The Malakoff

malakoff

I know the Swiss are famous for their discretion and secrecy, but this is getting ridiculous. When I first saw Malakoff on a menu, I thought it was for Charlotte Malakoff, a classic (and hardly made-anymore) French dessert which is a round of chocolate mousse held together by ladyfingers.

malakoff

When I saw it on several menus in Switzerland, I thought it odd that it was a first course. I mean…I know the Swiss love their chocolate, but even for me a chocolate mousse cake before dinner isn’t considered normal.

malakoff malakoff

However they (and I) do love cheese and I learned that a Malakoff is a cheese beignet, often served with cornichons and pickled onions, perhaps a dab of mustard, and a glass of Chasselas, a mineral-rich vin blanc which is in danger of becoming my favorite apéritif (and drinking wine) of choice.

cornichons and onions

But whenever I asked anyone at a restaurant how they made it, they would tell me, “It’s like a ball of fried cheese. We use Gruyère.”

And that’s it. If pressed for additional information or a list of ingredients, they’d laugh and say, “Of course, I can’t tell you that.” So I’ve been trying a few around the Lake Geneva region and I finally found the best.

grilled onions crayfish pasta

In the small village of Vinzel, conveniently located just on the main roadway, Philip Wolfsteiner presides over this restaurant, Au Coeur de la Côte, which is in danger of becoming my favorite restaurant in the world. From the warmest of welcomes, to the free-flowing Chasselas wine, Monsieur Wolfsteiner is the model restaurateur, serving regional fare including lake-caught arctic char, perch, and crayfish. His only fault was when pressed for the secret to his famous Malakoff, he just laughed and said, “I can’t tell you!”

green salad swiss cream tart

So before sitting down to a copious multi-course lunch, one which will for sure carry me through for the next twenty four-to-thirty six hours, I got invited into the kitchen to watch the making of the Malakoffs.

spreading malakoff mixture malakoff making

After our background checks had cleared, the combination on the safe-like door of the kitchen clicked the door open and we were ushered inside by the guards. (Okay, that was a bit of an exaggeration – we actually just walked inside.) The a bowl of the cheesy mixture was sitting on the counter and the peanut oil was heating for frying. He called over the cook who was the Malakoff master, who started spreading the paste over rounds of stiff white bread.

malakoff making

I tried to get a look into the bowl and there was definitely cheese and black pepper in there. But aside from that, I was stumped.

malakoff making

Each Malakoff was a perfect demi-globe, and when he dropped them into the fryer for our order, if I saw one anywhere else, I wouldn’t have known what to make of the crusty brown curiosity on my plate which I was facing just a few moments later. But when cut into with a fork, the liquefied cheese comes spilling out from the warm demi-boule and when you taste that first forkful, if you’re anything like us, as soon as you clean your plate, you order another one.

I’d love to recount what else we had – our meal starting with an Assiette Vaudoise (a selection of local charcuterie, including an amazing bacon), then perch and Arctic Char from Lake Geneva, a generous leafy green salad (which was more than welcome), then finishing with a tarte à la crème, which is another specialty of the region and is Swiss cream and sugar spread over a round of house made puff pastry. Once cooled, it’s sliced into thin, yet dangerously wide wedges.

coffee & dessert

For all I know, that’s a secret as well. And I guess I should be happy that I don’t know how to make either one of them since when I get home, I see a lot of green salads in my future. And Chasselas wine. I don’t have to give up everything, do I?



Au Coeur de la Côte
1844 Vinzel, Switzerland
Tél: 021/824 11 41
Closed Monday and Tuesday

68 comments

  • THAT looks amazing! I would love to try one of those.

  • what must it be like to be the tongue of david lebovitz? one exciting, creamy party after another, judiciously cut with baths of wine i would imagine! each time i don’t think it is possible to be anymore jealous, you come up with a post like this. damn you and thank you in equal measure. ;)

  • I know it takes all the mystery out of it but… googling swiss malakoff gives you several versions…

  • How about this for a recipe? Close?

