In one of my other lives, I teach at Baker University, a place that takes hospitality and entertaining rather seriously. At no time of year is this more evident than during the holidays, when the university is host to a number of functions and encounters with party food are darned near impossible to avoid.
I've often thought that the catering staff at Baker, now headed by Tanya Sieber, has developed the hors d'oeuvres buffet table into an art form. For starters, the catering staff always pays a great deal of attention to presentation and sets out a lovely spread, so people are impressed before they even start nibbling.
The other thing I've noticed is that many of the standard items that turn up at Baker events are very simple, but they are well-chosen and done well. The buffet table at a Baker reception typically is organized around platters of salmon or shrimp or both. Notably, these shrimp are usually the size of a child's hand.
During the holidays the table at an event for a couple hundred people is likely to include perhaps a dozen more items of finger food, not the least of which is a baked brie.
In fact, I can't remember ever being at a Baker reception where baked brie wasn't within reach.
A couple of years ago, I started pestering Kathryn Zeller, the former catering director, to give me the recipe for the baked brie. She said it was ridiculously easy and that she really didn't have a recipe, but she agreed to give me a demonstration. As it happened, we never got it done, and Kathryn passed away suddenly last year.
I put the same question to Tanya, and she wrote out the following instructions:
To make the baked brie, you need to buy a sheet of puff pastry dough (Pepperidge Farms makes a good product, in the frozen section) and a wheel of brie (whatever size you like.) The dough tends to be a little thick, so I let it thaw out and roll it to about 1/4 inch thick. Then wrap the brie in the pastry, making sure that you have a good seal. Put it on a sheet pan, give it a thin egg wash, and bake it at 425 degrees, just until the pastry browns nicely. Transfer it to a serving dish and you're in business.
For a fancier and even tastier product, spread some pecans and marmalade or strawberry jam over the brie before you wrap it.
Tanya also shared the recipe for mocha punch, another Baker favorite. Here we do have an actual recipe, which makes about 20 servings.
1 1/2 quarts water
1/2 cup instant hot cocoa mix
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup instant coffee granules (either decaf or regular)
1/2 gallon vanilla ice cream
1/2 gallon chocolate ice cream
1 cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks
Chocolate curls to garnish (optional)
In a large pot, bring water to a boil and remove from heat. Add cocoa mix, coffee and sugar. Stir until dissolved and refrigerate mixture at least 4 hours. Set ice cream out to soften about 30 minutes before serving. Combine cream, ice cream, and coffee mixture in a punch bowl, saving some of the whipped cream to dollop on top. Garnish and enjoy.