A Malakoff is a dome made of a stiff cheese mixture that sits atop a disk of bread. It’s a specialty of the Swiss canton called Vaud, in the vineyard slopes above Lake Geneva. After a Malakoff is fried, the outer crust and the bread become golden and crisp, while the cheese mixture inside becomes melted and creamy—a little like a fondue in a crust. The Russian-sounding name derives from that fact that these were supposedly first made for Swiss mercenary soldiers returning from the siege of Sebastopol early in the 19th century.
My first taste of Malakoffs occurred in 2004 at Thierry Saxe’s Café au Bon Vin in Chardonne, a tiny vineyard town. I learned from Monsieur Saxe that his recipe for Malakoffs is a closely guarded secret. The one below is adapted from Marianne Kaltenbach’s Aus Schweizer Kuechen (From Swiss Kitchens). It’s not exactly the same as Saxe’s but it’s very similar. Use a knife and fork to eat the Malakoffs and drink a cool, dry white wine with them. At the Café au Bon Vin, they serve a platter of house-cured sliced meats like prosciutto and dried sausage as a first course before the Malakoffs and a simple frozen dessert or sorbet afterwards.
Makes 8 Malakoffs or 4 servings
Eight 1/2-inch thick slices firm sandwich bread
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
Set a rack in the middle level of the oven and preheat to 350˚F.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Repeat until all the Malakoffs have been fried, serving them with the cornichons and onions as soon as they are ready.
QUICK CHANGES: Double the recipe if you like, but you only need to increase the oil to 4 cups. Use a slightly wider pan so that you’ll be able to fry 4 Malakoffs at a time.