Sunday, January 12, 2014

Baked Brie - Brie en Croute


Baked Brie!! This is a pleasant new discovery for me last month. Anyone who knows me, will know that I love cheese, and trying various cheeses. During my business trip to France in 2010, I was in heaven when my manager took me to a famouse cheese restaurant in Strasbourg called La Cloche à Fromage. Anyone visiting Strasbourg, I highly recommend this place - you will need an advance reservation and I hear its a little difficult to get in, but totally worth it! It has a huge cloche (a bell shaped cover) that is in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the largest in the world. We were a table of four, and had the cheese fondue with a variety of breads. And also a cheese board, where you work your way up, so there is a particular order in which you have to try each cheese. It was an amazing experience that I'll never forget. Other tables were having the raclette, that I saw for the first time. But that's a LOT of cheese and I think its good if you are a large party.

At La Cloche à Fromage in 2010
Now I'm not really a big fan of cheeses that taste strong and musky, gives that sharp tart or bitter kick in the throat. It's hard to explain, but I've felt this with Camembert and Goat cheese. Particularly, the outer rind of Camembert. Or that fungal fumy feeling you get up your nose, like with blue cheese. I don't mind trying it during a cheese tasting, but I don't love it.
Now Brie is a like a milder cousin of Camembert. They're both soft white cheese. Initially I mistook Brie for Camembert and always avoided it. Then at a team dinner with my colleagues, the baked brie was ordered as an appetizer. It looked really pretty, covered in puff pastry and was accompanied by toast and a fruit compote. When it went around the table, I decided to take a small chunk of it. It completely changed my opinion about brie! It was warm, gooey and creamy in contrast with the crumbly flakiness of the puff pastry, just divine! After I came back from the dinner, I could only gush about the baked brie to my husband! I had to get some at my next trip to the grocery store. There were many imported ones, but I opted for a medium size round one by the Président brand. Next to it there was this pretty little bottle of fig and orange jam, from Croatia. This is one of the best jams I've tasted in my life! Not too sweet, and goes really well with toast.
The first time I baked brie, I only used the brie in the puff pastry, just like how I tasted it at the dinner. This was the appetizer for our Christmas dinner.
I tried it again this month, by also adding some fig jam in the puff pastry. I like both versions, depending on my mood - plain cheesy, or hint of sweetness.
The term "en croute" indicates a food that has been wrapped in pastry dough and then baked in the oven.

Here is a good video that I used to make my first one (he used the same brands as I had):

Here's another great video with some interesting variations:

Ingredients:

Président 8 oz Brie round
Puff Pastry - 1 sheet (I used Pepperidge Farm)
Egg wash - 1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tbsp water (optional)
Fig Jam (or jam of your choice) - 2 tbsp

Method:

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.
Thaw the sheet of puff pastry. Lay it flat on your work surface.
Use the cover or the Brie wheel to lightly make an indentation in the center of your puff pastry sheet, to use as a guide as to where you're going to place the Brie.
In this circle, spread the jam of your choice, if using. If you want it on the sides as well, you can extend it a little outside the circle.
Unwrap the Brie. Place it over the jam in the circle. Now wrap the pastry over the brie, like a small package. Flip it and place it on a parchment lined cookie sheet.
If you want the top to shine, you can brush lightly with an egg wash. Some people like to use some extra puff pastry, cut a design with a cookie cutter and place it on top for a pretty design (using egg wash as adhesive), like in the second video.
Place the wrapped Brie in the oven and bake for 20-25 mins in my oven to get a golden crust and a pastry that's cooked through.
This is an important step. Once the brie is out of the oven, leave it out to rest for half an hour. If it hasn't cooled before you cut into it, the Brie is going to ooze out everywhere and create a huge mess and you can potentially burn yourself.

Damage control tip: If for any reason, the puff pastry wasn't sealed properly or if there was a hole somewhere due to improper handling, and you notice that the cheese is oozing out, plug it immediately with a small piece of bread.


Note: If you're trying cheeses for the first time, I think Brie is a good way to start. Then you can work your way up from there. When you're ready you can go for something more stronger, try the Camembert. I think I'll try Camembert again. So far I've had it just on its own, and it was cold. A warm "en croute" may change my opinion about it. After that, try the goat cheese, and then a blue cheese, or an expensive one like Roquefort.
There is also a Light Brie available. I'll try it sometime. I'm guessing it's even milder than Brie, or maybe uses low fat milk.
Here is a good link on how to taste cheese

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