Each year when the holidays roll around I throw a black-tie optional party. I love any excuse to dress up and the holidays are the perfect time. When I start planning my menu, I am always looking for popular, unique, and tasty treats, but I also like to include some old favorites – the ones that people ask for every year. But you don’t have to wait for the holidays to make this appetizer!
One of the most popular is a throwback to the 1970’s and 80’s … Brie cheese baked in puff pastry. Brie is a mild, creamy cow’s cheese named for the region in Northern France where is was originally made. It has a white moldy rind that is typically eaten along with the soft center. Lovely on its own, it becomes downright luscious when heated. If you wrap it in puff pastry and then bake it, you have one of the most dramatic appetizers that your guests will love.
Puff pastry is made by layering pastry dough with butter, rolling it out, adding another layer of butter, folding it over and rolling it out again. This is repeated until you have dozens of layers of dough separated by very thin coatings of butter. When baked, the butter melts creating space between the layers of dough, and the steam from the water in the butter lifts the layers, causing them to puff up. As the dough bakes it gets firm, supporting the puffed structure.
I like to layer the mushroom filling in the center of the cheese, but you could also place it on top and the cover it all with the pastry. If you don’t like mushrooms, you can use all different kinds of fillings. Many people like to make a sweet version with brown sugar, nuts, and dried fruit. During the holidays, dried sweetened cranberries are a festive choice.
When you slice into the baked pastry, the cheese and mushroom filling oozes out, hot and creamy. Served with crackers or baked crostini (thin, toasted slices of baguette) it is a great appetizer with cocktails, especially champagne!
Happy Festive Friday – have a terrific weekend!!
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
Mushrooms have a very high water content which causes them to give off a lot of liquid and shrink dramatically when cooked. If you are planning on serving cooked mushrooms, buy at least twice the amount you think you will need. A huge skillet full of sliced raw mushrooms will reduce to about a cup of sauteed mushrooms.
Kitchen Skill: Slicing Cheese
How: There are two primary issues when slicing cheese – the sharpness of your knife and the temperature of the cheese. If your knife isn’t sharp it will compress the cheese instead of slicing it. And if your cheese is too warm it will not only be greasy but hard to slice. To split a wheel of brie in half horizontally, make sure it is well chilled.
- 2 lb wheel of Brie, chilled
- 2 large shallots, sliced
- 2 cups sliced mushrooms (ends trimmed & mushrooms wiped clean before slicing)
- 2 tsp minced garlic
- 4 tbsp butter (1/2 stick)
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup minced scallions
- 3 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 sheets frozen puff pastry, thawed (Pepperidge Farm is a common brand)
- 1 egg mixed with 2 tsp water [double if you have a lot of decorations]
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Meanwhile, sauté shallots, mushrooms, and garlic in butter over medium heat until tender and most of the liquid has evaporated, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add salt and pepper; cool. Fold in scallions and Parmesan cheese. Taste and adjust seasonings. Set aside to cool.
- Slice brie in half horizontally to create two layers. Roll one of the thawed sheets of puff pastry to a 14-inch square on a lightly floured surface. Trim it to make a circle. Place bottom half of Brie, rind-side down, in the center of pastry. Spoon filling onto center of cheese and press firmly to compact. Place 2nd layer of Brie on top, rind-side up. Press gently to spread filling out to the edges of cheese. Brush pastry edges with egg wash. Pull pastry up and over, covering Brie as smoothly as you can. Pinch edges to seal, trim any excess dough. Set, seam side down, on a baking sheet.
- Use the second sheet of pastry, rolled slightly, to cut out leaves, mushrooms, or other fun shapes. These decorations can be used to decorate the top of the pastry. Add to the smooth top, “gluing” them with some of the egg wash. Brush the entire surface with additional egg wash. Bake 20 to 30 minutes or until golden brown.
- Cool for 20 minutes before serving with crackers or baked crostini.
- Yield: 15 to 20 appetizer servings