Apple Baked Brie
With Honey, Walnut, & Caraway
I talk about healthy food quite a bit on Diversivore, and all of my recipes have detailed nutritional information, and cheese can seem a little out of place when you do this. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t consider Diversivore a health-food or nutrition blog, per se. I talk about what’s in food because I believe in meaningful, honest cooking. This brings me to cheese. Cheese is one of my absolute favourite foods, and I adore it in nearly every manifestation, from the mildest quark or ricotta, to creamy/bloomy brie, to potent funky blue. But because I love cheese, and because I care about honest food, I would much rather make a dish that celebrates cheese than one that uses it like a culinary band-aid. Cheese is a fascinating, biologically active, fermented food with enormous cultural significance, and it’s really, really tasty. But let’s not forget that one of the biggest reasons that our brains say “Mmm, cheeeeeese” is that it’s a very fatty, calorie-rich food. That kind of attraction is neurologically hardwired in us. Now I don’t have a problem with fat or calories, but I believe in consuming (and celebrating) them in a meaningful way. When cheese gets treated like a dinnertime cure-all, you start sliding down a slipper, gooey, melty slope.
When I started Diversivore I made something of a promise to myself to avoid falling victim to what I like to call the Melted Cheese Illusion. You’ve almost certainly encountered this bit of trickery before – it’s the one that takes bad food and somehow makes it look magically appealing by slapping on cheese. Got a dull casserole? Slather that bad boy in melted cheddar! Uninspired vegetable mash? Stir a full cup of cream cheese in there! I can’t even count the number of ‘recipes’ I’ve seen that basically revolve around a dip made of cream cheese, chopped bacon, and chives (the token greenery, I suppose). That’s a tasty, indulgent way to eat chips, but it’s a ridiculous thing to slather on cauliflower to serve as a vegetable side. The Melted Cheese Illusion is at its strongest in photos full of stretched stringy cheese. The effect is so instantly appealing that it shifts attention from the fact that the rest of the dish might as well be styrofoam. A good dish is supposed to be a coming-together of good ingredients, not a single overwhelming high-fat-high-flavour ingredient slapped over dull filler. Cheese is used to do this all too often. For what it’s worth, cheese isn’t the only ingredient abused this way, and the approach isn’t solely a problem in the home kitchen; truffles were the haute cuisine band-aid du jour until fairly recently, recklessly used for their dominant flavour (and to add dollar signs to the menu) in plenty of unoriginal restaurant meals.
Now I don’t want to sound hypocritical – I love cheese, and I’ve used it many (many) times on Diversivore. But when I use cheese, I want it to be because it’s being celebrated, and/or it’s an essential, irreplaceable ingredient. Basically, I like cheese to be the star. This baked brie is precisely what I mean – it’s unabashedly, gloriously cheesy. But even in recipes like this, the cheese is meant to share the marquis with other stars; my apple grilled cheese is forgettable without the tart Granny Smith, my halloumi is lost without hummus and grilled lemons, and I went to great pains to create a broccoli cheddar soup recipe that highlights the flavour of broccoli and the sweetness of corn along with the sharp cheddar. Cheese does not, in fact, stand alone. When cheese doesn’t hold the spotlight, I think it needs to be in a vital supporting role. Parmigiano-reggiano appears over and over again on this site because its glutamate-rich salty/savoury character finishes dishes so well. Queso fresco shows up in lots of my Mexican food because it adds a creamy, slightly tangy freshness that counters the strong spices and potent flavours. Cheese means something to me, and it should mean something on the plate. When deciding whether or not the cheese in a dish stands up to this kind scrutiny, I like to think of George Costanza. In the Seinfeld episode “The Foundation,” George talks about his bachelor’s paradise, in which he is “stripped to the waist eating a block of cheese the size of a car battery.” I basically ask myself the following question: does cheese contribute meaningfully to this dish, or am I just trying to disguise the fact that I want to eat a block of cheese? Honestly, as someone who would happily eat a block of cheese, it’s an internal dialogue I engage in fairly regularly. And hey, if you do want to eat a block of cheese, then make it a treat, make it the star, and make it spectacular. After all, sometimes you want to just eat some really, really good cheese. Ditch the tater-tot casserole and its half-pound of melted mild cheddar and save those calories for something you’ll really love. I’m saving mine for baked brie.
Alright, let’s move from cheese in general to some cheese specifics. This is a simple recipe, but one with some big flavours. I find some baked brie recipes rely a little too heavily on sweetness, and while you certainly want that element to come into play, I wanted to work with some more distinctive and savoury elements. With that in mind, I worked behind four big, distinctive flavours: tart apple, honey, caraway seed, and walnut. It’s simple, tasty, memorable, and a perfect foil to the rich creamy brie. I’ve given a little bit of information below, but honestly it’s a pretty straightforward recipe to work with.
