HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! How was your New Years Eve? What did you do? Are you more-than-slightly hungover with an urge for melty, cheesy, carby goodness? Good. Because that’s what I have for you today.
This recipe makes an awesome appetizer for a New Years Brunch or any get-together because it looks so elegant and fancy served up on a platter or buffet table. Complete with a compote you can proudly boast that you MADE FROM SCRATCH, thank you very much. Aaaaaandddd you’ll have a little extra of the it left over to, oh I don’t know, slather on some toast the rest of the week. Or stand at the refrigerator at midnight and eat with a spoon like a weirdo. Which I absolutely did NOT do a couple days ago.
It’s so good, trust me- you won’t be mad at the extra portion. NOT. AT. ALL.
Have you ever wondered what the difference is between a jam, a compote, a jelly and a marmalade are? They’re all considered preserves, which is is an umbrella term that refers to any fruit suspended in a gelatinous solution. So all jams, jellies, fruit butters, marmalades and compotes are considered to be preserves. All preserves contain three constants: fruit, sugar and heat. What differentiates them are the variables in which each is used.
Fruit naturally contains starch molecules called Pectin. These strong starch molecules are what hold together the cell walls of most fruits and vegetables. They’re very strong, and when enough pectin is heated to 220 degrees along with a sugar and an acid, a gel is formed. The question is- how much pectin is enough? See, different fruits contain different amounts of pectin. In general, the harder the fruit the more the pectin, since it allows for strong cell walls. Apples, for example, are hard and contain a LOT of pectin. The softer fruits like strawberries, contain less of it. So softer fruits require either more heat for longer periods of time, or the addition of powdered pectin or more sucrose, i.e. sugar, to allow more stability and setup. This is another determining factor in preserves- the amount of sugar needed determines how it behaves and sets up. Some preserves contain pieces or chunks of the fruit itself, some contain the rind, and others only use the juice of the fruit. The last determining factor is heat. Some are heated rapidly and then cooled down, like jams. They retain a lot of the fruit texture but aren’t completely smooth. Some are cooked like a jam, but then strained to remove all pulp or pieces of the fruit itself, which are referred to as jellies. A compote is chunkier and cooked for a little while longer, and also retains the pieces of the fruit itself, allowing it to set up a little thicker than a jam would. And a marmalade is a preserve ONLY made of citrus and always contained the whole fruit, rind and all. Fruit butters rely only on the pectin naturally occurring in the fruit and reducing it down over time, so you have to start with a fruit naturally high in pectin. Which is why you only see fruit butters in the form of: apples, apricots, grapes, peaches, pears, plums, prunes and quince.
This recipe is considered a compote, because its cooked and cooled over a longer period of time before use, and the combination of the blackberries (low pectin) and the grapes (high pectin) combined with the sugar and acid in the lemon juice form a chunky, thick preserve. Which is perfect in this recipe because it will hold up on top the mini Brie bites without falling off. Which means it’s a little more elegant and less awkward to eat in public. Although I must say I do enjoy the process of scooping out the Brie with a cracker and trying to get equal amounts of fruit, nuts and cheese. Food isn’t always easy, and it isn’t always neat-in fact, it almost never is. But that’s the creative beauty of recipes like this. The most composed dishes often occur when nothing else is.
I like to think that’s when the fun really starts.
Mini Baked Brie with Blackberry Grape Compote and Candied Almonds
6 Wheels of mini Brie, unwrapped and at room temperature
8 oz blackberries, reserving a few for garnish, if desired
8 oz. grapes, halved (I used Concord)
¼ C. Sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
½ tsp almond extract
2 tbsp honey
¼ C. Candied Almonds
Thyme to garnish (Optional)
Crackers to accompany
In a small saucepan, combine berries, grapes, sugar, lemon juice, vanilla bean paste, almond extract, and honey and bring to a boil while stirring occasionally to break up berries. Cook for 10-15 minutes until mixture thickens up. Set aside to cool.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place the Brie on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Gently slice the tops off the Brie wheels, careful to keep outer rim of rind intact (See photo for reference).
Bake Brie for 10-12 minutes. It should look melted and bubbly in the center but still remain upright and not slumped over.
Remove from the oven, and top with the compote, candied almonds, and sprig of thyme, if desired.
Serve with crackers and enjoy!