Champagne Vinegar Sauce

Yield: 2 cups

This is much more straightforward than it sounds, and not just an attempt to use new and different ingredients. Balsamic vinegar is sometimes used in desserts to emphasize tartness, such as on marinated strawberries, or to enhance less than ripe cherries. This is basically an acidic caramel sauce, in a way a lemon is acidic, but with a different flavor. We serve this with the Lemon Meringue Tart (see page 276), but it also good with just about any sort of fruit-flavored tart.

  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 cup champagne vinegar
  • 1/2 stick (2 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

In a large saucepan, over medium-high heat, combine the sugar and 1/2 cup water, and bring the mixture.

When the mixture boils, it will throw sugar onto the sides of the pan. At this point wash down the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water.

When the sugar starts to color, after about 4 to 5 minutes, begin gently stirring the mixture with a wooden spoon while swirling the pan, to ensure even coloring. Continue to cook the mixture until it turns a translucent caramel color, just before it begins to smoke.

If the mixture becomes opaque and slightly grainy, continue to cook, gently stirring while swirling the pan, until the sugar completely melts and the mixture becomes clear. If the mixture seizes completely and becomes solid and white, it must be discarded.

As soon as the sugar is lightly caramel colored, remove the pan from the heat and add the champagne vinegar. The mixture will spatter, and part of it may seize and harden.

Return the pan to medium-high heat and cook the mixture, stirring, until the sugar melts again, and the mixture reduces slightly, about 3 to 4 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat, and stir the butter into the mixture. the mixture will foam up and become cloudy. Continue to cook to reduce the mixture about 3 to 4 minutes.

To test for doneness, spoon out a few drops, sprinkle them on a smooth surface, allow the drops to cool slightly, and sample them for texture and flavor. The thickness of the sauce should be such that the drops hold their shape and are slightly sticky to touch. If the sauce is too runny, return the pan to medium-high heat and continue to reduce for about 1 minute longer. The flavor should be tart but not so sour as to be unpleasant. If it isn't quite tart enough, add a little extra vinegar, and continue to reduce for about 1 minute longer.

Full a large mixing bowl with ice water. Using a fine-mesh, stainless-steel strainer, strain the sauce into a medium mixing bowl; place the bowl in the ice-water bath to cool the sauce. Discard the vanilla bean. The sauce must be whisked occasionally to prevent the butter from separating and hardening on the sides of the bowl. As soon as it is slightly thickened, about 5 minutes, remove if from the ice bath. The sauce should have the appearance and texture of a thin, emulsified caramel sauce.

The sauce should be served at room temperature. It can be refrigerated for several weeks. To reheat the sauce, scrape it out of the bowl and warm in a saucepan over low heat, and then cool in the same manner as described above.

Recipe from Mark Peel & Nancy Silverton's The Food of Campanile
© 1997 by Mark Peel & Nancy Silverton. All rights reserved