While 2020 will not be a year known for extraordinary holiday parties, there is every reason to step out of our comfort zones and try extraordinary new recipes. With all of us spending more time at home, the holiday season is a perfect opportunity to reach for foods and techniques that, while tried and true, might be new to us.
Such is the case with appetizers. This recipe combines an easy fruit compote with that classic French cheese, Brie, wrapped in puff pastry and baked until golden brown, something the two of us have pursued, separately, and conquered together.
Barb’s search for eternal baked goodness led her to this luscious and delicate pastry, a combination of layers and flakiness usually associated with laminated doughs, and a good foundation recipe to master. While laminated dough takes up to 24 hours to prepare, this pastry recipe takes about 10 minutes with a rest time of 30 minutes in the refrigerator to let the ingredients meld.
Before moving to Longbranch, Lori and her husband David lived in a much warmer climate and had a sizable fruit orchard, including a few fig trees. As there are only so many fresh figs one can eat, she needed to figure out a way to preserve and find other uses for them.
She was inspired by a recipe using peaches and caramelized onions to make a spread to accompany soft cheese. As it turned out, figs were a wonderful substitute for the peaches. However, since there wasn’t a formal recipe for this spread, she had to wing it.
Fruit and caramelized onions were a match made in heaven, bringing home a bit of summer during the winter months.
In Longbranch, figs gave way to cherry, pear and apple trees. Combining one or more of these with caramelized onions and fresh herbs from the garden was a great way to utilize them.
Lori’s Fruit & Caramelized Onion Spread
Gather whatever fruit you have on hand. Peel, core or pit as necessary, then cut into small pieces. Sauté in butter until the fruit breaks down. Add sugar to taste.
Meanwhile, in a separate pan, caramelize a similar or lesser amount of white or yellow onions (not sweets) in butter with a little sea salt.
Combine the fruit and onions and add a few fresh sprigs of thyme.
The combination of sweet and savory is absolutely delicious. Storing it in small jars in your freezer should make it last the winter and it can be pulled out to serve with cheese, on flatbreads or with pork or poultry. It can also be a lovely gift for friends and neighbors, or combined with baked Brie as an unforgettable appetizer.
BVB’s Brie in Easy Puff Pastry
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour such as King Arthur, Bob’s Red Mill or Stone Buhr
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 cup cold, unsalted butter, cut into chunks
½ cup sour cream
One quarter of above dough recipe
One 4-inch wheel of Brie, double or triple cream
⅓ cup of Lori’s compote, or apricot, strawberry or raspberry preserves
Egg wash (one large egg beaten with one tablespoon water)
For the pastry: In a large bowl or stand mixer fitted with a paddle, whisk together flour, salt and baking powder. With the mixer running at lowest speed, add the butter chunks and mix in until crumbly, with most of the butter chunks in small pieces.
Add sour cream and mix until distributed, with the dough loosely holding together. The dough won’t and shouldn’t be smooth.
Turn the shaggy mixture onto a floured work surface or pastry cloth, knead it a bit and shape into a rough log. Roll out to form an 8×10 inch rectangle. Starting with the shorter end, fold the dough into thirds, like a business letter.
Turn the dough over, rotate it 90 degrees, and roll to 8×10 once more. Give the dough another fold, tap it gently with your rolling pin to seal it together. Wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before using.
Assembly: Preheat oven to 425. Cut one quarter of the pastry from the finished recipe (as noted above) and freeze the remainder for another time. Roll the pastry on a lightly floured surface to a 13-inch square, about ¼ inch thick.
Place the wheel of cheese in the center. Spread the compote or preserves on top of the cheese. Fold the four corners of the pastry up and over the cheese to meet in the center. Pinch the seams lightly together to seal.
Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and brush with egg wash. Bake for 25 to 28 minutes until the pastry is a deep golden brown. Remove from the oven and let sit for 15 minutes before transferring to a platter. Serve with warm crackers to grateful diners.
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