It may be a little retro, but camembert is one of the most popular cheeses to bake whole. Whack it in the oven for just the right amount of time and you will be rewarded with an oozy, unctuous, ripe, soft, gooey decadent dish. On paper, the act of baking camembert sounds like a bit of a no-brainer, but there are a few expert tips and tricks to ensure success.
Executive chef Ben Varela is the big cheese at Public House Management Group and designed the menus at the Collaroy Hotel, Buena Vista Hotel, Forbes Hotel and The Royal, where he serves his rendition of the wheel with a sticky fig relish and nut crumble. Here's his advice on how to master the art of baking camembert.
Wheel of fortune
With so many wheels and wedges of camembert on the market, it is important to source a quality product. While Varela is excited by some of the "really incredible French camemberts on the market", his personal preference is to support Australian artisan cheesemakers such as The Barossa Valley Cheese Co.
"You've got to start with a good cheese. The best camemberts in the world come from France but we also have some amazing quality, ripe camemberts in Australia," says Varela.
Start by looking at the best-before date. Curd nerds say to enjoy the white mould cheese when it is fully ripe, which is in the last five days before the best-before date when the flavour and aroma is at its best.
Varela says after preheating your oven, you must score the rind so the hot air can escape. If you don't do this, the cheese will dry out. By scoring the rind, you can also infuse the cheese with flavours. When it comes to cooking time, Varela recommends baking the camembert for 10-15 minutes and checking it often.
"Wait until the oven is hot. You can definitely ruin the cheese by not baking it for long enough. You can also cook it for too long, in which case you have cooked it beyond the soft, gooey stage and it will go hard and then it's gone," he says.
You will know it's cooked when you touch it. "It has to be like a waterbed on the inside."
If you're taking the camembert out of the paper it's wrapped in you need to place the cheese on a circle of baking paper 2cm larger than its diameter than the cheese. Rub the cheese with a bit of olive oil and season with sea salt flakes. You can also cook it in the baking paper it is wrapped in. "If you're not cooking it in a dish or in the paper it's wrapped in, you must watch it carefully. What you are looking for is for some pressure on the walls of the rind. It needs to start bulging slightly and then it's done," he says.
Bring the cheese to room temperature before you place it in the oven.
A quality Camembert has a bloomy white rind, a soft, fragrant centre and strong, fruity flavour. Varela says infusing the Camembert with flavour before baking it is another option: "You can use everything from truffle pulp to honey, grated orange zest or chopped hard herbs such as thyme or rosemary."
What's so good about it?
"It's the whole hands on, everyone in and as you cut the Camembert and the cheese runs out and it's gooey like a fondue and everyone is all 'oooh' and 'aaaaaaah'," he says.
200g fresh figs, chopped
100g dried figs, chopped
1 large red onion, finely chopped
3 medium pears, peeled and chopped
10g ginger, grated
1 chilli, seeded and chopped
150g dark brown sugar
1 tsp sea salt
200ml red wine vinegar
1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
zest and juice of 1 lime
Combine all the ingredients in a heavy-based saucepan and place over a high heat. Bring to the boil, reduce heat, then simmer, covered, for 20 minutes.
Remove the lid and continue simmering for about an hour and a half, stirring often. Your goal is for the relish to become thick and glossy.
50g castor sugar
50g dried cranberries
Sea salt, to season
Oil the nuts slightly and toss with sugar and sea salt.
Roast the nuts in the oven at 100C for about 10 minutes, then remove from the oven and allow to cool. Roughly chop the nuts and mix through the cranberries and season. Store in an airtight container until required
1 wheel of quality Camembert
Olive oil spray
Toasted sourdough, to serve
Preheat the oven to 180C. Remove the cheese from its packaging. Cut a circle of baking paper 2cm larger in diameter than the cheese and place the wheel of camembert on it.
Using a sharp knife, score the top of the Camembert in a crisscross pattern. Bake for about 10-15 minutes or until the cheese is melting and the rind has started to caramelise.
Carefully remove cheese from the oven, then top with a generous handful of nut mixture and a spoonful of fig relish. Serve with toasted sourdough.
Correction: The original version of this recipe listed egg whites in the crumble recipe and omitted the sugar. These have been amended above.