If you are in the High Point – Winston Salem – Greensboro viewing area and you watched me on Tuesday morning, Dec 13, on My Fox 8 with Co-host Cindy Farmer, then you saw how having a block of real dairy cream cheese on hand can make the holidays easy-peasy ( and oh so cheesy!)
In case you missed it, here is the link to the video . My favorite little serving trick with cream cheese is right at the top of the segment. I’ll talk more about it at the end of this post. After you watch, keep reading for all of the tips and tricks and the recipes with all of their sweet and savory variations.
Make Real Dairy Cream Cheese your Always on Hand Go-To
The wonderful thing about all of the recipes in today’s post is that you can have everything on hand in your pantry or in your fridge. While these recipes will work with lower in fat Neufchatel Cheese they really work best with whole milk cream cheese.
Cream cheese is a soft mild very spreadable cheese specific to America. It is made with milk and cheese and offers the same nutritious proteins and vitamins we find in whole milk. Often “tub cream cheese” comes “flavored” with herbs, onions or sometimes even smoked salmon. Leave these varieties for spreading on bagels and English muffins. For the following recipes go with the plain cream cheese and then add the additional sweet or savory flavors yourself.
Here are the Basics
In addition to the cream cheese – here is the short list of other ingredients you’ll need on hand to make all of the recipes in this post
- Refrigerator puff pastry, pie dough or crescent roll dough
- a block of cheddar or colby cheese
- a block of Parmesan cheese
- Your favorite peanut butter ( my go-to is the crunchy variety from Coddle Creek Farms in Mooresville NC)
- Markola Coffee Syrup from Durham NC – order online here. I first tasted this wonderful syrup when I was staying at The Durham Hotel. They use it at the bar to make coffee tonics – a wonderfully refreshing mocktail made with a splash of the syrup over ice, tonic water and a squeeze of lemon. Delicious.
Entertain Your Guests with These Tasty Cream Cheese Puffs
This recipe is so simple. In addition to a block of cream cheese, you’ll need a mini muffin tin and a package of your favorite refrigerator dough. I like the puff pastry because it puffs and adds a more festive look to your hors d’oeuvre platter.
First, make the homemade pesto by using this recipe. I make tons of pesto in the summertime when basil is plentiful. This time of year, when basil is no longer in the garden, I use fresh spinach I find at local farmers markets and add 1-2 packages of fresh basil leaves from the grocery store produce department. If I don’t have pine nuts in the freezer, I find that walnuts make a fine substitute.
A food processor will make short work out of all the chopping and blending. First, use the steel knife to chop the pesto and spinach; then add the walnuts and chop them in with a couple of quick on/offs and finally add chunks of real aged Parmigiana Reggiano cheese. You can put the chunks of Parmesan right in over the spinach and nut mixer and blend well. Then, add the block of cream cheese. For everything we are doing today – I’ve substituted a block of cream cheese for the EVOO called for in the original recipe. This will give you a cheesier spread for dipping or for serving on crackers.
Before you bake the pesto – be sure to add a whole egg to the mix.
Puff Pastry and Pesto Holiday Tree Bread
- 1 sheet puff pastry dough or use refrigerated pie crust dough or crescent roll dough
- 1 cup Heidi's Homemade Pesto made with cream cheese
- 1 egg
- 1 beaten egg mixed with a bit of water
- 2-3 Tbsp. Parmesan Cheese finely grated
Unroll the puff pastry dough onto a sheet of parchment paper.
Use a rolling pin to make it just a little bit larger. Take care not to roll it too thin.
Add one whole egg to your cream cheesy pesto.
Spread the pesto across the dough leaving about a 1/2 inch on each side.
Fold the dough over to enclose the pesto layer.
Cut off two corners of the dough to make a triangular top to your tree and cut the bottom of the dough out to make a tree trunk.
Use your knife to cut strips into each side of your "tree" . Then, take your fingers and twist each of the strips to make the tree branches. Don't worry if some of the pesto oozes out.
Once all of your "branches" are twisted. Gently brush the top of the dough with a bit of the egg wash and sprinkle finely grated Parmesan cheese over all.
