The thing about the Philippines is that not everyone has been exposed to the huge variety of cheeses produced in various parts of the world. Thanks to the Americans and the efforts of local advertisers, the bulk of cheeses sold in this part of the world consists of processed cheese food in pale, yellow blocks or jars of violently orange “cheese” spread or what passes for mozzarella on many commercial pizzas. While global brands like La Vache Qui Rit (The Laughing Cow), Buko from Denmark, and Australia’s Bega have made their way to local supermarkets, most Filipinos remain uninitiated into the love of all salty rich dairy things.
I guess my siblings and I were just lucky to be born in a family that loves to eat and has never hesitated to try anything new. For this reason, the family’s Holiday table features such mild and creamy treats as proper Brie and Camembert – once-a-year delights that are perfect for smooshing on good bread (homemade is best, but really good store-bought works, too) or for nibbling with fresh fruit.
This year, I was able to find petit-Brie, smaller versions – practically a wee mouthful each – of the classic Brie de Meaux, at the dairy section of Shopwise in Alabang (the brand is Gerard). Milky-tasting with a faintly mushroom-like savor and just the faintest tang, these are gorgeous when eaten on their own or transformed into those lush, decadent pastries called Bries en croute.
Believe it or not, I actually tweaked the recipe from an ad for Pepperidge Farm puff pastry. It’s one of those things that allows for substitutions in case you don’t have some of the ingredients. In this case, I didn’t have the dried cherries the recipe called for or the toasted pecans. What I did have on hand were some fresh cherries and roasted macadamias – which, I am pleased to say, worked a charm. Using fresh fruit instead of dried cuts on the prep time (no soaking or plumping involved) and let me use less honey. This created a sharp flavor contrast between the mild cheese and the slightly tart cherries. The buttery flavor of the macadamias and the pastry also brought out the richness of the cheese.
The recipe here is flexible, so feel free to swap the cherries for the fruit of your choice (fresh mangoes are nice and ripe, fresh pineapple adds a beautiful sharpness). Nuts-wise, you can also trade the macadamias in for some toasted flaked almonds or even roasted pili nuts.
This makes a lovely first course for five or a light lunch when served alongside a tossed green salad. It also works as an appetizer or a part of a tray of canapes when cooled completely and quartered.
Petits-Bries en Croute
- 5 pre-cut puff pastry squares, thawed
- 5 miniature Brie cheeses
- 1/4 cup fresh dark cherries (approximately 6 plump ones)
- approximately 1/4 cup roasted macadamia nuts
- 1/8 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon water
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees / Gas Mark 6. Line a standard lipped baking sheet with a Silpat mat or greaseproof liner; set aside.
Whisk together the egg and the water; set aside.
Chop the nuts and place in a deep bowl. Stone the cherries over the chopped nuts, allowing the juices to drip onto them. Chop the cherries and add to the nuts. Mix in the rosemary and honey. Place 1/5 of the cherry-nut mixture onto the center of a puff pastry square. Top with a miniature Brie. Fold over the edges of the pastry; pinch to seal and place on the prepared cookie sheet seam-side down. Repeat with the remaining parcels.
Brush the parcels with the egg wash. Bake for 20 -25 minutes. Serve immediately.
Serves 5 as a starter or makes 20 small appetizers when quartered.