Retro Recipes: Apple Cheese Ball

Whenever I teach a cooking class, I always make sure to prepare and serve some kind of fun snack for the students to nibble on during the first couple hours of cooking. While planning for my retro cooking class, I knew I wanted to make a fun and kitschy cheese ball that would go right along with the theme and still be easy enough to prepare in advance of the class.

Some of you might remember the smokey porcupine cheese ball I made for my 1960s cocktail party a couple years ago. This time I decided to go in a different direction based on an idea I spotted in an old issue of Southern Living magazine.

I used my own basic cheese ball recipe, but used their idea of molding it into an apple shape and dusting it liberally with paprika (I used smoked Spanish paprika to pump up the flavor). The apple stem is a cinnamon stick, though I think a pretzel or bread stick, or even one of those "Pirouette" cookies would make excellent substitutes. The apple leaf is a dried bay leaf.

I made the apple in just a few minutes the morning of my class, and then let it chill all day in the fridge. I recommend taking it out of the fridge about an hour or so before serving for easier spreading. I served it with crackers and a small cheeseknife.

photo by Monica Navarro
Cheese balls are always a hit because they are (of course) delicious, but I think even more so because they're just so whimsical that it puts guests into an instant relaxed mood. How can anyone be nervous when there is a pound of cheese in the shape of a giant apple sitting in the middle of the table!? If you're looking for a great idea to serve or take to a holiday party, this is definitely it.

The best part is that the apple starts to look even more realistic once your guests dig into it. The white cheese inside contrasts with the paprika and makes it look like someone has taken a big bite out of the apple. I think next time I might even go ahead and spoon out a "bite" before the guests arrive!

My basic recipe for this cheese ball is below, and I've included substitution ideas. This is really one of those recipes that's difficult to mess up, and with which you can really have a lot of fun. If you've got kids, definitely get them involved with this one--they'll love it!

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Retro Apple Cheese Ball
Serves about 12 as a party appetizer; inspired by a recipe in Southern Living magazine

8oz cream cheese, softened to room temperature
1/2 pound Monterey Jack cheese, grated (white cheddar, smoked gouda, or fontina would also work here)
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon Tabasco
Pinch ground cayenne pepper
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
Sweet Paprika (use sweet smoked paprika for a smokey flavor)
1 cinnamon stick (or substitute a pretzel stick, bread stick, or long cookie such as "Pirouette"
1 large whole bay leaf

In a large bowl, combine the cream cheese, grated cheese, and heavy cream, stirring until well combined. Add the Worcestershire, Tabasco, and cayenne pepper. Season with Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste.

Using clean hands, shape the cheese mixture into a round ball and then create indentations on top and a narrower bottom to mimic the shape of an apple (while making this I finally realized where the term "apple shape" came from!).
Place on a sheet of wax or parchment paper and generously sprinkle paprika all over the entire ball, making sure to get all the sides and bottom. Transfer to your serving plate, patching in any open spots with additional paprika.
Insert the cinnamon stick and bay leaf on top like a stem and leaf. Place in the refrigerator and chill for at least 3 hours to set. Remove from fridge about one hour before serving.

Serve with crackers or baguette slices and a small knife for spreading.

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