~ Cloudberry Jam, Brie, Almond & Puff Pastry Braid ~
Circa 1980-1985 -- better known as the cloudberry jam period of my life. One of Joe's business associates (a man from Norway temporarily working here in Happy Valley) introduced us to a Norwegian specialty: small squares of grilled bread cheese topped with cloudberry jam. It was served as an appetizer at a cocktail hosted by Rolf and his Swedish wife. I fell in love with this cheesy treat immediately -- and said so. When I reciprocated the invitation, I was gifted a jar of the jam, a small brick of bread cheese and a package of stroopwaffes as a hostess gift.
From appetizers to entrées to desserts...
For several years, I ordered cloudberry jam, six at a clip, via State College's Cheese Shoppe. I served it with crackers and soft, mild cheeses, like Brie and St. Andre (bread cheese was not readily available to me at the time), at my own parties. Nowadays cloudberry jam is available on line. It's still pricey, about $15.00 a jar, but, for a holiday or special occasion indulgence, it's well worth the cost.
A bit about cloudberries: This wild plant, with a very short growing season, grows naturally in cool/cold mountainous regions of the Northern Hemisphere (like Canada and Alaska) and in the Nordic countries of the Baltic states. The berries, a bit resemblant of raspberries, are soft, juicy and rich in vitamin C. They're used to make jam, juice, cakes, tarts, tea and liqueur. In Finland, they use the jam as a topping for the above-named squeaky cheese (the nickname for bread cheese). In Sweden, cloudberry jam is used as a topping for ice cream, pancakes and waffles -- although I much prefer it with cheese. In Norway, they sometimes mix the jam with whipped cream to make a dessert called "multekrem", or, "cloudberry cream". Alaskans mix the berries with reindeer or caribou fat, fish oil and sugar to make "akutaq" or "Eskimo ice cream" (now doesn't that just sound appetizingly wonderful) -- not.
For home cooks who like to entertain, don't like to entertain, or, simply don't have a lot of time to entertain, store-bought puff pastry is a high-quality, time-saving ingredient -- especially during the holiday season. As one who makes all-butter, high-quality-butter, puff-pastry from scratch (to make Danish for special occasions), trust me, for certain culinary applications, store-bought puff-pastry is a relatively small compromise I am willing to make. There's two boxes stashed in my freezer at all times. Like many of my friends, I discovered puff pastry sheets in the 1980's. Grocery stores were becoming grocery chains, which expanded our choices and selections of established and new products exponentially. Cooks embraced this product, and, before long, we were all using it in creative ways to make appetizers, entrées and desserts. Here's one of my appetizers:
6 tablespoons cloudberry jam
8 ounce wedge of Brie, cold
1/4 cup lightly-toasted slivered almonds
1 large egg whisked with 1 tablespoon water, to be used as an egg wash for assembled pastry braid
~ Step 1. Preheat oven to 375°. Line a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with parchment paper. Remove Brie from refrigerator. Without removing packaging (it's easier to slice), cut into 1/4"-thick slices, alternating cutting from the right and left side of the wedge as you slice. Remove and discard the packaging. Return Brie to refrigerator.
~ Step 2. Place slivered almonds on a small baking pan. Roast on center rack of preheated 375° oven, until lightly-toasted and fragrant, 5-6 minutes, stopping to stir the almonds around in pan half way through the process (so they brown evenly). Remove from oven and set aside to cool to room temperature, about 15-20 minutes.
~Step 3. Remove pastry from packaging and place, lengthwise, on prepared baking pan. Using fingertips, carefully open the tri-folded sheet. Where the pastry was folded, will define three, even-sized thirds, each approximately 9"L x 3"W. Using a paring knife and a ruler, slice 3"L x 1/2"W "tabs" along the lower and upper thirds of the pastry (18 tabs on each third of the pastry), leaving the center third (which is where the fillings will go) uncut. If at any time while you are slicing the tabs, the pastry gets sticky, return pan to refrigerator for 5-6 minutes to firm it up again (and again). Cutting the tabs is very easy if the pastry is cold.
~Step 4. Place and spread the cloudberry jam over the center third of the pastry sheet. Arrange a layer of sliced cheese, lengthwise atop the jam. Cut and arrange a second layer of cheese, atop and in the opposite direction of first layer. Sprinkle the toasted almonds over the cheese.
~Step 5. Starting at one end and working all the way to the other, alternately crisscross the tabs up and over filling. When you get to the end, trim and remove the last two tabs of pastry, along with any excess scraps of pastry. As per ~ Step 3, if the tabs get sticky or start to stick to the pan, refrigerate for 5-6 minutes, then proceed. Tuck the ragged edges evenly underneath the pastry braid. Use the two trimmed tabs and ragged edges to seal the open end where you started. Both ends will now be sealed and tucked -- it doesn't have to be perfect, it will bake up beautifully.
~Step 6. In a small bowl, whisk the egg and water together. Using a pastry brush, lightly paint egg wash over the entire surface of the puff pastry braid. Bake on center rack of preheated 375° oven, 18-20 minutes. Pastry will be golden brown and bubbling and cheese will be just short of oozing from the nooks and crannies. Remove from oven and cool on pan 15-20 minutes. Use a spatula to transfer to serving plate prior to slicing and serving warm or at room temperature.
Cool this culinary work of art 15-20 minutes...
Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef'ss knife; small baking pan; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; paring knife; ruler; fork; pastry brush; large metal spatula
Cook's Note: It wasn't long before puff pastry was available to us cooks, not just in sheets, but in precut shells and cups. They were another welcome convenience and I embraced them too. This recipe gets served in baked puff pastry shells. try my recipe for this retro classic, ~ Seafood Newburg: Shrimp, Scallops & Crabmeat ~.
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)