When I was in school in England many moons ago, the chic appetizer on menus all over the country, from bistros to pubs, was fried camembert with a cranberry relish. Small wheels, or sometimes wedges, of camembert were breaded and fried and served with anything from a canned-type cranberry sauce to complicated cranberry relishes. One English grocery store even (to this day) sells a heat and eat version with a little tub of cranberry jelly. I loved it, and ordered all the time. But the likelihood of me coating and frying cheese has always been pretty slim. I tried coating the top of a wheel with breadcrumbs one time, but that was not very successful. But I love the combination of gooey cheese, crunchy crumbs and tart-sweet cranberry. Hence, this was born. A cheat’s version that truly rivals the inspiration.
A melty wheel of creamy cheese makes a wonderful appetizer that never fails to please. I love the funky depth of camembert, but you could certainly use brie or another creamy cheese. I like to bake it until it is really runny, so the cheese picks up the crumble when you swipe a server through it. Hazelnuts are the perfect winter partner for the cheese, but walnuts or pecans would work well. The cranberries and rosemary give this a festive look. Serve melty hot with baguette slices.
Baked Camembert with Hazelnut and Cranberry Crumble
2 ounces hazelnuts
3 sprigs rosemary
2 sprigs marjoram
1 clove garlic
1 ounce dried cranberries
Flaky salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 8 ounce wheel of camembert cheese
Put the hazelnuts in a dry skillet and toast for a few minutes over medium heat just to warm them through. Transfer to a tea towel, then fold over the towel and rub the hazelnuts around to loosen the skins. Don’t worry about getting every piece of skin, just the majority of it. Roughly chop the hazelnuts, either with a knife or in a mini food processor. Put about five rosemary leaves aside, then finely chop the remainder. Finely chop the marjoram. Cut the garlic clove in half and very finely mince one half. Heat a drizzle of olive oil in the skillet, then add the chopped herbs and the hazelnuts. Cook over medium high heat, stirring frequently just until the nuts start to take on a little toasty brown color. Watch carefully so they don’t burn. When the nuts are little browned, add the garlic and stir and cook for 30 seconds. Immediately put the mixture in a bowl, then add the cranberries and generous pinches of salt and pepper to taste.
Preheat to oven to 350°. Place the camembert in a small, lightly greased baking dish. Rub the cut side of the remaining garlic half over the top of the cheese, the use thin knife to make several slits in the top of the cheese. Poke the reserved rosemary needles down into the slits in the cheese. Bake the cheese for 15 – 20 minutes, until it is warmed through, soft and runny. Sprinkle over the crumble and heat for a further three minutes. Serve immediately with baguette slices.