Sinfully Decadent Delights and Festive Champagne
There is a much-repeated myth that great sex stops after marriage. Politely speaking, a number of euphemisms come to mind. At worst, “that well dries up” and at best; “dessert turns to the plain vanilla variety.” Big Pharma’s latest goldmine promises to restore the dying embers. Names like Cialis and Viagra flash across the television screen while she wonders ‘why are they in separate bathtubs?” and he; “is there really anything wrong with more than four hours?”
But what did couples use before we had these little bottles of instant spark?
The Much-Maligned “Plain” Vanilla
Let’s set the record straight; there is nothing “plain” about vanilla. The second most expensive spice in the world (number one is saffron), pure vanilla extract was developed by the Aztecs to flavor chocolate. Once so rare that only royalty could afford it, vanilla begins with the Vanilla planifolia orchid. Vanilla comes from the Spanish word vainilla meaning “little sheath,” referring to the pod’s long thin shape.
Once thought of as an aphrodisiac and native only to Central America, it took until the 19th century for botanists to determine how to grow it commercially in other tropical climates. In order to produce the vanilla pod, the orchid must be pollinated by Melipona bees, or a species of hummingbird found only in Central America. And the flower, it seems, is demanding and plays very hard to get. She opens for only a short time – less than a day. And if not pollinated during that short time, the flower falls off from lack of attention.
Cultivating is equally difficult, because the vine doesn’t flower until she stops growing, and she can grow as tall as the tops of the trees in the jungle. Botanists developed the process of hand pollination to capture and harness the orchids’ flavor.
After hand pollination, the flowers develop into long thin green pods or beans that can grow up to 12 inches (30 cm) long. Average length is about 8 inches long. These tasteless and odorless green pods are hand picked when they are still not ripe and then the fermentation process begins. The beans are first plunged into hot water and then the ‘drying’ and ‘sweating’ process starts. The beans are dried in the sun during the day and then wrapped in the blankets at night so they can sweat. This process can last anywhere from 2 to 6 months until the beans become a very dark brown color and develop a white crystalline substance (or frost) on the outside of the bean, called vanillin. – The Joy of Baking
Add vanilla extract to another aphrodisiac of the Aztecs, chocolate, and you can come up with some sinfully dark and decadent aphrodisiacs of your own. These can be perfect for the holiday season or to set off some fireworks for the New Year.
These are easy recipes that start with a basic semi-sweet dark chocolate fudge that you can flavor with a number of different liqueurs!
Dark Chocolate Ancho Chili Tequila Fudge
With this creamy dark and richly decadent fudge that does not taste at all like you’d imagine — you’ll have him (or her) eating out of your hand, literally!
3 cups (18 oz) semi-sweet chocolate baking chips
1 – 14-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk
2 teaspoons Ancho chili paste*
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (NOT Imitation – use the good stuff)
1 teaspoon good Tequila
pinch of salt
1 small sauce pan
1 medium saucepan
Mortar and pestle (optional)
9 x 1.5 inch round baking dish
Ancho chili paste. First you’ll need to make your chili paste. Start with one medium Ancho chili. You can roast your own peppers, if so inclined. I haven’t the patience and we had run out of propane, so a quick stop in the “spices” section of the local grocer had just what I needed. The pepper should be leathery in texture so you can easily remove the seeds.
First using a good sharp knife, make a lengthwise slice in the pepper and roll it out flat. Cut out the stem. Now gently scrape out all of the seeds. Then slice pepper into long thin strips, and then into 1/8 inch pieces. Put pepper pieces into small saucepan and cover with about 1-inch of water. Heat to boiling and then reduce to simmer until pepper is soft. Drain off excess water. Then mash pepper into a paste. I used a mortar and pestle to make sure I still had texture and small pieces. Put to the side to add in later.
Prepare your round pan with a piece of waxed paper that goes above the edges of the pan. Most fudge recipes tell you to use a 9 x 9 inch square pan. This is a denser fudge and I find it’s much easier to slice if you can start with a shorter “edge” and work your way toward the middle.