You want to make sure that you’ve got fresh walnuts and caraway when you’re putting this together. Taste the walnuts to ensure that they’re not rancid or overly bitter. Caraway, as with all spices, loses a lot of flavour after it’s ground or if it’s been kept on the shelf too long. I always prefer to use whole caraway seed and to grind it fresh when I need it, but if you do use pre-ground stuff, make sure that it’s as fresh as possible.
As for the apples, any decent, sweet/tart variety will work (more on this below), though it’s worth noting that some apples give up a lot more liquid when they cook than others. Mutsu apples are quite juicy, and the extra liquid makes it take a little longer to cook the mixture. However when I made this with firm Ashmead’s Kernel apples, it caramelized and cooked quite a bit quicker. Basically, make sure you keep a close eye on it, and use the cooking times I’ve given as a suggestion.
The apple/walnut topping recipe will give you more than you need to cover the top of one small (200 gram) wheel. This is intentional. Let’s face it, we all know that the good topping-covered cheesy bits get gobbled up first. Put the extra topping in a bowl and serve it beside the finished cheese. That way you’ll be getting cheese and topping all the way to the last bite.
When it comes to choosing the cheese, go for something you know and love if possible. I made this (twice in fact) with Island Brie from Vancouver Island’s own Little Qualicum Cheeseworks. I love their cheese (enough to have actually visited the farm in fact), and if you live on the Island or in the Lower Mainland of BC you can find their products at a variety of locations, including Vancouver Farmer’s Markets. If you aren’t lucky enough call this corner of the world home then I’d encourage you to look for a good local cheese-maker, and to try finding a brie from your own backyard. If that’s not doable, then just look for a good, rich, creamy French brie. If you’re more of a Camembert fan, there’s no reason that you can’t swap it out for brie. If you can’t find a small wheel of brie, you can always use a wedge – though you certainly can’t bake it unless you want a gooey disaster. If you go that route, simply make the topping, gently warm the brie, and serve them together on a plate.
This recipe is part of a series highlighting the flavour and versatility of little-known and underappreciated apple varieties.
There has been a growing interest in rediscovering forgotten heirloom apples, as well as a resurgent interest in growing and marketing new hybrid varieties. Apples were once once of the most important and varied fruits in both North America and Europe, but large-scale commercialization favoured a handful of attractive, easy-to-grow apples with long shelf lives. But the longest lasting apples aren’t necessarily the best or most interesting ones, and chefs, farmers, and apple enthusiasts around the world are working to give some of these forgotten apples the exposure they deserve. This little feature is my contribution to that worthy cause.
Mutsu apples were developed in Japan in the mid 20th century, and are frequently sold in North America under the name Crispin. This apple is the most common and commercially popular apple of the varieties I’ve chosen to look at so far. In fact, the US Apple Growers association rates it in the top 20 varieties in the country. Nonetheless, I feel like it’s underappreciated, and I think that has a lot to do with the colour of its skin. Yellow and green apples have a hard time competing against red and red-blushed apples for a variety of reasons, but one of the big ones has to do with bruising. Yellow apples don’t bruise more easily than red ones, but the do show bruises more easily. Our desire for utterly perfect look fruits and vegetables has driven wonderful pale varieties out of many stores. That makes the relative popularity of this large, beautiful, flavourful apple all the more impressive. They’re a truly spectacular multi-purpose apple withe wonderful flavour and texture. Sharp, sweet, and a little sour, they’re juicy and excellent for eating, juicing, cooking, and drying. It’s one of my personal favourites. If this was a red apple, you can bet it would be one of the most popular apples in the world.
If you can’t find Mutsu/Crispin apples, don’t fret. You can make this recipe with any good sweet/tart apple, and you’d probably do alright with the ubiquitous Granny Smith. I personally think that it benefits a lot from the perfumed sweetness that comes with an all-purpose apple like the Mutsu, so I’d personally seek out something with a little bit less acidity and a little more sugar (Jonagold would probably work nicely). You can try mixing apples too – a Granny Smith and a Fuji, Ambrosia, or Honeycrisp would work very nicely.
Disclaimer: I have not been compensated for any of the external (off-site) recommendations or links given in this article. I choose to recommend them based on personal experience and on my belief in their quality and/or educational value. Happy cooking.
The nutritional information given is for a 1/4 portion. Scale up or down accordingly.
Note that bread, crackers, etc. are NOT included in the information below.
No ingredient pages have been written yet for any of the ingredients in this recipe, but it is part of a series on unique apples.
No pantry pages have been written yet for any of the ingredients in this recipe. Like to see one? Let me know in the comments below or by email.
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