Berries and Brie in a Braid

Amidst the baking, shopping, cooking, card writing and cleaning that come with the holiday territory, I love it when friends stop by for some Christmas cheer. It gives me a good excuse to sit down, relax and enjoy the season.

I like to have a couple of things on hand to serve when I get visitors — snacks that can be plated without a lot of fuss and served in just minutes.

At this time of year, I almost always have my favorite cheese ball in the refrigerator and compatible crackers in the pantry. The cheese ball has been an old holiday standby of mine for years. I shared the recipe on this blog a year or so ago. You can click here to go right to the recipe. I had a couple of cooking classes in my kitchen this month and had the cheese ball ready for particpants to dig into when they arrived. (And speaking of digging in, it’s what makes a cheese ball look like a shipwreck on a plate in no time at all. If I want to serve the cheese ball mixture with a bit more elegance, I use a small portion scooper to form the cheese mixture into bite-sized balls.) For such an uncomplicated snack, it’s always a favorite and I always get requests for the recipe.

On a recent trip to the Twin Cities, I spent a few hours one afternoon with my friend, Pat Sinclair. She had prepared Cranberry Brie Bites for me to try, a recipe she developed herself. Small chunks of creamy Brie were nestled into mini fillo shells. Pat’s special spiced cranberry sauce covered each chunk. She heated the Bites in the oven for a few minutes before serving. They were so delicious. And, they reminded me that great appetizers don’t have to take hours to make.

When a friend joined me for lunch the other day, I made Pat’s spiced cranberry sauce to spoon over Brie cheese. But my finished product looked a lot different than Pat’s tiny tarts.

I left the round of Brie whole and trimmed the filmy white rind from the top of the Brie. Refrigerated pizza crust dough became a bread braid that would surround the Brie cheese. Once I unrolled the pizza dough, I cut the rectangle lengthwise into long strips, 1/2- to 1-inch wide. One tube of dough will easily produce enough strips to make 3 braided wreaths. It was easy to find a bowl that I could turn upside down to form the wreath around. The bowl must be a size that results in a wreath of bread that will hold the round of Brie.

Once the braided wreath was baked, I set the trimmed round of Brie in its center and spooned Pat’s spiced cranberry sauce over the Brie. Into the oven it went — just long enough for the cheese to melt.

It’s the kind of appetizer that demands a fork and plate. It’s also makes a delightful holiday lunch when paired with a hearty green salad or a bright spinach salad.

So, now I have a jar of the spiced cranberry sauce in my refrigerator and one or two rounds of Brie. A couple of braided wreaths are in the freezer. I baked three of them at the same time.

I’m ready. Now all I need are some more visitors.

Pat Sinclair, author of Baking Basics and Beyond, gave me permission to share her recipe for tiny Cranberry Brie Bites in my newspaper column. If you’d like the recipe, click here. She also shares recipes along with her baking expertise on her blog, Pat Cooks and Bakes.

Cranberry-Topped Brie in a Bread Braid

  • 1 (13.8-ounce) tube refrigerated pizza crust dough
  • 1 (8-ounce) round of Brie cheese
  • Spiced cranberry sauce (or your favorite cranberry sauce)
  • Hulled pistachio nuts, coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Unroll pizza crust dough. Cut the dough into strips about an inch wide. For each braided wreath, braid three strips of dough together. On a baking sheet, form the braided dough around a bowl that has been turned upside down. It should be a diameter that will allow the baked wreath to easily hold the round of Brie cheese. Remove the bowl from the baking sheet. Bake the wreaths in a preheated 425-degree oven for about 10 minutes or until the dough is golden brown. Turn off the oven.

Remove rind from top of Brie cheese. Set the round of cheese in the middle of the dough wreath on an oven-proof platter. Top with your favorite cranberry sauce.

Place platter with Cranberry-Topped Brie in a Bread Braid in the warm oven. Even though the oven is no longer on, it will still be very warm. Keep an eye on the cheese. When it looks melty, remove from oven. Sprinkle with chopped pistachios and serve.