Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Hard Liquor

I usually prefer my bourbon neat, but if that isn't your cup of tea, you should try it cascading over brie.

I know you're thinking, "Did I just read that correctly?" Trust me. It's not gross. It's downright addictive. I made this bourbon-infused caramel topped brie for my bourbon tasting party and it was devoured.

Don't believe me? Please refer to Exhibit A:

Exhibit A

It was once a stunning appetizer. A real show-stopper. Please refer to Exhibit B to see it in its former glory:

Exhibit B

People gawked and asked, "What on Earth is this lovely and glistening gem you've put in front of me?" (I'm paraphrasing but it was pretty darn close to that.) People turned starry-eyed like a kid in a candy store, all mesmerized and gleeful as their hand reached involuntarily towards the platter and some elbowing of other guests was involved as they jockeyed to grab the knife. It's that kind of appetizer.

While I wish I could claim credit for this genius idea, it must go to Martha Stewart. I found this recipe in an old cookbook of hers, circa 1984, but, unlike many of Martha's recipes, this really was easy and effortless. There was no barn raising involved. In fact, when I think about it, it's probably one of the fastest and most delicious hors d'oeuvres I think I've made. It's great for a party because you can present it and forget about it. Meanwhile, it's pseudo interactive with your guests as they enjoy chipping away at the hard caramel topping to reach the luscious, creamy brie below. It's the perfect combination of sweet and savory. And it strikes an odd yet wonderful balance between being sophisticated yet somehow very playful.

Usually I pour the caramel over a wheel of brie, but for whatever reason the whole of Santa Barbara County was devoid of wheels. So I just used two large wedges, which seemed to still do the trick.

So if you're in need of a fabulous appetizer to bring to a holiday party or are just desperate for something effortless to put out for family and friends on Christmas Eve or for Christmas dinner, this is it. You could spend hours creating something much more intricate and complex, but I promise you this would beat it hands down. OK, maybe a rice crispy treat would give this a run for the money for its equal ease of effort to pull together and its universally loved nature, but that's technically a dessert. As such, I think my claim stands.

Bourbon Caramel Brie
Adapted from Martha Stewart

1 wheel of brie (about 2 1/2 lbs)
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tsp bourbon (optional)
12 - 16 pecan or walnut halves

Place the brie on a serving platter. I prefer wood but you can use something else. If you're concerned about easy clean up, you may want to put a sheet of parchment paper under the brie to cover the surface of the platter.
Combine the sugar, water and bourbon in heavy saucepan and melt the sugar, swirling the pan from time to time. Do not stir as it will cause the sugar to crystalize.
When the mixture begins to boil, cover the pan to allow condensation to drip back down and melt any crystalized sugar on the side of the pan. Uncover after 3-5 minutes and continue cooking over high heat until the sugar becomes a deep golden color, probably another 5 - 10 minutes. The temperature of the caramel should be hard crack, 300 degrees. [Note, I didn't use a candy thermometer. I just cooked it until it reached a truly amber color and it was clearly thickened. It can burn, though, so watch it like a hawk.]
Immediately pour the carmel over the brie to cover the top evenly, allowing the excess to drip down the sides of the cheese. You may have to tilt the cheese slightly to get the caramel to spread evenly. Be very careful not to touch the caramel because it is super hot and also work quickly because it starts to harden upon contact. Press nuts around the perimeter of the cheese. Serve within an hour with cheese and grapes.
To free the platter of any residual caramel, you can either run it under really hot water or stick it in the freezer for a few minutes and the caramel will simply pop off.

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