In my family, it’s not a party until the Cream Cheese Ball arrives. Today’s twist on a classic cheese ball recipe is magnificently retro, easy to make, and guaranteed to be the first appetizer licked clean at your next party.
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Cheese balls (and their fraternal twin, cheese rings), are revered at my family’s holiday gatherings (while my husband’s family cherishes Crab Stuffed Mushrooms, another great holiday appetizer).
Every Christmas Eve, my grammy makes an epically delicious, heart-stoppingly rich pecan cheddar cheese ball with strawberry preserves.
My sisters and I are so enamored with this particular recipe that we start talking about it at Thanksgiving and will continue to discuss its merits up until the very moment we are devouring it (at which point we will still talk about how good it is, but with our mouths full).
Then, shortly after the plate with the cheese ball has been licked clean, we’ll start talking about how incredible it was and how much we wish there was more of it. We’ve been doing this 10 years running, and I do not suspect we will ever stop.
In other cream cheese ball–related formative experiences, I have memories of being 11 years old and begging my mom to serve a port wine cheese ball on New Year’s Eve (that is, when she wasn’t already serving Cheese Fondue). I don’t have any idea how I knew what port wine even was, let alone that it could correspond with a cheese ball recipe.
Yet here we are. Twenty++ years later, and this lady still loves to herself a good cream cheese ball during the holidays. Even sometimes I zest up the occasion with a Pineapple Cheese Ball!
Today’s simple cheese ball recipe is an amalgamation of the assorted cheese balls I remember eating growing up. It’s part my grammy’s, part my mom’s, and part improv based on the ingredients I usually have in my pantry.
About This Cream Cheese Ball Recipe
The base of this recipe is two cheeses: cheddar cheese and cream cheese. My grammy’s cheddar cheese ball also uses blue cheese and mayo, but given that I never have mayo on hand and blue cheese can be a little divisive, I decided to try the recipe with the cream cheese and cheddar cheese only. WILD SUCCESS.
The next ingredient is strawberry preserves. If this sounds odd, you’ve never been to a Midwestern potluck, where a block of cream cheese topped with a layer of preserves (usually pepper jelly) is widely known and accepted as the easiest, most universally devoured party appetizer of all time. If you haven’t tried it, you really must at some point soon. Very soon.
If you prefer or have a different flavor of preserves on hand, any berry or apricot-based fruit preserve or thick jelly will work nicely in this cream cheese ball recipe.
My grammy serves her cheddar cheese ball recipe with strawberry preserves (and we almost always have some lurking on the refrigerator top shelf), so that’s what I chose.
Final cream cheese ball mix-ins: garlic and a dash of hot sauce. The hot sauce offsets the sweetness of the preserves. The cool cream cheese tones it down, so the cheese ball tastes balanced and not overtly spicy by any means.
By the time I had all the ingredients mixed in, I was licking the cream cheese mixture right off the spoon, an image that might throw you off only if you haven’t made a cheese ball from scratch yourself. Once you do, you’ll understand how naturally this kind of incident can occur.
Now, a cheese ball does not look ultra glamorous on its own, which to me is a part of its appeal. That said, it certainly doesn’t hurt the appearance (and it absolutely sends the flavor over the top) to roll the cream cheese ball in chopped toasted pecans.
The pecans’ nuttiness and crunch are the elements that catapult this cheese ball to a level of esteem that has had my family and I gushing about cheese balls for decades.
(Pecans also pair beautifully with goat cheese in this Goat Cheese Balls recipe.)
Cream Cheese Ball Recipe Adaptations
- Cheese Ball with Bacon. Cook and crumble 3 strips of bacon. Let cool completely, then mix the crumbles in with the cheddar cheese in Step 1. Proceed with the recipe as directed.
- Cheese Ball with Ham. Place 6 ounces of finely shaved deli ham in the food processor with one quarter of a yellow onion. Pulse until finely chopped. Add the cream cheese, cheddar, hot sauce, garlic powder, and salt. Process until smooth. Turn out onto the plastic wrap and proceed with the recipe as directed.
- Cream Cheese and Green Onions Cheese Ball. Finely chop 2 green onions. Add the white and light green parts with the cheddar in Step 1. Mix the green parts with the pecans in Step 4 and roll on the outside as directed, omitting the parsley.
- Cream Cheese Ball Dessert. Totally different but also good! We don’t have a family recipe for this, BUT I can vouch for this Chocolate Cheesecake Dip, which is heavenly. Serve it in a dish and dip with vanilla wafers, pretzels, or holiday Oreo cookies.
Final Cream Cheese Ball Recipe Notes
- For dipping, we opt for a buttery cracker like Ritz. Don’t hold back. After all, it’s a cream cheese ball.
- You better believe that my grammy makes her recipe with all full-fat ingredients. Reduced-fat cream cheese still tasted plenty rich for us, but it’s the holidays, so I’ll leave the final level of decadence up to you.
Cream Cheese Ball
- 2 (8-ounce) packages reduced-fat cream cheese at room temperature
- 1/3 cup strawberry preserves
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 6–10 dashes hot sauce such as Tabasco (I like this little hotter, so we go closer to 10, but if you’d like a sweeter cheese ball, stick to the lower end)
- 1 cup freshly shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese
- 1 cup raw pecan pieces
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- Crackers or baguette slices (I like buttery Ritz-type crackers or town house crackers)
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and preserves until smooth and creamy. Scrape down the bowl, then beat in the garlic powder, salt, and hot sauce, and then the cheddar cheese.
- Lay a large sheet of plastic wrap on the counter. Scrape the cheese mixture into the center in as circle-like of a mound as you can. It will not be a perfect ball at this point. Wrap the edges of the plastic around it to seal and encourage it to form a round ball. Place the wrapped cream cheese in a bowl and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight.
- Toast the pecans: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and spread the pecans onto an ungreased baking sheet. Bake for 7 to 9 minutes, stirring once or twice, until they are deeply toasted and fragrant. Watch very carefully toward the end of the baking time to ensure the pecans do not burn. Transfer to a cutting board and chop into small bits. Let cool completely to room temperature.
- When ready to serve, remove the cheese ball from the refrigerator. Place the chopped pecans on a plate. (I find it’s easiest to use a plate with edges that curve up a little. A pie dish works well too.) Add the parsley and lightly mix with your fingers to combine. Unwrap the cheese ball and place it on the plate with the parsley and pecans, coating well. The cheese ball won’t roll like a true ball. Gently lift and turn it, patting the pecans and parsley all over the outside. Carefully lift it onto a serving plate. Serve with crackers or baguette slices.
- Cheese ball can be prepared up to 1 day in advance and will last 2 to 3 days in the refrigerator. For the best taste and easy dipping, let stand at room temperature 15 minutes prior to serving.
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