Brandies are distilled from wines and other fermented fruits and typically served as after-dinner drinks. They are also very well known for their flaming properties in such dishes as crepes suzette, and make elegant additions to appetizers and entrees.
The best brandy is known as cognac, which is representative of a specific region in France. Most brandy is aged in oak barrels over a period of several years. A high-quality, aged cognac should be served alone, but other, lesser varieties are ideal for cooking.
This liquor is famous for its inclusion in the historically traditional English Christmas cakes (fruitcakes). It is said that the more brandy that is added, the longer the cake will last, often for years.
- Many countries export brandies that are exciting to use. Because the base ingredients vary from region to region, it is fun to experiment.
- In addition to cognac, France produces the stronger armagnac, which is also of high quality. Cachaca is Brazilian, Metaxa is Greek, and Pisco is from Peru. Spanish brandies are made from Muscat grapes and are also recommended.
- Fruit brandies are derived from the flesh, skin, and pits of apples, apricots, pears, blackberries, and plums, to name a few. Of particular note, kirsch (cherry brandy) is a key ingredient in fondues. These should not be interchanged with fruit-flavored brandies, which do not use real fruit.
- Choose quality brandy for both cooking and drinking. Economizing will directly affect the taste of the food.
Once bottled, the aging process stops and brandy is ready to drink. After opening, keep tightly closed in a cool dark spot and most brandies should remain good for up a year. They are best, however, when consumed within three months of opening.
- Brandy is used for deglazing, making sauce, and as the prime alcoholic ingredient in many dishes. The alcohol dissipates, leaving the rich brandy flavoring.
- Keep brandy on hand as a simple topping for ice cream, fruits, and to fold into whipped cream.
- Mix a little brandy with butter and spread on sweetbreads or slices of pound cake.
- When flaming a dish (flambé), always do so with great caution. Warm the brandy first, pour over the food, and ignite.
- Use corresponding fruit juices or extracts instead.