Thursday, February 7, 2013

My Favorite Things: Warm Woolen Mittens

So this is apparently Theme Week here at Feu de Vie, as well as "Get Yer Hot Drinks While It's Still Cold Because Punxsutawney Phil Said Spring's Coming" Week. So, to start, we have February's entry in the My Favorite Things project.

But first a little elaboration on the My Favorite Things project, since it first sprung up in the middle of a MxMo post. Already the project is growing well beyond its original scope. I had a specific collection of soft, feminine ingredients that I was noodling to use in subtle different combinations, but with the introduction of a naming scheme the ideas are expanding to best serve the names. Still, being "My Favorite Things", if I can I'm going to work in ingredients that I especially love.

My aim is to do one MVT recipe a month, ending with two in December. Having so many other recipes I want to do in the coming months, it made sense to space this series out and offer some intrigue as to what's next over the course of a year. In addition, most of the names suggest a variety of seasons, so fitting each to a month adds some fun.

February's Warm Woolen Mittens includes the use of the best hazelnut coffee I've ever had (granted, I'm sure every area has at least one stellar hazelnut coffee, but if you're ever in the Philly area look up The Head Nut, a mixological odds 'n' ends paradise). Also, it affords me the opportunity to play with technique, which seems to be a thing of mine just as much as ingredients, or so it dawned on me with this recipe.

Warm Woolen Mittens
1.5 oz Swiss milk chocolate, finely chopped
3/4 cup milk
3/4 tablespoon ground hazelnut coffee
1 teaspoon ground anise seed
1 oz wheated bourbon
powdered sugar and peppermint liqueur for rim garnish
1. Optional garnish. Pour separately a few drops of white crème de menthe or peppermint schnapps and a small amount of sifted powdered/confectioner's sugar on a plate or plates. Lightly run the rim of your serving mug or Irish coffee glass through the liqueur then the sugar, and set aside. The purpose of this is to add a little sensory context -- what the mittens are warming against -- while flavoring the drink as marginally as possible.

2. Brew the coffee. Gently bring the milk to a simmer, either on the stove or in the microwave. If using a French press, add the coffee and anise to the press followed by the milk; stir and press down slightly to brew for 5-10 minutes. If not using a French press, add the coffee and anise to your warmed milk, stir, and cover for 10 minutes to steep. Once steeped, strain from the press or through cheesecloth to a pot on the stove.
3. Add the chocolate. Gently bring the milk-coffee to a simmer in a small pot on the stove, stirring to prevent overheating or sticking. Add the finely-chopped chocolate (all the better to melt) and stir constantly until melted and incorporated. I used a third of a 4.4oz bar of Lindt milk chocolate.

4. Stir in the bourbon (I used W.L. Weller Special Reserve), then continue simmering and stirring a minute more to heat and bring it all together.

5. Pour into your serving mug and enjoy!

When thinking of Warm Woolen Mittens, I probably thought first of the brown-grey Yankee Candle I got for my mom for Christmas. But while there's no lily-of-the-valley in this recipe, the color idea and the soft-but-deep mellowness stuck with me. This led to delicate-flavored pale swiss milk chocolate, then complementing flavors anise and hazelnut, and coffee for a mocha quality and whose bitterness well-balanced the sweetness from the other ingredients. For a spirit, easy-going Irish whiskey was an option, but lacked the warmth of a bourbon, so I decided on a gentle un-spicy wheater bourbon; the butteriness of the W.L. Weller line leaped out at me while reading reviews and seemed perfect for this mix - if you can get the 12 Year version at your local store, I imagine that will only add to the overall smoothness of the drink.

All-in-all, a rich, soothing sipper, with hints of all the flavors, but none grabbing the spotlight for themselves. Coziness first.

  • Wow, you want to do a hot chocolate recipe and suddenly you develop a level of expertise thanks to all the research! One thing which becomes evident in reading through the various recipes is the 4 : 1 milk : chocolate ratio in each, so I tried to emulate that here. Using a shot of bourbon in the recipe meant dialing back the ingredients slightly so the final mix would all fit in my 8.5 oz mug, but it still ends up being a generous portion of rich hot chocolate.
  • The milk-brewed coffee is something I can't lay claim to originating - more like shameless theft right down to getting a French press for this one particular recipe - but it's the exact right technique needed. I had started out double-brewing mild coffee with anise seed* for easier cleanup, then adding hazelnut orgeat, but the drink and flavors just didn't come together, literally, probably due to the inclusion of low-on-fat ingredients. Flavoring the milk before melting the chocolate seems to be the best way to build a flavor foundation, and I can only imagine the wild permutations one could do with this in the future.
  • On the coffee itself, the results do depend on the grade of the grind. I did things a little backwards by deciding to get the French press only after I had gotten the coffee ground to regular drip coarseness, so you may want to use a bit more if using the coarser grind especial to French presses. 3/4 T of regular drip grind seems to be the just-right point of balance: 1/2 T is too weak and the hazelnut doesn't come through, 1 T and the coffee's bitterness breaks the drink's mellowness.
*and here's a shout-out to a similar anise-spiced coffee plus a cousin which just happens to be a favorite of mine.