A starter sure to please: Baked Camembert cheese

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December 30, 2006|By Betty Rosbottom

In years past, I have hosted a fair share of New Year's Eve celebrations, but for welcoming 2007, good friends have asked us to their house for a small dinner. I love this festive night -- definitely the most glamorous of the holiday season -- and cannot bear not having a hand in the cooking, so I RSVP'd with a request -- "Can I bring an appetizer?" My French host responded with an enthusiastic mais oui!

I knew exactly what I would make. Earlier in the month, I had given a holiday cooking class featuring hors d'oeuvres, and one of the most popular offerings had been a small Camembert baked with a topping of chopped pistachios, dried cranberries and orange zest. This appetizer is simplicity itself, but it makes a striking impression, especially for an important occasion.

There is nothing new about baking rounds of Camembert and Brie. Twenty years ago, they were all the rage, and then they seemed to appear less often. I decided to resurrect the idea, using a more updated garnish. I cut the top rind off an 8-ounce Camembert, then mounded the nuts, fruit and zest on the cheese.

I follow several guidelines when baking creamy cheeses with rinds. First, I place the cheese with its topping on a foil-lined baking sheet. This makes it easier to transfer the cheese to a serving plate after it is baked. Second, I always refrigerate the cheese 30 minutes or more before putting it in the oven. This seems to help keep the cheese from bursting. And, if the cheese should burst while in the oven, and its creamy insides start to ooze out, don't panic. Transfer the cheese (still oozing) on the foil to a serving plate, then surround it with crisp cracker of baguette slices. No one will notice the breaks.

This baked Camembert is quite versatile. You can use it as an opener, or serve it as a cheese course just before dessert. It is definitely special enough to offer Dec. 31, however you plan to celebrate!

Betty Rosbottom writes for Tribune Media Services. Recipe analysis provided by registered dietitian Jodie Shield.

Baked Camembert With Pistachios and Dried Cranberries

Serves 4 to 6

1 8-ounce round Camembert cheese, chilled (see note)

1/4 cup dried cranberries

1/4 cup shelled pistachios, coarsely chopped (see note)

1 teaspoon grated orange zest

thin crisp crackers, a sliced baguette or sliced crusty, peasant bread

Slice the rind off the top of the cheese and save for another use. Combine the cranberries, pistachios and orange zest in a small bowl, then mound this mixture on top of the cheese. Place the cheese on a foil-lined baking sheet and refrigerate 30 minutes or longer. (The cheese can be prepared 4 hours ahead; cover and refrigerate.)

When ready to bake cheese, arrange a rack at center position and preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Bake the cheese until warm and just softened, about 6 to 8 minutes. Watch carefully. You can check to see if the cheese is soft by touching it with your fingers. It should be slightly soft when you press it lightly. Remove and cool, about 3 to 4 minutes. Then, transfer the cheese on the foil to a serving tray. Cut or tear the excess foil away. Surround the warm cheese with crisp, thin crackers, or slices of a crusty baguette or crusty peasant bread.

Note: You can substitute an 8-ounce Brie or you can try a Chevre du Poitou - a 6.3-ounce round of creamy goat cheese with a rind that comes packaged in a wooden box. Both work well with the pistachio/cranberry topping.

Note: I like to use roasted, unsalted pistachios, which are available shelled at Whole Foods and Trader Joe's.

Per serving: 159 calories, 9 grams protein, 12 grams fat, 6 grams saturated fat, 5 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram fiber, 27 milligrams cholesterol, 318 milligrams sodium

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