch. Slowly add the juice to the pear mixture in the skillet. Stir to incorporate. Once sauce thickens remove skillet from the heat and set aside.
On a lightly floured surface, roll the first sheet of puff pastry into an 8-inch by 16-inch rectangle. Cut the rectangle into eighths. Brush the surface of each rectangle with the egg wash.
Next place 1 tablespoon of the pear/nut mixture on each rectangle and top with a wedge of brie.
To assemble the purse, gather opposite corners together until the filling is completely enclosed. Give the dough a twist at the top to seal, and place it on a parchment lined baking sheet. Repeat process with second sheet of puff pastry.
Melt remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and brush over each purse. Bake the purses for 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown.
Remove from the oven, sprinkle with raw sugar, drizzle with the ice wine reduction and serve garnished with the remaining orange cut into slices.