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Swiss Cheese Fritters

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The mighty Beignets de Vinzel is a cult dish from the Swiss coast of Lake Geneva. It would fit nicely into the Scottish Diet.

After my making fun at the Scottish Diet and other deep-fried calorie bombs across the world, let me have a dose of my own medicine. In two villages on the Swiss coast of Lake Geneva, Luins and Vinzel, you can eat cheese fritter whose recipe has been brought back by Swiss soldiers fighting for the French in the Crimean war (1853-1856).

If you live in those parts, you would drive up to Bursins, Luins or Vinzel at least once a year to have a couple of these caloricious fritters with your friends. The correct name is Beignets de Vinzel but most locals call them Malakoffs, which are in fact deep-fried cheese sticks. The villages are picturesque and surrounded by wineyards with a spectactular view over Lake Geneva and the French Alps as a backdrop. The restaurants are nothing fancy, Swiss country pubs of sorts, but over the years you might have bumped into Alain Prost, Phil Collins or Peter Ustinov who all lived within a couple miles. The recipe is supposedly a secret but I found it in Aus Schweizer Küchen, the mother of all Swiss cookbooks, by Marianne Kaltenbach. Here is how to do it at home and get even better results than at the restaurant.

Beignets de Vinzel [bay-nyay dugh venzell]
1 English bread or small toast bread sliced in 0.5cm/0.2'' slices
400gr Gruyère cheese or another full-fat hard cheese fit to be melted
Pepper, nutmeg
3 eggs
2 tbsp flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 clove garlic
2 tbsp kirsch or fruit brandy

If you want to prepare a fish soup Switzerland is probably not the best place in the world for shopping, but when it comes to cheese we have what you neeed. I stopped at the farmers' market in Vevey and immediately went to the cheesemonger from the Gruyère, an area that makes the best cheese of the same name. I explained my need - a Gruyère that would melt nicely and he had me taste half a dozen Gruyères. Finally we settled on 300gr 'sweet' Gruyère and 100gr 'salted' Gruyère from last year, both made from alpine meadow cowmilk. You can certainly prepare this dish with lesser cheeses and you'll have a great time, but if you ever have the opportunity to come to Switzerland, I recommend you buy some Gruyère d'alpage - the taste is incomparable. Regular Gruyère is a fine product but the cows that supply the milk eat straw and the taste is much blander. Very much like comparing black and white TV with mono sound to a modern home theater. There is little question that the cheese I used here is superior to the one used in restaurants. Grate the cheese.

Break 2 eggs and add to the grated cheese.

Season with nutmeg, pepper and a crushed garlic clove.

Add the flour, baking powder and brandy. I used Marshall Mobutu's brandy.

Separate the white from the yolk from your last egg and lightly beat the white to break it. Using a kitchen brush wet carefully the top side of each bread slice. You can also toast the bread beforehand, this gives an even better taste. This will ensure the cheese dough sticks on the top.

Using a large tablespoon, press the cheese dough on the bread slice. Continue until you have a regular mound that covers the entire top surface of the bread.

Heat your deep-frier or pot to 180°C / 360°F.

Prepare a reasonable amount of beignets in relation to your deep-frier's size.

Lower them into the hot oil and watch.

If they tend to float and keep their top out of the oil, just turn your fritters upside down with a slotted spoon so that they cook evenly. It is quite important the oil is not too hot as you need at least 3 minutes in the bath for the cheese core to melt, and they might burn on the surface if your oil were too hot.

Let the oil drip for a while...

...then carefully lay them over sponge paper. Try to absorb as much oil as you can without burning yourself nor crushing the delicate crust.

Here we are, the beignet de Vinzel is ready to be served. These are best eaten hot while the cheese inside is still melted.

The bread does not absorb much oil and it becomes very crispy. Fried bread was a staple of bourgeois cookery in the 19th century.

In restaurants these are usually served with pickles and a salad, but if you are on a diet you can omit the salad as it has no real nutritional value.