Carefully slide the tree on the parchment paper to a baking sheet and bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for 15 mins.
Let cool slighty and serve for guests to enjoy as a pull apart bread.
Spread the pesto on the dough and cut as shown below:
Cream Cheese -y and Easier than ever Cheese Puffs
if you need something even quicker, make these little cheese puffs instead of or in addition to the puff pastry tree.
I like to make these with my homemade pimento cheese. For the best flavor, I use slightly spicy fresh red peppers instead of jarred pimentos. I also prefer to shred my own cheddar or colby cheese. Use cream cheese instead of mayo, for thicker, richer results.
Once you’ve made the pimento cheese, add an egg and then bake it in these little bite-sized puffs.
If you are a blue cheese lover, you can make this same recipe with blue cheese, cream cheese and local pecans.
Drizzle with a bit of honey or your favorite balsamic glaze just before serving. For fun variation on today’s theme, Get this blue cheese puff recipe and watch a how to video here at the end of this post on SC pecans.
Pimento and Cream Cheese Puffs
The secret to this rich and creamy variation is to add cream cheese to the traditional recipe instead of using mayo!
- 2 -3 hot red peppers ( these are the same size as a jalapeno) split in half and seeds removed
- 2 cups colby or cheddar cheese finely grated
- 1 1/2 blocks cream cheese
- dash salt to taste
- 1 sheet puff pastry dough defrosted
- 1 small tomato seeded and chopped
Place the halves of the hot red peppers in a food processor fitted with the steel knife and chop to a fine mince.
Add the shredded colby or cheddar cheese and the cream cheese.
Use the on/off button to blend just until everything is mixed. You might have to scrape down the sides of the food processor halfway thru.
Add and egg to the cheese mixture and reserve
Unfold the sheet of puff pastry dough out slightly and use a rolling pin to make it a bit larger.
Cut the sheet into 12 small squares. use your knuckles to gently push a square of dough into each of the muffin rounds
Fill each of the cups with a spoonful of the pimento cheese, egg and cream cheese mix. Top with chopped tomatoes.
Bake in a preheated 400 degree over for 15 mins.
Cool slightly in pan and lift out to serve.
And now for dessert…
Who doesn’t love a little something sweet on the holiday hors d’oeuvre table. These shot glasses filled with a bit of my cream cheese and peanut butter tiramisu blend, make for the perfect sweet bite.
To that end, I used the food processor once again to blend together cream cheese with my favorite peanut butter, a bit of powdered sugar and some delicious coffee syrup to make a quick and easy peanutty tiramisu blend.
Spoon or pipe the mix into shot glasses and serve with a cookie. For a fun extra touch, sprinkle the top with mini chocolate chips of cocoa nibs and enjoy!
Peanut Butter and Coffee Cream Cheese Mousse
- 1 jar Coddle Creek Farms Crunchy Peanut Butter Made in Mooresville NC, see where to buy link at the top of this post
- 1/3 cup powdered sugar
- 1 1/2 blocks cream cheese
- 4 Tbsp. Markola Coffee Syrup made in Durham NC, see where to buy link at the top of this post
- a sprinkling of mini chocolate chips or cocoa nibs
- 1 cookie for each serving depending on the size of the glass, I like to use hard lady fingers or vanilla wafers
Blend all of the ingredients except the cookies and cocoa nibs together in a food processor until smooth.
Pipe into individual serving cups or shot glasses
Add a cookie to each serving.
Top with mini chocolate chips or cocoa nibs and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Tricks of the Trade
Cream cheese also comes in very handy when you are setting up your buffet for service and when you are garnishing your plates for the holidays. Instead of a glue gun or florist gum, use a small dollop of cream cheese to hold stacked bowls and plates in place as I did in the Fox 8 segment. It’s edible and it won’t harm your crystal or china.
Speaking of edible – DON’T garnish food platters with bits of holly leaves and berries. Holly, while beautiful to look at, is poisonous to if ingested.
Instead use a bit of cream cheese as a base and press in cranberries or fresh pomegranate seeds, surrounded by holly-like leaves you can cut from the skin of cucumbers, as I have done in the photo you see here.