I consider cheese balls to be a nearly perfect appetizer. There are so many flavor options, they can be made ahead of time, and they’re easy to eat with your hands as you stand around mingling with guests and finishing the meal preparations. My one pet peeve is when cheese balls don’t have enough mix-ins. If you’re only putting a little schmear of cream cheese mixture on your cracker, it should be packed with flavor.
This particular cheese ball is sure to be a hit at holiday gatherings. It’s full of dried cranberries, orange zest, and candied pecans and each bite has a little bit of everything. Orange-cranberry is a classic combination and is the perfect bright flavor for a cold, wintery night, and the candied pecans add just the right amount of crunch. I served this cheese ball with sugared cranberries and my guests devoured them. The sugared cranberries have a sweet coating covering the crunchy, tart berry. They can be enjoyed on their own as a sweet-tart treat, or on top of a cracker with the cream cheese mixture. If you’re interested in making the sugared cranberries, that recipe can be found below the recipe for the cheese ball.
Holiday Cheese Ball
- 8 oz. Organic Valley cream cheese, room temperature
- 1 cup coarsely chopped dried cranberries, divided
- 1 cup chopped candied pecans, divided (a recipe for homemade candied pecans is below)
- zest from 2-3 oranges, finely grated, divided
- pinch of salt
- crackers for serving, I liked a mixture of buttery crackers and small gingersnap cookies
- Combine the cream cheese, 1/2 cup dried cranberries, 1/2 cup chopped candied pecans, approximately two-thirds of the orange zest, and a pinch of salt. Stir until well combined. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour or two until firm.
- In a separate bowl, combine the remaining orange zest, 1/2 cup dried cranberries, and 1/2 cup chopped candied pecans to make the topping. Remove the cream cheese mixture from the refrigerator. Use your hands to shape the cream cheese mixture into a ball (I find it easiest to do this with hands that are damp with warm water). Roll the cream cheese ball in the topping and use your hands to gently press the topping into the cream cheese to ensure it will stick. Serve with your choice of crackers or cookies, or refrigerate until needed.
- 1 3/4 cups chopped pecans
- 2 tbsp. unsalted Organic Valley butter
- 3 tbsp. brown sugar
- 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 tbsp. water
- Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or foil, set aside.
- Cook the pecans in a skillet over medium heat for about 5 minutes until lightly toasted. Pour the pecans into a bowl and set aside. Return the skillet to the stove and add the butter. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the butter is golden brown (but not burned!). Add the sugar, cinnamon, and salt and stir to combine. Add the toasted pecans and water. Stir continuously and cook for about 3 minutes until the mixture is thick and the pecans are well coated.
- Pour the coated pecans onto the prepared cookie sheet. Use a spoon to spread the pecans out and separate them. Allow to cool for several hours. Once cool, coarsely chop the pecans. Use them immediately in the cheese ball, or store in an airtight container in the fridge.
- 2 1/2 cups sugar, divided
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 3 cups fresh cranberries
- Prepare the sugared cranberries by combining 1 1/2 cups sugar and 1 1/2 cups water in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes until the sugar is fully dissolved. Remove from heat and set aside to cool for several minutes until it is no longer steaming.
- Place the cranberries into a medium sized bowl. Pour the slightly-cooled simple syrup mixture over the cranberries. Gently stir to coat all of the berries in the syrup. Place in the refrigerator for several hours until fully cooled.
- Use a slotted spoon to remove the cranberries from the simple syrup. Place them on a cooling rack in a single layer. If needed, layer two cooling racks together to keep the berries from falling through the holes. Let them dry for approximately an hour until they are sticky to the touch.
- Add the remaining 1 cup of sugar to a bowl. Working with approximately 1 cup of cranberries at a time, add the berries to the bowl of sugar and gently roll the berries around until they are coated with sugar. Remove to a different plate or pan to dry. Store in an airtight container until ready to use.