Well, the holiday season is upon us, and for most, that means celebrating with family and friends on many occasions, enjoying lots of dinners and parties. Although I’m a very organized person and generally have a set menu when I have people over for dinner, it’s always nice to have some “emergency rations” hidden away for those unexpected guests or last-minute invitations. It’s also good to have a recipe that’s easy to make on short notice that offers many variations depending on what you have in the pantry.
I like to have an appetizer option that works well depending on whether I’m looking for something savory-or-sweet, or, light-or-substantial. One of my all-time favorites is baked brie. A decade ago this was a familiar appetizer, often baked wrapped in a pastry crust topped with honey and nuts. For some reason this fad seems to have subsided but the allure of a warm gooey brie to whet the appetite remains. Brie is a classic soft-ripened cheese with a bloomy edible rind.
During the holiday season, I keep a couple small wheels of good-quality brie in the fridge. When the evening calls for an appetizer, I can quickly heat the brie and serve it with crackers, pretzels, French bread, crudités or sliced fruit – any of these options works well depending on the topping. It’s also a great option for snacking in front of a fire on a chilly evening.
My current favorite is red pepper jelly on baked brie served with seasonal fruits: sliced pears and apples. What could be more delicious? It’s warm, gooey, spicy and crunchy all at once! Here’s the basic recipe and some suggestions for alternate toppings.
Baked Brie with Pepper Jelly
For a medium sized appetizer, I serve one round of brie with two pears and two apples. I like to use two different types of pears and apples for color and taste variation.
Slice the pears and apples. If you’re going to slice the fruit ahead of time, store them in a bowl of lemon water (“acidulated water”) to keep them from turning brown. Mix 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice into each cup of cold water, making enough to completely cover the cut fruit. Drain and dry the fruit just before serving.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place the brie round on a heat-proof dish (e.g. a shallow ramekin or small flan baking dish). If you don’t have a small oven-proof dish, you can bake the brie on parchment paper or non-stick foil.
Top the brie with ½ cup pepper jelly and bake for 15-20 minutes.
Because the dish will remain hot, it’s best to place it on a wooden cutting board. Serve immediately, surrounded by sliced pears and apples.
Other suggested toppings:
• Fig jam and chopped nuts
• Chopped marinated artichokes and a dab of pesto
• Diced prosciutto
• Chopped dried fruit and honey
• Yin-yang design of green pepper jelly & red pepper jelly