10 March 2013

Brie Panini with Cranberry-Walnut Bread

Migros is a widespread supermarket chain in Switzerland. And this being Switzerland, it has quite an impressive baked goods and prepared sandwich counter. I frequent the fish counter weekly which is right next to the prepared sandwiches, so I am always eyeing a tasty looking brie sandwich with fruit and nut studded bread. I don't know if they press the sandwich to order but for months now I have been wanting to make a pressed version at home using homemade bread. And alas, I finally have and I sure am glad I did.

Pairing cheese with a sweet-ish bread for lunch may sound weird to some, but think of a cheese board where nuts, honey, quince paste, dried fruit, and an assortment of cheeses share a platter just begging to be eaten together. They're paired together for a reason.

This sandwich is simple; it requires minimal ingredients so each ingredient should be quality. There are three components; the whole grain cranberry and walnut bread, brie, and orange-balsamic dipping sauce. Paninis are best when the slices of bread are not too thick and the filling is kept to a minimal. Overstuffing the sandwich is not what we're after when pressing. The objective is to get a crispy outer with a delicate, cheesy, and flavorful middle pressed into a thin, somewhat flattened warm sandwich.

I would have loved to add a few thin slices of pear on top of the brie, but by the time I remembered to pick up some at the store my hand basket was overflowing, and I knew I would not possibly be able to fit one more thing in my bike basket and bike home with it all. But I usually add pear when I make a panini and would highly recommend it here as well.

I just recently started making my own yeast bread. The logistics of bread making have not appealed to me, that is, until recently when I came across a few different no-knead recipes. And I'm telling you, this one is a winner. It is damn simple to execute and so satisfying to have an end product that reminds you how self-sufficient you are. I've adapted the technique to streamline the process a bit more and added dried cranberries and walnuts to the base recipe. That being said, if you need a quicker meal and have access to good quality cranberry or raisin-nut bread (or a gluten-free bread if necessary) at your bakery, by all means go that route.

Now for the dipping sauce; this is an essential component, please don't skip it! Warm, crispy, gooey paninis are not the same without a thick, sweet, and tangy sauce to dunk them in. It is a simple blend of good quality balsamic vinegar, orange marmalade, walnut or extra virgin olive oil and grainy mustard. Nothing more than a vinaigrette really, but it makes the world of difference.

Brie Panini With Cranberry-Walnut Bread

Panini Assembly

Notes: You do not need a panini press to make a panini. Simply use a stove-top grill pan/saute pan. While grilling the first side lay a piece of foil over the sandwich and press down with a second pan to flatten. Place a heavy canned item in the top pan to weigh it down while the panini cooks so that you don't have to babysit it.

Brie, sliced
Cranberry and walnut bread, thinly sliced
Pear (ripe but firm), thinly sliced (optional)
Extra virgin olive oil for brushing bread
Orange-Balsamic sauce for dipping
Preheat panini press, grill pan, or saute pan over medium to medium-high heat.

Cover the bottom of one slice of bread with brie and layer a few slices of pear on top of the brie if using.   Cover with the other slice of bread, pressing gently. Brush both sides of the sandwich with a little olive oil and transfer to the hot press or pan. Grill until the outside of the bread is golden brown and toasted and the cheese is just melted (approximately 3-5 minutes for a panini press, 5-7 for a grill/saute pan). If using the latter, flip the sandwich over half way through to brown on the other side.

No-Knead Cranberry-Walnut Bread
Makes 1 large round loaf
Adapted from Green Kitchen Stories

Notes: I chose a combination of spelt and whole wheat flour, but Green Kitchen Stories says the recipe also works using only one type of flour or other flour combinations, so feel free to experiment or use what you have on hand. Incidentally, spelt flour is a great choice for those who can tolerate gluten but have a wheat sensitivity. 

2 1/2 cups lukewarm water
1/4 tsp. dried yeast or 3 g active yeast (the size of a pea)
2 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. honey
2 3/4 cups (400 g) whole spelt flour
2 cups (300 g) whole wheat flour
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
Extra flour for folding
Polenta or course cornmeal for sprinkling
1 oven proof dutch oven, cast iron or ceramic pot (approx 5 1/2 quart) or deep cast iron skillet

Place water in a very large mixing bowl. Stir in the yeast to dissolve. Next stir in salt and honey until well mixed. Sift flours into the water mixture and mix together until all is combined. It will look loose and messy, but that is normal. Cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let rise (in room temperature but free of drafts) for 12-15 hours.

After rising, the dough should have bubbles and feel sticky. Sprinkle a little flour over the dough, and working in the bowl, incorporate the cranberries and walnuts, gently folding the dough over itself and dusting with flour as needed. Re-cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 2-3 hours (in room temperature).

When there is about 30 minutes remaining, preheat the oven to 500°F (250°C) and place the dutch oven (no greasing needed) with the lid on in the oven. When the oven is fully preheated, remove the dutch oven, sprinkle the bottom with a thin layer of course cornmeal or polenta (this will facilitate easier removal once cooked), and pour the dough into the hot pot. Sprinkle more polenta around the edges of the dough, then cover with the lid and place it back in the hot oven. Bake for 30 minutes, then lower to 445°F (230°C), remove the lid, and bake for another 15 minutes. Remove it from the oven, let cool in the pot for 30-45 minutes (the cooler it is the easier it will be to remove), loosen the sides with a spatula and turn the dutch oven upside down over a cooling rack to release the bread. Let cool completely before storing.

Orange-Balsamic Dipping Sauce
Serves 2

2 Tbsp. aged balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp. cold-pressed walnut oil (or extra virgin olive oil)
1 scant tsp. orange marmalade (or apricot jam)
1 heaping tsp. grainy mustard
Pinch salt and pepper

Mix all ingredients together in a small bowl. Taste and adjust for seasoning, sweetness, and tartness. Serve in individual bowls for dipping. 

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