Combine sweetened condensed milk with chocolate chips into medium saucepan and melt over low heat stirring occasionally with your rubber spatula to avoid burning the chocolate. The rubber (or silicone) spatula won’t scrape your sauce pan, and allows you to feel the texture of the pan to make sure nothing is burning. You’ll know all the chips are melted and the mixture is combined when it develops a glossy sheen. Remove from heat. Now stir in 2 teaspoons of the Ancho chili paste, 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract and 1 teaspoon of Tequila.
Once you put in the liquid the fudge is going to start to set up. Immediately turn the fudge onto your wax papered pan starting in the center and spreading outward. Chill until firm (about 1.5 – 2 hours) Slice and serve!
Three Alternative Flavors
– And for a hint of Irish, replace the vanilla and tequila with Bailey’s Irish Cream, and leave out the Ancho Chili Paste.
Celebrate with Champagne Pol Roger
Champagne pairs with everything and there is nothing better to set the mood for celebration (and fireworks) like bubbles and chocolate. We were treated to four bottles of Champagne Pol Roger as part of this month’s Taste Live! event.
Founded in 1849, Pol Roger is one of only a few Grande Marque Champagne houses still family owned and operated. All grapes vinified at Pol Roger originate from vineyards in Premier or Grand Cru villages in France. Pol Roger is one of the last producers to do hand riddling (turning the bottles during the fermentation process to push sediment to the neck of the bottle). The family prides itself in producing some of the worlds finest Champagne, a favorite of Winston Churchill and the British royal family.
Pol Roger Brut Reserve “White Foil” (NV)
Pol Roger “White Foil” is a traditional blend of equal parts Pinot Noir (33.3%), Pinot Meunier (33.3%) and Chardonnay (33.3%) from vineyards in Montagne de Reims; Vallee de a Marne and Petite Valle d’Epernay; and Cotes de Blancs, respectively. Pale gold in color with very tiny bubbles, it has a toasty aroma and creamy citrus zest on the palate with a balanced dry finish. Available in 375 ml, 750 mil and 1.5L sizes. 750 ml priced at $50.
Pol Roger Pure Brut
This bottle has a distinctive two-color label bisected diagonally. Also a traditional blend that leads with Chardonnay (34%) combined with Pinot Noir (33%) and Pinot Meunier (33%). This Champagne is a bit more golden in color with a lively nose of toasty bread crumbs, yeast and citrus, with hints of cloves and roses. Firm and well-structured in the mouth with notes of honey and cloves on the finish. Plenty of bubbles, this wine was aged for 3 years prior to release. This also pairs well with smoked blue cheese. Retail price for 750ml is $60.
Pol Roger Brut Rose Vintage (2002)
My favorite of the evening, this delicate rose is soft pink in color with characteristic red fruit of strawberry and raspberry. Pleasant notes of toast and dried cereal (a bit of Cheerios) with a crisp powerful mouthfeel and strong finish. This blend leads with Pinot Noir (50%) followed by 35% Chardonnay and 15% Pinot Meunier. Only produced in vintage years, the unblended juice goes through primary fermentation in stainless steel tanks at 43 degrees Fahrenheit. Each variety, village and vineyard are fermented and cellared separately until final blending. Secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle “deep in the cellars of Pol Roger” where it rests until final blending. This is a fabulous pairing with the dark chocolate orange fudge. Priced at $115 (750 ml).
Pol Roger Brut Blanc de Blancs Vintage (1999)
Joe prefers Blanc de Blanc Champagne, and I must admit this one was truly divine – and considered one of the finer 100% Chardonnay Champagnes produced. Sourced from Grand Cru vineyards of Cramant, Les Mesnil, Oger, Avize and Oiry in the Cote des Blancs. The unblended wines are aged entirely in stainless steel tanks, followed by 7 years of bottle aging in Pol Roger cellars prior to release.
Millions of bubbles tickle the nose with crisp and complex aromas of violet, anise and marshmallow with toasty almonds expanding to notes of fine leather and musk. Big, bold and zesty yet creamy in the mouth with citrus notes in a powerful, complex structure.
This was Joe’s favorite of the evening – and he and Charles (our standard TasteLive participant) consumed all that was left while I cleaned up the kitchen mess I made preparing snacks. Don’t be stingy with yourself, this one is priced at $130 for a standard 750 ml bottle.
Experiment with your own favorite flavors and bubbles, and add a little spice to your relationship!