Dear Barbara: On Christmas, we are having champagne before dinner and then wine with dinner. Can you tell me what would be a good cheese to serve with the champagne? — Rachel from Lodi
Dear Rachel: The very first cheese that comes to mind would be brie. You can get “baby wheels” now at most supermarkets. They aren’t as wasteful as a large wheel when serving small groups.
There are many ways to make it more festive. You can spread any kind of fruit chutney — or fruit and nut mixture — on the top of the uncut wheel and wrap it up tight in a puff pastry sheet, then bake until it is puffed and golden for an elegant presentation (do let this cool until it is just warm, or your cheese will run everywhere), or just heat the uncut wheel slightly, and sprinkle a few raspberries around the sides. You will need to serve some type of cracker or toasted breads to spread it on. Most creamy, mild cheeses, such as brie or camembert, go well with champagne. I would stay away from sharp cheeses, such as cheddar and blue cheeses; they are too strongly flavored for the champagne.
Dear Barbara: Well, I just baked a great-sounding cheesecake that I saw in a magazine. I used a spring form pan, as it required, and baked the graham cracker crust according to the directions. The butter in the crust leaked out of the pan, burnt on my oven and smelled terrible! The crust itself seemed to survive, but what a mess! Should it have done that? It seems wrong to me. — Dan from Lodi
Dear Dan: Welcome to the world of baking! Anything that can happen will happen! Several things may have caused your dilemma. If you didn’t have your spring form pan clamped exactly right, you may have left little cracks of air space that the butter leaked out of. If your pan is not well made, butter can leak from unleveled areas, or seams that aren’t sealed well.
I have a few suggestions. If you use your spring form pan a lot, and it is an inexpensive and lightweight model, you might want to invest in something heavier that would serve you for many years and cause you very little stress. If you only use it occasionally, and don’t want to invest more money, the best thing you can do is wrap the pan on the bottom outside in foil to about halfway up the sides. This will make you happier, and you will not have to spend the time cleaning your oven.
Have a happy holiday, and try to relax and have fun with the baking!
Dear Barbara: Why is it that cakes stick to the pan even if you butter and flour them? I flip them onto a cooling rack when they are still a little warm so they won’t stick, and they stick about 75 percent of the time. — Christy from Lodi
Dear Christy: What I hear is the word “butter.” I think they mean to “grease” and flour the pan. Try using solid vegetable shortening or spray. Butter and margarine will make the cake stick.
Happy holidays to everyone and hope that 2013 is good to all!
Barbara Spitzer is a Lodi home cook who also develops recipes for specific consumer products. Do you have a cooking question? Send it to Barbara Spitzer at firstname.lastname@example.org.