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Exploring Brandy: Brief History and Recipes

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Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.

Snifter of brandy

Snifter of brandy

A Brief History of How Brandy Came to Be

According to the dictionary brandy is:

Noun - a spirit distilled from wine or from the fermented juice of grapes or of apples, peaches, plums, etc.

What a simple explanation for an alcoholic beverage with such a richly complex flavor. How did it begin?

The science of distillation began thousands of years ago (food historians assume it was Mesopotamia, at least 3,000 before the birth of Christ). But why was wine (an alcoholic beverage) further concentrated and distilled? It's all about the money.

Claret is the liquor for boys; port, for men; but he who aspires to be a hero must drink brandy.

— James Boswell “The Life of Samuel Johnson,” 1791

Burnt Wine

In the 16th century, Dutch wine merchants were faced with a challenge—how to transport inexpensive wines from the Bordeaux region of France. The grapes of Cognac produced delightful fresh wine, but the low alcohol content made it unsuitable for long-distance transport. By the time it reached its final destination, it would turn to vinegar.

To solve this problem, merchants used primitive stills to remove some of the water, concentrating the wine. This “burnt wine” (bradewijn) was stored in wooden casks. The theory was that the wine would be reconstituted at the end of the journey. But when the casks were opened, the contents were not wine at all, but a new spirit with a new color, aroma, and taste. Brandy was created.

Desserts

  • Brandied cinnamon apples
  • Tart tatin with brandy caramelized apples
  • Brandied whole cranberry sauce
  • Black forest trifle with brandy
  • Date and ginger sticky toffee pudding with brandy toffee sauce
  • Brandy snaps

Vegetables

  • Crispy coated squash with brandy glaze
  • Spanish potatoes with brandy and garlic
  • Broccolini in pecan brown butter brandy sauce

Meats

  • Mushroom chicken with brandy sauce
  • Steak with creamy peppercorn sauce
  • Pork Chops with Brandied Fig and Cherry Sauce
  • Trout with herbed brandy butter
  • Brandy marinated chicken wings
Brandied cinnamon apples

Brandied cinnamon apples

Brandied Cinnamon Apples

I pondered where to place these cinnamon brandy apples; they make a heavenly dessert (served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream please) but would be just as welcome as a brunch side dish. It's like eating pie filling, sweet with brown sugar and vanilla, warm with nutmeg and cinnamon, and a little zip of brandy liquor.

I have one suggested change—instead of red apples, use Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, or Honeycrisp.

Tart tatin with brandy caramelized apples

Tart tatin with brandy caramelized apples

Tart Tatin With Brandy Caramelized Apple

The original apple tarte tatin was a happy accident, created at the Hotel Tatin in France to cover up a kitchen blunder.

As the story goes, one of the Tatin sisters had planned to bake an apple pie. She sliced apples and began to simmer them in a shallow pan with butter and brown sugar. A momentary distraction turned her attention away from the pan; when she remembered the dish she found that the apples were overcooked. To make the best of a bad situation, she whipped up a simple cake batter, poured it over the apples, opened the oven door, and crossed her fingers.

When she removed the pan from the oven the cake looked lovely, tender, and golden but what about the apple filling below? When inverted onto a plate Ms. Tatin discovered that the apple/butter/sugar mixture had created a tantalizing caramel. What began as a near disaster became the hotel's signature dish.

Brandied whole cranberry sauce

Brandied whole cranberry sauce

Brandied Whole Cranberry Sauce

You don't like cranberry sauce? This recipe for branded whole cranberries might be just that magic to change your mind. If you plan on serving this with your traditional Thanksgiving turkey, might I suggest that you bake it the day before the big event? Low-and-slow is the key to keeping the berries whole and making this on Thanksgiving eve will free up your oven and also give the cooked cranberries plenty of time to get.

This recipe can easily be doubled or even tripled to feed a crowd.

Black forest trifle with brandy

Black forest trifle with brandy

Black Forest Trifle With Brandy

A traditional trifle is a Renaissance English dessert of layers of sponge cake moistened with liquor and layered with jam and custard.

This 21st-century version replaces the egg custard with branded chocolate pudding. Instead of jam, there's a rich brandied cherry compote. Not enough brandy yet? Well, replace the sponge with a chocolate brandy cake. This black forest trifle was adapted from recipes by the Food Network and Eating Well magazines.

