Ever have people over without a lot of warning to go shopping. It happens to me once in a while. I found this wonderful simple formula for making a Cheese Dip. An everyone seems to love cheese! I love cheese, but only eat sheep or goat cheese. Central Market in Poulsbo has a wonderful selection and I am starting to see other markets carry more of a variety of them.
A yummy and creamy cheese dip is always a welcome “bring-to” a party. You stand and talk and snack and life is good. It’s hard to go wrong and easy to be playful with your flavor combinations when you make cheesy hot dips without a recipe. If you follow the basic procedure for how to make baked cheese dips below, you can make one with whatever flavors and add-ins you want to suit your personal tastes. (or whatever you happen to have in the refrigerator or pantry)
1. START WITH A BLOCK OF CREAM CHEESE
The most versatile base for hot dips is simple and pure cream cheese. It’s the glue that holds everything together in the best creamy way.
Unless you’re making a cheesy baked dip for just one two or four, go ahead and start off with a full standard 8-ounce block of cream cheese. You’re more likely than not making this for a party, right? So start big. Depending on how many things you mix into your dip, starting with one block of cream cheese will make you about 3 cups of dip, enough to feed about 8 to 10 people depending on how much dip they go for.
Let your cream cheese sit out on the counter until it reaches room temperature. Or, if you can’t wait, chop it up and toss it into a microwave-proof bowl and zap it briefly a few times until it’s room temp. (One of things I do is put it in a plastic bag, in a bowl of hot water. This works to bring eggs to room temperature too!)
2. NOW THIN IT OUT A BIT
To get your cream cheese to a place of being mixable, you need to thin it out with a bit of mayo or sour cream. Just add a few spoonfuls to the cream cheese and beat it all together with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula in a big bowl until it’s smooth. Not getting smooth enough? Add a bit more. You don’t want this mixture to be too thin, but it should be something you can easily stir.
3. BEAT IN SOME FLAVOR
So, how do you want the base of your dip to taste? Some of your flavoring elements can flavor as well as help thin the dip base: add some lemon juice, hot sauce, or mustard and beat until smooth. Now add a bit of salt and freshly ground black pepper too, and any spices you might want to use to pair with your mix-ins. Old Bay seasoning is classic if you’re making a crab dip, and a pinch of cayenne or paprika helps boost the flavor of almost any dip, but don’t stop there—use whatever spices you want! Some finely chopped garlic can go in at this stage too, and/or any citrus zest: lemon, lime, or orange. Stir it all one more time so it’s nice and smooth and your flavoring elements are fully incorporated.
4. ADD GRATED CHEESE
A cheesy baked dip is nothing without a lot of shredded cheese that will get nice and melty in the oven. So, start grating and piling in the cheese! You can use any one or mix of cheese you want—just make sure most of it is a meltable cheese. Monterey Jack or mozzarella or cheddar are always good safe melty bets, as are fontina and gruyère. If you want to add a less smoothly melty cheese like Parmesan or Gorgonzola or Brie for flavor, you should, just make sure to pair it with a mild meltable cheese like Monterey Jack or mozzarella to make sure you get the best texture.
How much cheese should you add? If you started with that 8 ounce block of cream cheese, go for about a cup of cheese. Or just eyeball it and keep adding and stirring until it looks like you have a nice even distribution of grated cheese covered in creamy base. You don’t want the cheese to overwhelm the base, because you still have to add your mix-ins!
5. ADD YOUR MIX-INS
You could just leave your dip as is at this point, and it would be cheesy and delicious, but don’t you want to have a little more fun with it? It’s time to add some mix-ins! Spinach and artichoke dip anyone? Add a couple handfuls of chopped marinated or frozen artichoke hearts and some defrosted and drained frozen spinach. Or how about cooked crabmeat? Or crumbled cooked bacon? Or how about BOTH? Caramelized onions are a great mix-in, or you can use finely chopped raw onion or shallot if you want more of an oniony zing. Any chopped fresh herb works here too. Consider cooked and crumbled sausage, cooked lobster meat, diced chopped roasted bell peppers, and more. No need to measure—just add your mix-ins a bit at a time and stir to combine until your dip has a nice even distribution of base, cheese, and mix-ins. Have a taste. How’s it doing? Feel free to tweak the flavor with more salt, flavorings, or mix-ins.
6. PACK IT INTO A BAKING DISH, THEN BAKE
Now it’s time to turn your dip bubbly. Preheat your oven to 375°F and transfer your dip creation to a baking dish, casserole, or oven-proof skillet. Pretty much any size works—just make sure it’s pretty wide to get more bubbly golden-brown surface area. If you have too much dip to fit in your preferred vessel, fear not—pack the leftovers into a resealable container, and refrigerate for a few days until the craving for baked cheesy dip strikes again. Top the surface of the dip with more grated cheese and/or some breadcrumbs for crunch, and put your baking dish on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet before putting it in the oven to protect your oven from drips. Pop it in the oven and bake until bubbling, 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the size of your baking dish. Once the dip is done, let it stand for 5 to 10 minutes before digging in with chips/bread/pita/spoons if you can—you’ll save yourself (and your guests!) from dip-induced mouth burns.
7. OR, SURROUND IT WITH DOUGH, THEN BAKE
For hot dip and dipping bread all in one dish, bake your rolls and your dip all in the same vessel. You can use any kind of bread dough you want, homemade or store-bought, but the easiest option is some store-bought pizza dough. For an 8-inch round, you’ll want about a pound and a half of dough. Let it come to room temperature, then cut it into golf ball sized pieces.
Brush each piece with some melted butter or olive oil, and arrange around the perimeter of an ovenproof skillet, pie plate, or round casserole dish. Set a small inverted bowl into the center to keep the dough from filling up too much of the center, then let rise at room temperature for 30 minutes as you preheat the oven to 375°F. Take the bowl away, then fill the center with your cheesy dip creation, top the dip and the dough with more shredded cheese, and bake until the dip is bubbly and bread is cooked through, about 45 minutes.
And don’t forget to wait that torturous 10 minutes before finally digging in.