Dining in for a malakoff or two
The name sounds Russian, but malakoff is authentically Swiss. A classic cheese beignet that can be most likely found in the canton of Vaud, it is believed that the recipe was brought by the Swiss mercenaries who joined the Crimean War under the French-British forces fighting against Russia. This Swiss cheese bread was particularly named after the major battle of Malakoff that resulted in the fall of Sevastopol, thus ending the battle.
Hardly it reminds of the past war nowadays, the malakoff is typically served as a first course, and enjoyed with served cornichons (guerkins in English), pickled onions and mustard. As always, this Swiss cheese ball pairs well with a glass of Chasselas wine.
My first taste of malakoff was last spring 2010 at Café Restaurant l’Union in Bursins. The crispy outer brown bread complemented well with strong-flavored Swiss cheese oozing from the inside. To the extent that I enjoyed the malakoff so much I later found myself enjoying cornichons and mustard as well. It was also on that day, I learned to enjoy eating guerkins and mustard. I felt so proud of myself.
The restaurants in Vinzel and in Luins are also deemed popular for malakoffs. Located in the wine area of Vinzel, Au Coeur de la Côte is known since 1896 for malakoffs as its specialty. It is already one of my favorite restaurants in the Vaud region. The other is family-run Auberge de Luins. And good news for malakoff fans like me, Auberge de Luins serves malakoff à gogo (galore) on certain days. To date in this restaurant, malakoff costs 6.90 CHF a piece. Yep, that’s 5.60 € or 340 PHP per malakoff.
Making malakoffs at home
The Swiss are a secretive bunch, so I doubt they’d share their secret malakoff recipe. Nonetheless, I found one below that is adapted from the cookbook entitled Aus Schweizer Keuchen (From Swiss Kitchens) by Marianne Kaltenbach. The malakoffs I just made from this recipe may not come close to the better ones I like munching at Swiss restos, but this one is so far, so good. It’s a must try.
Eight 1/2-inch thick slices firm sandwich bread
For cheese mixture:
– 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
– 1/4 teaspoon each fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
– 1/8 teaspoon finely grated nutmeg
– 14 ounces/400 grams Swiss Gruyère, finely grated
– 2 large eggs
– 1 small clove garlic, grated on a microplane
– 1 tablespoon Kirsch or dry white wine
– 1 large egg white, beaten with a fork until liquid
– 3 cups mild vegetable oil, such as safflower
– French cornichons and pickled cocktail onions for serving
– One jellyroll pan lined with parchment paper for drying the bread disks; one 3-quart enameled iron or other deep 9-inch pan or a wok for frying, plus one jellyroll pan covered with paper towels for draining
1. Set a rack in the middle level of the oven and preheat to 350F.
2. Use a plain 3-inch cutter to cut an even disk from each of the bread slices. Arrange the disks on the prepared pan and bake them until dry but not toasted, about 15 minutes. Cool the bread disks on the pan.
3. For the cheese mixture, stir the flour, salt, pepper, and nutmeg together in a medium mixing bowl. Add the cheese and use your hands, fingers splayed apart, to toss the cheese and flour mixture together until evenly mixed.
4. In another bowl, whisk the eggs, garlic, and Kirsch together and use a rubber spatula to scrape the egg mixture over the cheese and flour. Fold the liquid and cheese together to form a stiff paste.
5. Generously brush one of the bread disks with egg white and place one eighth of the cheese mixture on it. Use a small metal offset spatula to shape the cheese mixture into an even dome. Place back on the pan and repeat with the remaining bread disks and cheese mixture.
6. Let the Malakoffs dry at room temperature for 1 hour. For advance preparation, cover and refrigerate but bring back to room temperature 1 hour before frying.
7. When you are ready to serve the Malakoffs, have heated plates and the pickles and onions ready. Heat the oil in your chosen pan to 350˚F, as measured by a deep-fry/candy thermometer. Place 2 or 3 Malakoffs in the oil, bread side down, to seal the cheese to the bread immediately. Fry for 1 minute, then turn over and continue frying until the Malakoffs are a deep golden brown, about 2 minutes longer.
8. Use a slotted spoon or skimmer to flip one so that the bread side is down again and lift it from the oil to the prepared pan to drain for a minute, then serve immediately.
9. Repeat until all the Malakoffs have been fried, serving them with the cornichons and onions as soon as they are ready.