For some, robins might be harbingers of spring, but I tend to get a head start when daylight saving time comes around. It’s hard to consider that winter is still the norm for another week or so when it’s sunny and balmy at 6 pm. So, while my stock pot and Dutch ovens will still see plenty of action, I wanted to play in the kitchen without using an oven or grill. So, meet the pretty cheeses that came out of the kitchen today.
Years ago, I was at a gathering where someone brought a wheel of Brie decorated with real pansies glued in place with a sheer veil of wine-spiked gelatin. I was attracted to that Brie like a cat to a rhinestone-covered field mouse. It looked as if it belonged in the window at Tiffany instead of on a kitchen counter.
The process is simple. Decorate the cheese with edible flowers – really, anything that’s edible and a good match, flavor-wise – then coat the cheese with gelatin, repeating the process until you get a glassy effect. Keep it chilled until you’re ready to serve and that’s basically all there is to it.
For a couple of years, I took versions to a few parties, then promptly forgot about it. Until today. And now I want to share these pretty cheeses with you because they’re perfect for any spring event – from a bridal shower to a Mother’s Day brunch. And you can make them with just about any cheese – with or without a rind.
The ingredients are few and a recipe really isn’t even necessary. But, here’s what you’ll need:
1 and 1/2 cups white wine mixed with 1/2 cup water for a total of two cups liquid
1 envelope Knox gelatin
Place the liquid in a small saucepan, then sprinkle the gelatin over the water, letting it sit for a few minutes.
When you no longer see powder, heat the mixture over medium heat until it becomes clear and the gelatin is completely dissolved.
It doesn’t need to boil. When it’s done, pull it off the stove and let it cool a bit.
When the pan is cool or slightly warm, place it in a little ice water so that the gelatin becomes cool but not thick or it’ll be gloppy. No problem if that happens, just place the pan back on the heat. Gelatin is very forgiving and you can cool and heat it while you’re working as needed.
As for the cheese, I used four different types.
Keep the cheese cold so that the gelatin will set faster. Also, the process is less of a mess if you place the cheese on a cooling rack over a cookie sheet to catch the gelatin as you spoon it over the cheese.
How to glaze the cheese:
When the gelatin is prepared, spoon a little onto the tops and sides of the cheese. It’ll help the pretties to stick. Arrange your flowers or herbs, then spoon gelatin over the entire cheese. Make sure there aren’t any bubbles; you’re going for a glassy finish. Pop the cheese into the fridge for about 10 minutes, then pull it out and pour on another round of gelatin. You might have to repeat the process about three times or until your flowers or herbs are completely coated.
Some instructions suggest using a brush, but I find that it disturbs delicate leaves and petals, so the spooning method works best for me, and it’s backed up by the finger smoothing method, too.
If you’re using a cheese with a rind, make sure it’s edible. In other words, don’t use a cheese with a waxy rind.
And it’s important to use herbs and flowers that are pesticide free. I wash the flowers and herbs in vegetable wash.
Place on paper towels and dry them carefully.
It helps if the flowers and other decorations you use are as flat as possible so that they don’t hold excessive amounts of gelatin. I tried drying the rose petals in the microwave but they looked tired and not what I was going for. See?
You can tell that the two petals on the far right weren’t nuked. So, what I did to flatten them a bit was to grab a rolling pin. Worked perfectly for the bougainvillea and the herbs, too.
Before you start using the gelatin, figure out how you’re going to place the embellishments.
These pretty tangerine-and-lemon rose petals looked like a perfect fit for the little wheel of goat milk Brie.
For a finishing touch, I made a green ribbon of braided chives.
I wanted the Irish cheddar to get a little kick, so I decided that paper thin jalapeno rings would do the trick. A mandolin to get super thin slices comes in handy here.
To bump up both the flavor and the visual impact, some dried red chilies were in order.
Smoked salmon seemed like a no-brainer for the cream cheese, and I came across a little heart-shaped cookie cutter from an Easy-Bake Oven I wrote about a while back. I ended up draping the cheese with salmon hearts and fresh dill.
The salmon slices were a little thick, so I placed them between sheets of plastic wrap and gently rolled them about the thickness of prosciutto. But, it’s really delicate so don’t use a heavy hand with the fish.
And for the traditional Brie, I had strawberries in mind, however, the berries I bought had no flavor and they looked pretty bland when I sliced them. So, I ditched the berries and went for bougainvillea, which is vibrant and edible.
It’s important that you know which plants are edible and which are toxic. Only after I purchased stunning poppy-orange ranunculus, thinking I’d recreate the flower on a wheel of Brie, did I find out that it’s not edible. Oh, and edible doesn’t always mean palatable. It just means it won’t kill you or send you to the ER.
See how easy it is? Now, go out and find your favorite cheese and dress it up like it’s a party girl heading out to her first spring fling. Let me know how it goes.