Date and ginger sticky toffee pudding with brandy toffee sauce

Date and ginger sticky toffee pudding with brandy toffee sauce

Date and Ginger Sticky Toffee Pudding With Brandy Toffee Sauce

Here's another traditional British sweet treat; sticky toffee pudding is sweetened with dates and brown sugars, rich with butter and eggs, and warmed with ginger and spice and (of course) a splash of brandy.

Brandy snaps

Brandy snaps

Brandy Snaps

I could not leave the dessert section of this article without posting a recipe for brandy snaps. Fans of the Great British Baking Show will certainly recognize them. They are best eaten the same day they are baked, so plan a party (or indulge yourself). Fill with whipped cream, or dip into melted chocolate (or go wild and do both).

Crispy coated squash with brandy glaze

Crispy coated squash with brandy glaze

Crispy Coated Squash With Brandy Glaze

In my research on the topic of brandy, I found that far too many recipes relied upon the typical blend of brandy into a cream sauce. Yes, it's wonderfully indulgent but uninspired. Rivky Kleiman bakes slices of squash with a cracker crumb crust; the result is a play of tastes and textures—sweet and salty, crisp and creamy. When the squash is perfectly crunchy (yet tender), he drizzles it with a buttery rosemary brandy-honey sauce. This crispy coated squash with brandy glaze would be a perfect side dish for your Thanksgiving feast.

Spanish potatoes with brandy and garlic

Spanish potatoes with brandy and garlic

Spanish Potatoes With Brandy and Garlic

Do you tapas? Allow me to explain; tapas is a Spanish appetizer. According to "The Joy of Cooking" originally it was nothing more than a bar food of bread and salty meat that taverns will serve their patrons to ward off fruit flies from glasses of sweet sherry. (Place the bread and sliced meat on top of the glass when you aren't sipping). Not only did this make the sherry drinkers happy, but it also insured that patrons would order another round—the salty meat made them thirsty (see where we're going here?)

In the 21st century, that simple concept of tapas has evolved into a sophisticated cuisine; in fact, it can be an entire meal, much as a cheese course or charcuterie board. But, let's get back to why we're here. (I apologize; I'm easily distracted).

These potatoes are such a delightful contrast of flavors. Yukon gold potatoes on their own are incredibly buttery-tasting and creamy. Then add some sea salt for zing, grassy olive oil, and a pop of sweet flavor from the brandy.

Don't do tapas? You can still use this as a side dish of Spanish potatoes with brandy and garlic for a summertime meal. These creamy, salty-sweet potatoes pair perfectly with grilled fish seafood, steaks, or chicken.

Broccolini in pecan brown butter brandy sauce

Broccolini in pecan brown butter brandy sauce

Broccolini in Pecan Brown Butter Brandy Sauce

First, notice that this recipe uses broccolini, not broccoli or broccoli rabe. Yes, they look the same but they are not interchangeable.

  • Broccolini looks like a cuter, pixy-like version of broccoli. And, in a way it is. Broccolini is a cross between the bunch broccoli we know and love and Chinese broccoli (which is more leafy than stalky).
  • Broccoli rabe is actually related to the turnip (whoops, different family entirely).
  • Broccolini is sweeter, and the stems are less fibrous than the stems of broccoli.

So, now that we have that out of the way, let's look at this recipe, broccolini in a pecan brown butter brandy sauce. Jenny and Heather begin by sauteeing garlic, shallots, and pecans in butter (imagine how amazing that smells), then add crisp-cooked broccolini, a hint of lemon juice for brightness, a pinch of sea salt and black pepper, and then splash in brandy and brown sugar and let everything caramelize for a moment or two.

Mushroom chicken with brandy sauce

Mushroom chicken with brandy sauce

Mushroom Chicken With Brandy Sauce

This romantic dinner, mushroom chicken with brandy sauce for two is full of happiness—low-carb, gluten-free, dairy-free, and you can put it together in under 30 minutes.

Steak with creamy peppercorn sauce

Steak with creamy peppercorn sauce

Steak With Creamy Peppercorn Sauce

Nagi is one of my favorite online cooks; I know I can always depend on her to create something that is beautifully photographed, tastes like it was prepared by a three-star Michelin chef, but is easy enough for even me to put together.

For example, this steak with creamy peppercorn sauce is just like the dish you will find at most steakhouses—would you believe that it takes only four ingredients (not including the steak, of course) and it can be ready in less than 20 minutes?

Pork chops with brandied fig and cherry sauce

Pork chops with brandied fig and cherry sauce

Pork Chops With Brandied Fig and Cherry Sauce

Here's an easy one from Campbell's Kitchen. This meal of pork chops simmered in brandied fig and cherry sauce is an impressive dish that can be on your table in under an hour. The flavors are rich, sweet, and savory—a meal for four for only about $10.

