Let's talk about holiday appetizers and cocktail party snacks. Everyone needs just one or two really reliable crowd-pleasers around the holidays, no? It's a relief for a cook to set out a plate of tasty bites while he puts the finishing touches on a meal. And in the spirit of giving, let me offer you the prettiest, easiest, and most lusciously decadent appetizer I know: hot cheese smothered in sweet cranberry sauce. I mean, hello.
We've probably all had baked brie, ooey and gooey and deliciously old-school, but this is by far my favorite way to do it. The Brie's woodsy richness is complemented by the tart, slightly astringent cranberries, and it's baked until it's bubbling and oozey then scooped up with crackers. It's rich, sweet, and festive — practically a dessert — although I've found that people will attack it at any time of day.
I adore cranberries and I don't think that they should be relegated to just one appearance on the Thanksgiving table. Their tangy zip and vivid color are a boon to all kinds of fall and winter dishes. They also keep very well. I usually stash a few bags in the freezer during post-Thanksgiving sales.
This appetizer features all of these good things about cranberries, and it uses up leftover cranberry sauce, too. It's a great reason to just make a little extra for Thanksgiving dinner. Better yet, double the recipe. People love this stuff.
Baked Brie with Cranberry Sauce
Serves 4 to 6 as an appetizer
8-ounce round brie cheese, at room temperature
1/3 cup cranberry sauce, such as our Spiced Cranberry Sauce
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon orange zest
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 cup hazelnuts, unroasted and roughly chopped
Fresh rosemary, to garnish
Assorted crackers, like cracked black pepper crackerthins or homemade Harvest Crackers
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Peel or slice off the top rind of the brie and scrape out a small amount of cheese to form a shallow hollow in the center. Place the cheese in a small baking dish like a pie pan. (If you plan on transferring the cheese to a serving dish after it's baked, line the pie pan with a square of parchment paper.)
Mix the cranberry sauce, brown sugar, vanilla, zest, and nutmeg. Top the brie with this cranberry mixture and sprinkle the hazelnuts over it.
Bake for 8 to 12 minutes or until the fruit is bubbling and the cheese is gooey. This is a delicate process, and baking time can vary. The goal is to take the cheese out after it has softened, but just before it collapses into a heap.
If desired, lift the parchment paper and use a spatula to carefully slide the cheese onto a prettier serving dish. Garnish with a rosemary sprig and serve immediately with assorted crackers.
(Image credits: Faith Durand)