Holiday Appetizer Spread

The time has come to start thinking about what we’ll be eating on Christmas. Since my family has our traditional dinners we make for both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, I decided to put all my festive energy into the appetizers. I’ve created a huge appetizer spread that is full of little treats for everyone to enjoy.

While none of the recipes in this spread would really work as appetizers on their own, together they create a wonderful arrangement. I start by making super simple and incredibly addicting candied nuts. This recipe is one of my favorites because as long as you know the basic steps, you can interchange the ingredients and create whatever kind of nuts you like. A family favorite are my spiced pecans, which have just a touch of cayenne pepper to give some heat. I’ve included two other variations: cinnamon walnuts and mandarin orange cashews. But get creative…the possibilities are endless!

My intent for this spread was to only make Parmesan-rosemary shortbread. These came out slightly sweeter than I wanted, so instead of adapting the recipe, I just made a second version: peppery Parmesan crackers. Both are delicious. Both are worth making. The shortbread could also be served as a savory dessert, but works great with the other components of the board (especially the prosciutto!). The heat from the pepper in the crackers goes really well with the mandarin orange & dried fruit marmalade I make. This marmalade is what makes the board truly special. It’s cooked low and slow to develop all of the sweet flavor, the warm spices of the holidays, and the citrusy bite from the mandarin oranges.

This spread wouldn’t be complete without some meat, cheese, and of course…bread! For my spread I went light on the meat, just serving thinly sliced prosciutto. I figured it’d be a crowd favorite. If you want to get more adventurous, Bon Appetit has an awesome article on picking meats for charcuterie boards. For the cheeses, I tried to give a small variety, hopefully pleasing everyone. I found a cranberry-cheddar that was festive and perfect for the kids. I also picked a Blue Stilton that’s creamy and tangy, and I included Camembert, a soft cheese that is perfect for spreading.

Lastly, I slice loaves of rye and pumpernickel bread before drizzling them with olive oil and toasting them up. Everything is arranged onto boards to create a beautiful display. I give everyone their own plate so they can pick and choose what they want on it. My favorite combinations are shortbread + prosciutto + blue cheese and toasted rye + Camembert + marmalade. Enjoy!

Christmas Appetizer Spread
Serves 12
mandarin orange & dried fruit marmalade, candied nuts [spiced pecans, cinnamon walnuts & orange cashews], parmesan-rosemary shortbread, peppery parmesan crackers, toasted bread & prosciutto & cheese
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Mandarin Orange & Dried Fruit Marmalade
  1. 1 lb sliced and halved mandarin oranges (about 7 mandarin oranges) (see Kayla’s notes)
  2. 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  3. 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  4. 4 cups water
  5. 1 cinnamon stick
  6. 1 star anise
  7. 4 cloves
  8. ½ teaspoon black peppercorns
  9. 3 cups sugar
  10. 8 oz dried apricots
  11. 8 oz dried figs
  12. 4 oz dried currants
Candied Nuts
  1. 12 oz halved pecans
  2. ½ cup water
  3. 1 cup sugar
  4. ½ teaspoon salt
  5. ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  6. 6 oz halved walnuts
  7. ¼ cup water
  8. ½ cup sugar
  9. ¼ teaspoon salt
  10. ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  11. 4 cloves
  12. 6 oz cashews
  13. 1/8 cup water
  14. 1/8 cup mandarin orange juice
  15. ½ cup sugar
  16. ¼ teaspoon salt
  17. ¼ teaspoon mandarin orange zest
  18. Parmesan-Rosemary Shortbread
  19. ¾ cup sugar
  20. 1 stick unsalted butter
  21. 2 egg yolks
  22. 2 ¼ cups flour
  23. ¾ cup Parmesan cheese
  24. 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
  25. ½ teaspoon lemon zest
Peppery Parmesan Crackers
  1. 1 stick unsalted butter
  2. 1 cup flour
  3. 5 oz Parmesan cheese
  4. 1 tablespoon sugar
  5. 2 teaspoons rosemary
  6. ¼ teaspoon salt
  7. 1 teaspoon black pepper
Toasted Bread, Prosciutto & Cheese
  1. 1 loaf rye bread
  2. 1 loaf pumpernickel bread
  3. olive oil
  4. 1 lb prosciutto, very thinly sliced
  5. wedge of blue stilton
  6. wedge of cranberry-cheddar
  7. wheel of camembert
Mandarin Orange & Dried Fruit Marmalade
  1. In a small saucepan, combine the mandarin oranges, lemon juice, lemon zest, water, cinnamon stick, star anise, cloves, and black peppercorns. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes. Stir in the sugar, dried apricots, dried figs, and currents. Bring the mixture back to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and continue to cook until the marmalade is thick. Serve warm, room temperature, or chilled.
Candied Nuts
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a 12-inch pan, combine the water, ½ cup of the sugar, salt and cayenne pepper. Turn the heat on high and let the sugar dissolve. Boil the syrup until some of the liquid has evaporated and the bubbles become smaller. Toss in the pecans, lower the heat to medium and cook for another minute. Add the remaining ½ cup of sugar and stir to coat. Spread the pecans onto a foil-lined sheet pan. Bake for 6 minutes. Let the nuts cool on the foil before removing, gently tossing them with a spoon so they do not stick.
  2. Repeat with the walnuts, however: use a 10-inch pan, replace the cayenne pepper with the cinnamon and cloves
  3. Repeat with the cashews, however: use a 10-inch pan, combine the mandarin orange juice with the water, and replace the cayenne pepper with the mandarin orange zest
Parmesan-Rosemary Shortbread
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until smooth. Whip in the egg yolks. Add the flour, Parmesan cheese, rosemary, and lemon zest. Mix until incorporated. Pour the into a 9x13 buttered baking dish. Press down to create an even layer of shortbread across the bottom. With a fork, poke a few holes in the shortbread. Bake for 10-12 minutes until golden. Let cool. Cut the shortbread into squares.
Peppery Parmesan Crackers
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Using an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth. Add the flour, Parmesan cheese, sugar, rosemary, salt, and black pepper. Mix on low to combine, and then increase the speed until fully incorporated (the dough will be slightly crumbly). Roll out the dough into a log, packing it as you go. Cover the log in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Cut the log into ¼-inch slices and arrange on a baking sheet. Bake the crackers for about 20 minutes, until golden.
Toasted Bread, Prosciutto & Cheese
  1. Slice the loaves of bread into ½-inch slices. Spread them out onto a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil on both sides. With the broiler on high, toast the bread until golden and crisp (but soft on the inside), just a minute or two per side. Prepare the prosciutto and cheeses to be served.
To Serve
  1. Create a large appetizer spread using different boards and bowls as the serving dishes. Arrange the food in any way you like, spreading everything out so guests can pick and choose what they’d like to grab.
Notes
  1. I take the entire mandarin orange, peel and everything, and slice them as thin as possible with a very sharp knife. Then just cut each slice in half so you’re left with half moons.
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