Baked brie is one of the easiest and most delicious appetizers you will ever have the pleasure of eating. I’ve seen lots of recipes that try to make baked brie a fancier and more complicated affair, which I’m sure is delicious, but it’s simply a case of gilding the lily and completely unnecessary. By all means, cover your cheese with a blanket of puff pastry, a homemade sauce, or a complicated carving-and-then-freezing song and dance. I’m not saying the results you will get from these things will not be delicious, what I am saying is that you can have a delicious baked brie by following a simpler, and much faster, method.
Right before Christmas we hosted a large holiday party and everyone brought all sorts of delicious treats. I nearly killed myself trying to get the house clean while taking care of Anthony’s recent shoulder surgery and chasing after Isobel. (In fact, the house wouldn’t have been finished in time if my mother hadn’t popped by and lent a huge hand. Thanks, Mom!) I had originally planned on making spinach cheese wheels but when the time came I was too exhausted to even do that much. I could, however, trouble myself to bake a couple of cheese wheels.
I learned this method, plus a few that branch off from this, from my father-in-law, Doug, who worked as a chef for awhile before realizing his calling as a teacher of underprivileged third graders. (He’s now a head union thug, and very proud of him we are, too!) I can’t even begin to describe all the wonderful adventures and amazing things he’s done in life, except for teach me how to bake brie, which is pretty wonderful and amazing in and of itself. In fact, I love baked brie so much that if I had my wedding to do over I’d seriously consider a giant wheel of baked brie in lieu of wedding cake.
Here in American supermarkets we can find both imported and stateside-made brie, and the thing to remember is that the USDA forbids the grocery store sale of any cheese that is unpasteurized, making it safe for pregnant women, children, and those with compromised immune systems. It is available here in both small wheels and in wedges, but for this recipe you will want a wheel so that the whole cheese in enclosed in its velvety soft white rind. The rind itself is not only edible but delicious. Both the center and the rind have a mild, rich, and creamy flavor, and its one of the cheeses that doesn’t give off a particularly strong odor so it’s great beginning for less adventurous palates.
I was making the brie for our party as guests were arriving and I told the those who had wandered into the kitchen that during the two weeks Anthony had to travel to LA for training I ate this as my dinner probably every other night. Not only was it the only comfort food that seemed to suit me in my forlorn state, but also since he was 300 miles away he couldn’t force me to use my better judgement. To this day if I’m down in the dumps nothing sounds more appealing than a wheel of baked brie.
I can never finish a whole one by myself (though I haven’t tested this theory now that I’m pregnant…) so this is also my favorite thing to make when I have a friend coming over for dinner. Particularly, my friend Jenn, who lives quite far away and whom I don’t get to see often. Sharing a wheel of baked brie with pears, a loaf of good bread and a salad is the perfect dinner to gossip over and catch up with. Another reason this makes a fantastic appetizer is that it’s basically the easiest way to enjoy fondue without actually having to make fondue. Lastly, this is the sort of appetizer that all the vegetarians I know enjoy with gusto. No one misses the meat. It’s so good, no one cares.
One word about the baking vessel: you do not have to put your brie in anything fancy, but you do need to bake it in something that can go from oven to table. Once the brie is baked it will turn molten and it’s not safe to move it from one container to the other. You can find hundreds of handmade brie baking bowls on etsy but you don’t have to go out of your way to buy something specific. In the photos for this post I’ve used an oven safe China plate, a glass fish baker, and a small Pyrex casserole dish. Just make sure whatever you put it in is oven safe and you are fine. Make sure you use a thick potholder or a trivet when you set it down on counter or table.
- one wheel of brie
- flaked almonds (optional)
- butter (optional)
- ovensafe vessel
- chunks of a rustic French or Italian loaf
- pear or apple slices (optional)
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. My FIL Doug cooks it at a lower temp, possibly 360 or 365, but my oven runs slow (and also I am always impatient for baked brie).
- Doug likes to butter the top and sides of his brie before doing anything else. I have found this to be a largely unnecessary step because the butter all melts off and pools near the bottom. Which is very delicious to dunk your bread into, but I really can’t even taste the butter by the time this is done, and butter is expensive, so I usually do without. I would totally understand, however, if you wanted to add butter. It certainly won’t hurt.
- Cover the top of your brie with a sticky-thick (or thin, it doesn’t matter) drizzle of honey. Any honey is delicious but I particularly like a local type of honey that is derived from clover and citrus. I can only find it at the farmer’s market so I didn’t have any for this party, but honey from the good ol’ honey bear was delicious, too.
- Sprinkle a layer of almonds over the honey, if desired, and add a bit more honey drizzle to the top.
- Pop into the oven and bake for about 25-30 minutes.
When you pull your brie out of the oven it will have puffed up within its rind and the honey will have mostly pooled around the edges of the cheese and have turned a deep, burnished brown. Cut into the puff and you will release the molten cheese core with which you will scoop up with your chunks of fruit or crusty bread. I generally add more honey, because I love the sweetness with the unctuousness of the cheese.
This method is basic and can be adjusted for all sorts of tastes. Add a spicy layer of pepper jelly to the top instead of honey, or some real maple syrup. Add walnuts or pecans instead of almonds, or a trail-mix-like combo of each. Eat with a dry rye bread instead of French, or try a sourdough. All these combinations are lovely and it’s not going to take you long before you find your favorite.
(Big thanks to my friend Valerie for modeling in the last two shots!)