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Archive for March 20th, 2009

at long last

Most cheese should be brought to room temperature for a few hours before serving. And when I think about brie and Camembert (and clearly I think about Camembert more often than I eat it), I envision it as an off-white slice leaking out of a snow-white rind, almost melting and oozing easily onto a cracker ready to receive its runny mild flavor.
To the best of my knowledge, few people in the US store cheeses on the counter, so they rarely get to the point of stinkiness as in France, but our obsession with refrigeration prevents us from really enjoying and exploring the full palate and joy that cheese can bring.  One exception is baked brie. This is one of the easiest and fanciest-looking foods for entertaining and has become one of my signature dishes over the past few years when I made a few tweaks to tradition preparation.

When most people hear “baked brie” they think of  brie en croûte – a round of cheese slathered with preserves, typically apricot or raspberry, or maybe some dried cranberries and then wrapped in puffed pastry and baked. This is good but, in my mind, a bit too overdone. The main trick to brie en croûte is to use a good puff pastry and to cook at a pre-heated oven at a high heat, ~425°F for 15-20 minutes until the pastry is golden brown. That’s it. Super simple.

Of course, I can’t really leave simple alone. When I do make this type of baked brie, I typically caramelize slivered almonds to cover the brie with before wrapping in a puffed pastry crust. Just different enough to get a few surprised looks. I remember making this for my friends Adam and then pregnant Pamela, who was thrilled when we realized that unlike French brie made with raw milk, in the US, brie is made with pasteurized mik, so she could indulge freely.

For my birthday 2 years ago (when I served “A Taste of Europe in Manhattan” for over 50 guests…NOT TO BE REPEATED without a serving and clean-up crew!), I experimented and came up with a slightly savory baked brie dish. It obviated the need for the puff pastry shell, using the natural rind to contain the oozing cheese and baked directly in the round wooded box, creating a unique flavor and presentation that preserved the essence of the brie.

missing a slice

This is potentially also slightly lower in calories (since there is no puff pastry). But, let’s be real. Once you’re talking about double écrémé cheese (almost 50% butterfat!) the only way to pretend you’re cutting calories is by moderation. Small portions — just un petit goût as the French might say, a little taste, a few forkfuls. But this stuff is so good, you might need to hide it from yourself!

a not-so-petit gout

a not-so-petit goût

I made this dish for my parents when they came to spend Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, with me soon after I moved to Cambridge last year. My father has been requesting the recipe for months so that my mother will make it for him (most of my father’s cooking is relegated to the grill…). So, here are the long overdue, step-by-step directions.

Finally!

Baked Brie sans Croûte with Caramelized Onions

Caramelized onions adapted  from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. I make these caramelized onions into almost a confit to spread in the middle of the brie.

I use a 2-pound Président Brie that I have only ever found in Zabar’s in New York (see Resources) because it comes in a nice wooden box.

President Brie in box, note tablet K hechsher, labels for slices, "keep refrigerated"

Président Brie in box; tablet K hechsher, labels for slices, "keep refrigerated"

This is definitely a party-sized recipe, but this recipe can be halved for if you want to make a 1-pound Brie (though the onions are pretty good and you should make the whole recipe, reserving the onions to serve warm on the side or for another use). Even if the cheese does not come in a wooden box, you can bake on foil and the rind should contain the cheese pretty well. In order to slice the Brie in the middle lengthwise, freeze the cheese for about 30 minutes while preparing the onions, and then score with a knife and use dental floss to evenly cut the Brie through to the center.

A 2-pound Brie serves 15-20 as an appetizer with water crackers or slices of baguette

1 2-lb wheel of Brie

2 onions

2-3 T olive oil or mix of olive oil and butter

2 T sugar

3/4 C water

1-2 T good balsamic vinegar (see Resources)

pinch Kosher salt (to taste)

dental floss (unflavored) – yes, dental floss

Preheat oven to 350ºF (You may be able to cook this at a higher temperature for a shorter amount of time, but I have always made it at 350).

caramelized onions, after addition of balsamic

caramelized onions, after addition of balsamic

Place wrapped Brie in freezer (~30 minutes) for easier slicing later.

Prepare caramelized onions. Slice onions into very thin half- or quarter-rounds. Saute in olive oil or oil/butter mix over medium heat for ~15 mintues until start to brown. Add sugar and water and raise heat to medium high. Cook, stirring frequently until the onions are shiny and continue to darken, and the liquid is almost evaporated, ~ 10 more minutes. Add balsamic and cook additional 5 minutes until onions are dark brown and syrupy. Taste and add salt if necessary (the salt brings out the sweetness in the onions and give an extra bit of savory to the mix).

Remove  brie from freezer and unwrap. Score cheese all the way around with a knife.
scoring the cheese with a knife

scoring the cheese with a knife

Then wrap dental floss around the cheese, cross the ends, and pull so that the floss slices through the cheese evenly, cutting it into two pretty even halves.

cross the floss...

wrap and cross the floss...

... and pull, slicing cheese through the middle

... and pull, slicing cheese through the middle ...

... yielding 2 even halves

... yielding 2 even halves

Place one half in wooden box bottom, cover with onions, and top with the other half of  the cheese.

cheese halves and onions

covering filled Brie

I like to score the top of the rind so that some of the cheese will bubble through and it is easier to tell when brie is ready. I also top the cheese with a little bit of the onion to give a little hint of what is inside, but again, not necessary.

Cheese should be baked in wooden box bottom, on aluminum foil (in case of spills) and placed on baking  sheet on center rack.

Brie, ready for oven
Brie, ready for oven

Brie is ready when cheese begins to seep through scores in top of rind and the cuts begin to separate.

Brie, fresh out of the oven

Brie, fresh out of the oven

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