Baked Goat Cheese with Balsamic Glazed Figs

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Did you ever notice that no matter what else you serve at a party, if you put out any kind of warm, melty cheese, it will be devoured in about thirty seconds? This Baked Goat Cheese with Balsamic Glazed Figs is no exception. It’s a serious crowd pleaser and a lighter alternative to baked Brie or Camembert. And with fresh rosemary, dried figs, chopped pistachios and a generous drizzle of honey, it’s the perfect festive appetizer for a holiday spread.

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I love fresh figs, but with their short season they can be hard to find. Dried figs, plumped up with balsamic vinegar, honey and fresh orange juice, are just as sweet and delicious.  I spoon them onto warm goat cheese flavored with rosemary and chili flakes for a spread that’s savory, sweet, and a little spicy. If you can find Mike’s Hot Honey or another spicy honey, it’s especially good drizzled over the goat cheese just before serving. 

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Serve this right from the oven (on a hotpad!) with plain crackers or crusty baguette slices. Then take a step back and watch it disappear before your eyes. In fact, you might as well make two while you’re at it! I’m making these for a Christmas brunch this weekend and am planning on doing exactly that. 

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Baked Goat Cheese with Balsamic Glazed Figs

Ingredients

  • 10 ounces plain, creamy goat cheese, softened at room temperature for 30 minutes
  • 2 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup dried Calimyrna figs
  • 1 tablespoon honey, plus more for serving
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon shelled roasted and salted pistachios, roughly chopped

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl using a hand mixer) combine the goat cheese, cream cheese, rosemary, red pepper flakes, and salt. Beat for 2 minutes on medium-high speed, until smooth and lightly whipped.

Transfer to a small (7 or 8-inch diameter) ovenproof skillet or shallow baking dish. Bake for 25-30 minutes until puffed and lightly browed around the edges.

Meanwhile, remove the hard stems from the figs and cut them into quarters. Combine the figs, honey, vinegar, and orange juice in a small saucepan. (The figs should fit snugly in one layer.) Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer until the liquid has reduced to a thick glaze, about 8-10 minutes.

Carefully spoon the figs and any remaining liquid onto the center of the goat cheese.  Sprinkle the pistachios over the figs, drizzle the cheese generously with honey, and serve hot directly from the baking dish with pita chips or thin slices of baguette.


Pear and Hazelnut Cake

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I know, these next few weeks are supposed to be all about pies. But does the world really need another recipe for pumpkin or pecan pie? Don’t get me wrong, I love both of them, (especially cold out of the fridge the morning after Thanksgiving) but I thought it would be more fun to come up with a new take on fall flavors than trying to reinvent the proverbial Thanksgiving wheel. 

This Pear and Hazelnut Cake has been my little baking project this fall, and I’m really excited to share the final recipe with you. It’s a versatile cake that would be as welcome on a weeknight or Sunday afternoon as it would be at a dinner party or holiday table. The pears make for a dramatic presentation, but because this cake is baked “upside-down” and then flipped before serving, making that pretty pear pattern couldn’t be easier.

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Pear and hazelnuts go really well together- the flavors complement each other and neither one overpowers the other. And without the addition of traditional fall spices, which have a way of making everything taste the same (ahem, pumpkin spice) the pear and hazelnut flavors are really clear. The addition of browned butter to the cake adds another layer of nuttiness, and somehow the batter ends up tasting just like toasted marshmallows and hazelnuts. Mmm.

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I use Bosc pears because they have a beautiful long pear shape, and they don’t get as soft and juicy as other pears do when they’re ripe. This makes them less ideal for eating raw, but for perfect for baking. If the pears are rock hard at the store, I let them sit on the counter for a few days to ripen before using them. The pears go into the pan over a mixture of butter, dark brown sugar and maple syrup and are perfectly tender and subtly sweet when the cake comes out. 

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Now, I know not everyone hosts or attends the sort of Thanksgiving where non-traditional desserts are welcome, and I understand that. It’s the one time of year we fill a plate with four kinds of pie while explaining that this is the one time of year we get to eat these pies. It’s a great tradition. But I still think this cake would be a terrific  addition to any Thanksgiving dessert spread. And I can say from experience that it, too, is even better eaten out of the fridge the next morning…

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Pear and Hazelnut Cake

Ingredients

1 stick plus 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, divided, plus more for greasing the pan
1 tablespoon maple syrup
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 ripe Bosc pears
1 cup raw hazelnuts, finely ground in a food processor
½ cup all purpose flour
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
6 large egg whites, at room temperature
½ cup granulated sugar
unsweetened whipped cream, for serving (see note)

Directions

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a 9-inch round cake pan and line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper.

In a small sauté pan, heat the butter over medium-low heat and cook until golden brown flecks form all around the edges of the pan. Watch the butter carefully because it will burn quickly! Remove the pan from the heat and using a rubber spatula, scrape the browned butter into a small bowl to cool, making sure to scrape up all the brown bits.

In a small bowl combine the remaining 3 tablespoons butter, maple syrup, and brown sugar and stir to combine. Using a rubber spatula, spread the mixture evenly over the bottom of the pan. Cut pears in half through the stem. Trim the stems and carefully core the pears with a melon baller or teaspoon. Cut two 1/2-inch thick slices (lengthwise) from each half so you end up with 4 slices from each pear. Artfully arrange the pears, cut sides down, on top of the butter mixture.

In a small bowl, combine the ground hazelnuts, flour and salt, and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer (hand mixer works, too!), beat the egg whites and granulated sugar until the egg whites form firm peaks. Using a rubber spatula, very gently fold in the browned butter, then the nut/flour mixture, until just combined. Transfer the batter to the pan, and smooth the top with a rubber spatula.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the cake is lightly browned around the edges and a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Cool for five minutes and then carefully invert onto a serving plate. Serve warm or at room temperature with unsweetened whipped cream.

Note: To make unsweetened whipped cream, whip 1 cup cold heavy cream with 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment or in large mixing bowl using a hand mixer. Whip until just firm and serve immediately.