Last weekend I got to celebrate the birthday of a good friend from high school. We had a bus pick us up at 10am (you know you're getting old when the party starts so damn early!) to escorted us to Renault Winery in South Jersey. We took part in a wine tasting and tour before heading across the street to dine at Joseph's Restaurant.
I was honored when the birthday girl, Lauren - or Smitty as we call her - asked me to make her cake. When I asked her what she wanted, her response was, "I love purple." Hmmmm.
Since we were headed to a winery, I wanted to incorporate that into the theme, but not in the presentation - a cake with grapes just reminds me of a retirement party, wedding in Napa or an eightieth birthday party. (FYI, Smitty has a loooooong way to go before we celebrate that!) So, I thought it would be fun to incorporate the wine into the flavor of the cake. The biggest problem is that I don't like wine. It's just not something I enjoy. Every now and then I find a dessert wine or late-harvest Riesling that I like, but that's not often. I wasn't about to let that stop me.
I knew I didn't want to flavor the cake itself or use the wine as a soaking syrup. Unless it's a geniose, no thank you. That left the filling. I thought about a red wine ganache, but feared that would be too heavy. I decided to try a red wine buttercream. In order to maintain the consistency that I wanted, I would have to change the property of the wine. Adding straight up liquid to the buttercream would not do me any favors. The most logical solution was to make a jam with the wine as a base. (Side note: I have a new found addiction for canning so this was right up my alley!!) Once the jam was complete - and cooled - I added it to the buttercream and made a test cake, but I wasn't thrilled. It was too fruity and the wine notes were just not coming through. In order to maintain the concentrated flavor, I spread it on the vanilla cake and topped it with a layer of vanilla buttercream. It still fell flat - very one note and blah. I was at a momentary loss, however, when in doubt - add nutella!
I made another batch of vanilla cake, spread a layer of the jam on it and topped it off with a layer of nutella buttercream - GREAT SUCCESS!!
As far as the decorations, I covered the cake with purple fondant and applied hand-painted "sequins" in various shades of purple and silver to create a broken mosaic. Since ombre is in fashion, I figured it would be fun!
Red Wine Jam - adapted from Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving
3 1/4 cups dry red wine (use something you like but keep it cheap!)
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
50 grams fruit pectin
4 1/2 cups sugar.
Prepare six 8-oz jars. (Google how to do this!!)
In a large bowl, carefully whisk together the sugar and pectin, set aside.
In a large, deep stainless steal sauce pan, combine the wine, lemon juice, vanilla pulp and bean. Bring to a simmer and turn off heat. Let steep 30 minutes.
After steeping, remove the bean and bring the wine mixture to a boil over high heat, stirring frequently.
Add the sugar mixture in one addition, stirring constantly.
Allow to come to a full boil, stirring constantly, for two minutes.
Remove from heat.
Skim off foam, if any, and quickly pour into prepared jars leaving 1/4 inch of head space.
Wipe rim, apply center lid and screw band down until fingertip-tight.
Process the jars for 10 minutes in boiling water.
Remove jars, cool, and store in a cool, dark place.