Cookies are my weakness. For some, it's ice cream. For others, it's crème brulée. For me, it's the all-American cookie. I've always had to watch my weight and I'm fairly disciplined, but when I nibbled the Chocolate Fleur de Sel cookies at J Vineyards & Winery several weeks ago, I threw caution (and calories) to the wind. 'More, please!' I begged like a deprived orphan in a Dickens novel.
The fudgy, salty-sweet confections were part of a dessert trio; a fine finish to a seven-course wine-and-food-pairing lunch created by J's über-talented Executive Chef, Mark Caldwell.
The meal was the finale of J's new Essence Tasting program, a four-hour gourmand extravaganza, which begins in the stylish visitor's center (with a glass of J bubbly), continues to the vineyards (for hors d'oeuvres and Pinot Noir) and onward to the posh Bubble Room for a lunch that celebrates the best of the Russian River Valley paired with J wines.
Launched just last August, the Essence experience is both mouth-watering and educational. "We believe that wine and food should be enjoyed together … our new Essence Tasting allows guests to have an unparalleled experience that takes them from the vineyard to the table,' says J founder and CEO, Judy Jordan.
The Essence experience is offered on Thursdays from 11 AM to 3 PM for $200 per person (which includes transportation from the visitors center to the vineyards and back) . Eight guests maximum; reservations must be made at least 2 weeks in advance by phoning 707-431-5430.
J VINEYARDS' CHOCOLATE FLEUR DE SEL COOKIES
While these may just be the best Christmas cookies ever, don't waste them on the kids: most little folk will be happier with plain ol' sugar cookies coated with plenty of colored icing. At J, you'll likely be served a glass of J Pear Liqueur, a rich, floral-spicy eau de vie made from Bartlett pears, available at JWine.com. At home, pour a glass of vintage Port or late-harvest Zinfandel. Whichever you choose, it will be a match made in holiday heaven.
15 tablespoons (11 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
2 ½ teaspoons Fleur de Sel
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 2/3 cups pastry flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
10 ounces best quality very finely chopped bittersweet chocolate
Fleur de Sel, to garnish
- Cream the butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer until light and creamy. Add the 2 ½ teaspoons Fleur de Sel and the vanilla and mix until combined.
- Sift in the flour, cocoa, and baking soda and stir until just combined; do not over-mix or cookies will be tough. Fold in the chopped chocolate.
- Roll the cookie dough into a log about 1-inch in diameter; wrap in plastic wrap and freeze until firm.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease 2 cookie sheets with butter or non-stick spray.
- Unwrap the dough log, cut into ½-inch thick slices and place slices 1 inch apart on prepared cookie sheets. Bake for 7 minutes. Remove from oven and while still warm, sprinkle each cookie with a small pinch of Fleur de Sel. Let cookies cool slightly on the baking sheets, then use a spatula to transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.
Photographs by Sarah Belk King: Top, Judy Jordan; middle, J Executive Chef Mark Caldwell.
Visit Sarah on the web at SarahBelkKing.com.