Brie en Croute with Mushroom and Sundried Tomato
I love to eat. I don’t consider eating to be just a necessary function of life, I consider it to be an integral part of my way of being. I love to feed other people and bring them gastronomic pleasure as well as a full tummy. I like that food, cooked in certain ways, can elicit an emotional response, a physical reaction, and an intellectual dialogue. Plain and simple, I LOVE FOOD.
Because I love food so much, I end up spending a lot of time playing around in the kitchen. Sometimes this is my stress relief, other times it’s an outlet for creativity. I’ve learned that I absolutely adore, with an embarrassing delight, milk chocolate with hot mustard. I’ve learned that I despise, despite much effort, roasted red peppers with anything (that I still use them in my cooking speaks only to the fact that I love my friends, and if they love roasted peppers than roasted peppers they shall have). But creativity has a time and a place. Sometimes you want to push your peeps a bit and serve them 7 spice roasted chicken with za’atar carrots and black radish confit in a buttered mirin reduction. Other times you say that’s a whole lot of bullsh*t, and you just want to make people food that they’ll enjoy. It’s not about pushing boundaries or trying creative new things, sometimes you just want to make something that looks nice enough and tastes good.
There shouldn’t be any shame in that. Particularly when you’re cooking for other people, what’s the point of putting in the effort if they won’t enjoy it? Is it a successful meal because you’ve challenged their boundaries? Because you’ve pushed them to think about different flavor combinations and cooking techniques? Is frog leg pizza with anchovy sorbet really a victory? Or is it a successful meal because you have licked plates, smacked lips, and a satiated audience to show for your effort?
Brie en Croute is slightly passe. Okay, more than slightly. As soon as it becomes pub grub you know that a dish’s day in the sun has come to an end. Nobody cutting edge wants to make Brie appetizers anymore, unless it’s covered in panko or seared in duck fat. But here’s the way that I look at it: it’s yummy. Yes, I said ‘yummy’. Whatever. At least I didn’t say ‘yumm-o’, if you know what I mean. People like it. I can serve starters of Thai curried deviled eggs and candied sea bass fritters out the wazoo, and even though they’re delicious, it’s the breaded Brie which will be gone at the end of the night. So here we go – I’ll raise a glass to an outdated appetizer which is past it’s prime. And I will continue to make it again, and again, and again. Why? Because people eat it. And they like it. And if it makes them happy, then I’m happy – ’nuff said.
Brie en Croute With Mushroom and Sundried Tomato
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 8 medium-large white mushrooms (to yield about 1 cup chopped) *
- 1/4 cup oil packed sundried tomatoes **
- 1 tsp dried basil
- 500 g round of Brie cheese
- 1 portion puff pastry
- salt and lots of pepper
** Sundried cherry tomatoes are perfect here because they don’t need to be cut up. They’re also really easy to make (these are homemade) by cutting each tomato in half lengthwise and drying them cut side up in a food dehydrator until they’re leathery. Packed in oil, they will keep for upwards of a year.
Chop the mushrooms into manageable pieces, approximately 1/4 inch wide and 1/2 inch long…or whatever suits your fancy. Give the garlic a nice go over with your knife until it knows who’s boss.
Heat the olive oil up in a pan over medium low heat, and gently start to sweat the garlic and onions together. ‘Sweating’, in this sense, means cooking at a lower temperature for a bit longer, and allowing your pan’s contents to slowly relax and let their juices flow without any fear of burning them. Mushrooms put out a surprising amount of liquid, so it’s best to do this without a cover on the pan. When the mushrooms and onions are sweaty and slick, add in the oregano and give it a stir. Salt and pepper them to taste at this point. Mushrooms really appreciate a bit of salt. They also have a strong affinity to freshly ground pepper. Just sayin’…..
Chop the sundried tomatoes up into relatively bitty sized strips or pieces, or use sundried cherry tomatoes like I have here. Pour them right in, and if there’s a bit of extra oil keeping them lubed up that is abslotely okay. Let that all cook together for another five minutes or so until you feel confident that the flavors have combined.
Take the mushrooms off the heat and allow them to cool for at least 15 minutes before you start the next step. If you need to chill them, go nuts. The point is that we don’t want them warm or they’ll start to melt the Brie as well as the butter in your puff pastry – and that would be tragic. There is no melting allowed until we’re good and ready for it.
Lightly flour your work surface and begin to roll out the dough until it is between 1/4 and 1/8 inch thick. Or, as I like to say, “roll it thinly-like”.
Store bought puff pastry is a god send, in my opinion. I don’t have the heart to make it from scratch, but I use it all the time. So puffy! So buttery! So delicious! Such fast pastry shells! Oh, it’s truly a joy to behold. I’ve also found that Tenderflake sells pre-rolled puff pastry which only needs a quick thinning once over. I’m genetically predisposed to abhor Pillsbury products, but puff pastry totally keeps my ships at sea.
Alright, now for the fun part. Place the Brie smack down in the center of the pastry. Pile the mushroom mixture on top.
Begin to fold the pastry up on top in pleats, gently pressing and holding as you go…..
…until you have a lovely little satchel of delights which is totally ensconced in it’s wondrous shroud of puff pastry, just waiting to be cooked.
Place this upside down and slide it onto a plate or tray covered in parchment paper. Tuck it in the freezer until you’re ready to cook it up. The parchment paper is pretty key here, because otherwise it will stick to it’s receptacle and you’ll have to heat it slightly to get it off. Sadly, I know this from experience.
Preheat the oven to 400F. If you made this the day (or week) before, there is a good likelihood that it’s rock solid at this point. That’s okay. I find that puff pastry cooks better from a frozen state anyway for some reason. Turn the breaded round right side up (so the pleats are on top) and place it – still on the parchment paper – onto a baking sheet.
Bake the Brie for about 15 – 20 minutes, or until it’s lightly browned on top.
Now this is important!! If you just tucked the Brie in the freezer for half an hour or so as you went about your business, it’s fully cooked and gently gooing up inside at this point. If you froze it for a period of hours or days, despite the fact that it looks done on the outside, it’s probably still frozen on the inside. And after all, it’s what’s inside that counts (oh god, I’m such a hippie waiting to happen). Turn the heat on your oven down to 250F and let it cook for an additional 10 minutes. The pastry won’t brown any more, but the radiant heat will melt the Brie into the ooey-gooey-delightful-mess that we covet.
Final very important note!! After taking this out of the oven please let it sit for 10 minutes before cutting into it. When Brie melts, it melts FAST. If you cut it too soon you’ll have a very delicious but very messy pool of cheesy lava streaming out all over the place. Letting it sit at room temperature for 10 – 15 minutes before cutting into it allows the cheese to de-liquify. A bit of ooze is alright, but streaming cheese soup is not as attractive.
Unless you’re really greedy, of course, and in that case just go for it. However, when you burn your chin by dripping napalm cheese all over the place, it will be your own fault. And I will tell you this, guest or not.
So there you go. Judge me if you want. I serve my guests passe appetizers that are not at all cool or novel within the foodie community. I serve them things that have been done, again and again, and are now (sadly) completely overlooked and discarded by any burgeoning chef worth his Himalayan pink sea salt.
BUT. I bet you $5 there won’t be any leftovers……