I originally developed this for a recipe & cooking contest on Food 52 which needed to feature maple syrup. The real stuff. Sweet potatoes seemed like a natural paring. As I thought my way down through the layers of the dish, I realized that I needed something to balance the sweetness of the potatoes and the maple syrup. I was going for a side dish, not a dessert.
Salty. I needed something salty. And tender, I wanted tender textures throughout. I wandered over to my favorite deli/wine shop and just stood in front of the cheese array, arms crossed, a pensive look on my face. The lovely ladies there are used to me needing to just stand and think, so they kindly let me take my time. And if I should happen to mumble out loud, they don’t give it a thought. At least they don’t say anything within earshot. So when my gaze landed on a Brie au Bleu, and I shouted, “Oh, that’s IT!” they all but clapped their hands. It’s one of my favorite cheeses, Brie with salty veins of bleu cheese shot through its creaminess. And Brie melts like butter.
I typically use bread crumbs or Panko in layers and on top of a gratin. I decided not to here because I wanted a soft consistency throughout. If you can’t imagine a gratin without at least a topping of crunch, feel free to sauté some crumbs in a couple of tablespoons of butter and scatter them over the surface.
And how to finish it off? Vegetable stock just didn’t sound right. I didn’t think it was going to bring out enough flavor. Chicken stock? Too many competing flavors. Cream? Yes. And since I intended to slice the sweet potatoes on the thinnest setting of my mandoline, I knew I wouldn’t need a lot of it for the potatoes to cook adequately. Too, I had a feeling that it would be rich enough that a small serving would be very satisfying.
Even though days are bright and warm(ish), evenings still cool rapidly – good weather for a deep gratin. Serve it with anything you like. Leftovers reheat perfectly, and in fact make a wonderful breakfast topped with a poached egg.
- 1 large or 2 small sweet potatoes, not more than 1 pound total
- 4.5 ounce round of Brie au Bleu
- Soft butter for brushing the casserole
- 1 teaspoon sea or kosher salt
- Several grinds of pepper
- 2 ounces of your favorite maple syrup, medium amber
- 6 ounces heavy cream (or half & half)
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Peel the sweet potato(es) and slice them as thin as possible. This is an excellent job for the thin setting on a mandoline.
- Trim the rind from around the edge of the round of brie, then carefully slice off both the bottom and top rinds. There is nothing objectionable about their flavor – in fact, they’re very tender and you should definitely eat them with some good bread or crackers. Rather, the cheese will melt to a much better consistency within the gratin with the rind removed. Slice the Brie thinly, narrower than 1/2″.
- Run a pastry brush over some soft butter, then brush the inside of a 2-quart casserole, hopefully with a lid.
- Arrange half of the sweet potato slices in the bottom of the casserole, fanning them apart with your fingers. Try to get the layer as level as possible. Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon of salt over them, followed by some grinds of pepper. Drizzle 1 ounce of maple syrup over the sweet potatoes, followed by 3 ounces of heavy cream. Arrange the slices of Brie in a single layer. Over the Brie, distribute the remaining slices of sweet potato. Sprinkle with another 1/2 teaspoon of salt and some grinds of pepper. Pour over them the remaining ounce of maple syrup and the last 3 ounces of cream. Cover with a lid or aluminum foil and place in oven.
- Bake for 20 minutes, then remove the lid or foil and bake for another 20 minutes. The gratin is done when the potatoes feel tender when pierced with a sharp knife, the cream is reduced and thickened, and the surface is lightly browned. Remove from oven, replace lid or foil, and let sit for 5 minutes before serving.