Note that you can use all cherries or all figs in this dish (your preference).

Trout with  herbed brandy butter

Trout with herbed brandy butter

Trout With Herbed Brandy Butter

Trout (or salmon) marinates in brandy for an hour (or two). That's the hard part. Then you simply pour melted butter over the top, add a sprinkle of herbs, and broil for 12 minutes. This trout with herbed brandy butter is incredibly tender and packed with flavor in every bite.

Brandy marinated chicken wings

Brandy marinated chicken wings

Brandy Marinated Chicken Wings

Kaluhi is a cook in Kenya. I love watching her YouTube channel where she invites you into her kitchen. It's like having a best friend show you step-by-step how to make her favorite dish. She's vibrant and energetic and full of a love of cooking. Her brandy-marinated grilled chicken wings are a true winner.

Sources

© 2020 Linda Lum

Comments

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on June 22, 2020:

Very informative article. Thanks.

manatita44 from london on June 16, 2020:

Barcelona, yes. Sri Chinmoy was invited to open the Parliament of World Religions 2004, as he did in Chicago 193, so I went. Gave me time to be familiar with all the great places there that Mary has written about

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 16, 2020:

Thank you, Manatita. In all of your travels have you ever visited Spain? Your inebriation is the best kind; much joy and no hangover.

manatita44 from london on June 16, 2020:

Yummy, yummy. Spirits and sweet plus. I love the broccoli in all styles! It is just awesome for me. The potatoes are great too.

Sometimes I'm drunk, only it's a different kind of inebriation... a mystic wine. I soar on the lapis lazuli of an indigo moonlight, conversing with the stars in Silence. Much Love, my Friend.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 16, 2020:

Hi Shauna, Marsala isn't a table wine. Like brandy, it's fortified. Sure you can substitute white wine in these dishes but it won't have the same flavors. Brandy and Marsala have a sweetness, a thicker mouthfeel, and, of course, that burn you associate with a higher percentage of alcohol (i.e. whiskey).

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on June 16, 2020:

Linda, the chicken and steak dishes appeal to me the most. In reading the recipe for creamy peppercorn sauce, the author says Marsala wine can be substituted for the cognac or brandy. I don't keep brandy in the house, but I do keep red and white wine on hand for recipes. Would I be able to substitute white wine for the chicken and seafood dishes?

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 16, 2020:

Bill, you are one to whom I apologize for this series (there will be 2 or 3 more) but I'm glad you were able to enjoy the history lesson. It's going to be another soggy day in the PNW my friend.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 16, 2020:

Kaluhi is a kick, isn't she? Her energy is infectious. Yes, camping, trout, and a bottle of brandy. What could go wrong?

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 16, 2020:

Thank you Flourish. Actually, I'm holding out for the chicken. And it's cold enough (in June?) that I might actually do that. Now, if only I had some brandy.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on June 16, 2020:

I can't!

I won't!

But thank you for the history lesson, which I always find fascinating. :)

Sunshine on the way, my friend. I think it's time, don't you?

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on June 16, 2020:

I jumped into the kitchen in Kenya with that delightful cook. I came back to see how hard these were. Eazy Peazy. Now we wait for that next trip to the store, as we have no Brandy. I hope the have so good salmon or trout. (this could be done camping)

FlourishAnyway from USA on June 15, 2020:

This was so amazing. How could someone make vegetables sound that tantalizing? You definitely have some recipes that are keepers here!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 15, 2020:

Eric, I did this for you dear friend. I'm glad you enjoyed.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on June 15, 2020:

Most wonderful, what a great story. I did not see one dish that I would not enjoy.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 15, 2020:

Pamela, you have warmed my heart (almost like a snifter of brandy taken by the fireside with a kitty on my lap). Brandy imparts so many rich flavors.

I know that there are friends here on Hubs who do not use alcohol (from physical or spiritual reasons), and hope that I don't offend them. But, I made a promise to another "hubber" that I would do a series on alcoholic beverages.

Thusfar I've done sherry, Irish whiskey, tequila, and beer. There will probably be two or three more.

Thank you for your kind words.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on June 15, 2020:

I think I may have been drooling when I scrolled by the bradied cherries and the Black Forest Triffle, not that the other items did not look good. The meat, trout and shrimp also looked wonderful. I have never made dishes quite like these and I think I should try some of them. I didn't know brandy could be used in so many wonderful ways. This is an excellent article, Linda. Thank you for all of these great recipes.