When I worked in catering one of the most popular items on the cocktail menu was something we referred to as Cheese Dreams; bite-sized quarters of gourmet grilled cheeses stuffed with caramelized onions, bacon and cheddar. They were a party-goers food fantasy for late-night snacking, especially those who've consumed a few, ahem, beverages over the course of the evening.
The California Walnut Commission has created a holiday blogger challenge, and they are looking for the best recipe using their walnuts. I was asked to participate by the people at Faye Clack and I knew immediately that my holiday fare must include a little cheese dream. The recipes entered should be suitable for holiday gatherings and can include appetizers, side dishes, snacks, mains or desserts.
My mini sandwiches are most definitely appropriate for an hors d'oeuvres, but I know a few boys (namely the three in my house) who would be happy to have these for a side accompaniment to some soup, or even for dinner if necessary.
Candied California Walnut, Pear and Brie Cheese Dreams
- 1 cup California walnuts
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon water
- 8 slices raisin bread
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 2 cups aged-cheddar cheese
- 2 pears, halved, cored and thinly sliced
Combine the sugar and water in a small pot and bring it to a boil over medium high heat. Allow it to boil for 30 seconds, then add the walnuts and stir to combine ensuring each walnut is well coated with the sugar mixture.
Spread the walnuts out in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet and allow them to cool completely.
Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat. While the pan is warming make the sandwiches.
Lay out four slices of bread. Top each slice with a small handful of cheese, a few nuts, 3-4 slices of pear and a bit more cheese. Top with a second piece of bread.
Butter the top slices of the bread with a generous amount of butter. Place the sandwiches in the pan, butter side down. Cook for 2-3 minutes or until golden brown.
Butter the top slices of bread with a generous amount of butter and flip the sandwich over, cooking until the bottom of the sandwich is also golden brown and the cheese is completely melted.
Remove the sandwiches from the pan and slice them into quarters to serve.
A few notes:
1. Red pears offer a nice colour contrast in this recipe without changing the flavour profile.
2. I like to cut the crusts off my sandwiches for a cleaner and fancier look.