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17 Comments

  • #1
  • Comment by Joanna
Fabulous - I could never make this, let alone eat it, so I LOVE seeing all the step-by-step photos, and the lovely shot of the mountainsThanks for sharingJoanna
  • #2
  • Comment by Saxit
Looks delicious and I love your ending comment. :)
  • #3
  • Answered by fx
And delicious they are! Thanks for visiting!
  • #4
  • Answered by fx
You should see the view FROM the mountain, the lake is huge and has its own mountain backdrop on the French side. Hope you get to visit this part of the world one day!
  • #5
  • Comment by Saxit
Just one question. I can't seem to find how many servings this recipe is for.
  • #6
  • Answered by fx
Marcus, this is a very fair question and let me answer you. As a first course most people will eat one such fritter at most. As a main course most people will eat one fritter but others might wash down 2, 3 or 4 each. You need the presence of a cardiologist to eat more than 6. The recipe yields about 8 fritters depending on the size of your bread.
  • #7
  • Comment by Cynthia
This is too good!
  • #8
  • Comment by Mike
Looks amazing! My inner Southerner wants to fry up a batch this weekend =) One question, I'm not a big drinker and am not pumped about going out and buying a bottle of something just to cook with a few tablespoons now and then--have you tried it without the brandy? I know a lot of fondue recipes call for white wine, which might be a more reasonable purchase kitchen-wise. What do you think?
  • #9
  • Answered by fx
Mike, you could use any sort of fruit alcohol, brandy or even a drop of Bourbon. Each will impart its own personality to the cheese fritters, but why not! I would not recommend using white wine though, too much water. Good luck!
  • #10
  • Comment by Paul
Just got back from Switzerland and had lots of fine food including a "malakoff" which, as you say, is what they call it in Vinzel.  What a gorgeous place, by the way.  Your beignet looks precisely like theirs.  I look forward to trying this in the near future.
Hi...had these in Vinzel and found your site while looking for information. I was told though that they were named for a Russian immigrant named Malakoff though? I just used your recipe tonight...delicious taste but I noticed that in your pictures, and for my results, that the crust was not as dark as in the restaurant. Also the toast because a much deeper color than the cheese. Anyways other than that, fantastic recipe! I think we all managed around 3 each.
  • #12
  • Answered by fx
Brains, you can toast the bread to any color you want before using, the taste is in fact better. As for the color, it is a matter of the oil temperature and how long you leave it in. If you want it darker, just increase a bit the oil temperature and you'll be all set.
  • #13
  • Comment by leapdoggydog
Hi FX
Another great recipe, thank you v much.
Question, the recipe calls for baking powder. Is that yeast baking powder, or bicarb of soda you are referring to?
The bread you use and call English, seems to be the same colour as small the Brioche loaves that I make from time to time. Is it just white bread? I imagine that a slice of stale baguette would do very nicely for this recipe, shape and size wise.
I do love cheese and deep fried goodies, (I'm half Scottish, for my sins) and even though too much of this sort of stuff is good, neither for the heart, nor one's waistline aerodynamics, "You will eventually die of something, or other, so it might just as well be with a little smile on your face."
Happy days!
  • FX's answer→ It is bicarbonate of soda. You can definitely use stale baguette toasted on the cheese side. Have fun!

  • #15
  • Comment by leapdoggydog
Dear FX,
Sorry, forgot to ask what is the make of your glass deep fat fryer in the photograph? Looks very nice and most unusual.
Oh yes! and while I'm at it, what is the make of your famous and favourite black knife?
Comme moi meme, you obviously like your kit. I can see it's going to be a bloody expensive exercise following your culinary exploits.
TTFN
  • #16
  • Comment by leapdoggydog
Dear FX,
Sorry, forgot to ask what is the make of your glass deep fat fryer in the photograph? Looks very nice and most unusual.
Oh yes! and while I'm at it, what is the make of your famous and favourite black knife?
Comme moi meme, you obviously like your kit. I can see it's going to be a bloody expensive exercise following your culinary exploits.
TTFN
  • FX's answer→ Well the fryer was a gift from my Dad who is addicted to all sort of more or less serious tabletop cooking appliances but you can probably find alternatives - don't remember the name. As for the small paring knoves with black plastic handles I got tons of them from various makes, they are easy to get in professional cookware shops.




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