    Malakoff

  • That looks very interesting. I bet it taste divine.

  • oh.my.goodness. i need that swiss cream tart! the malakoff is too much to even contemplate.

  • Yum! I want one of those!

  • This post officially confirmed that I am living on the wrong continent.

    I would love to figure out how to make that little thing. That last photo looks so appetizing too.

  • Only 30 minutes from my parents home… I think I’ll go there this summer (yes, we can eat like that during summer…)

  • I understand the mystery; the texture of the raw batter (or whatever you want to call it) doesn’t look like it would yield something so oozy. But the rest of the meal looks fab, too. Are those grilled spring onions? And are those ravioli I see hidden under the crayfish and asparagus? I can only assume they are filled with yet another splendid local dairy product…

  • Yum! I’m going to Switzerland soon so I’ll be sure too look for this!!

  • Holy F-ing Moley ! I have to have that cheese Malakoff one day ! That is worthy of a food pilgrimage !

  • Goodness, gracious, you are eating well! These sound delicious — the Malakoffs and the tart!

  • Gee whizz. That looks divine!

  • fried cheese and bread. I’m in.

    I love the Swiss.

  • Check fxcuisine.com, I know he had a recipe for these…

  • Oh man. It’s probably a good thing that I live in an area that isn’t exactly known for the extraordinary food. I would go insane. I will live precariously through your taste buds David. Those grilled spring onions are gorgeous!

  • melting cheese has to be the number one thing in this world. after wine of course! xx

  • simply Phenomenal!

  • Malakoff seems to be the savoury cheesy version of chocolate lava cake. I wonder if a similar approach will work – cheese mixed with egg, little bit of flour and lots of hope and practice.

  • Wow, that sounds amazing! I am so incredibly curious as to what is in it? In any case, you have totally convinced me to take a trip to Switzerland!

  • Thanks for the trip down memory lane. We lived in a small town between Geneva and Lausanne (Nyon) for four years in the 70′s. Malakoff’s are extraordinary, and I had totally forgotten about them. Wonderful blog and great post. Thanks for all you do in the name of culinary art :)

  • Here comes my prediction, i think there is also egg and flour/ or mashed potato in the batter?

  • that looks so amazing and yummy!

  • Well David, it is a rough job you have. But, hey someone’s got to do it. You’ve paved the way to Malakoff for all of us.

  • That is so ridiculous – I mean it in a good way. I mean fried cheese?! i guess that I shouldn’t be counting calories for this one :)

  • David,When I was very young (a bezillion years ago) my grandmother (Swiss, but living in eastern Pennsylania) used to use the scraps of pie dough on baking day to make me little tarts similar to that. I think she just mixed cream from the Jersey cows and sugar and perhaps a wee bit of cinnamon and baked it on the pastry in a shallow pie tin I loved them. My grandfather loved pie and they had two kinds every meal,so she always was baking.

  • This looks really interesting and I am sure it tastes great too. Will you be making this and sharing the recipe any time soon? Would bookmark and try it in a heartbeat!

  • David, far be it for me to correct you, but the Charlotte Malakoff I used to make back in the 80s was made with almonds. The one you’re talking about is the Charlotte Malakoff au Chocolat, lol. I just looked on the web and apparently there are other variations, like one recipe being made with hazelnuts. I have not found the definitive recipe, but I will look in my old Dione Lucas cookbook or Larousse Gastronomique when I go home later. In any event, the dessert I used to make with almonds was sublime, and it wasn’t particularly difficult to make. All you needed was a large charlotte mold. I make once again make this soon.

  • My most prized acquisition from an exchange trip to Lausanne when I was in high school is this recipe:

    Tarte Vaudoise à la Crème
    Preparation: 15 min.
    Cuisson: 30 min.

    Pâte
    250 g de farine
    ½ cuiller à café de sel
    50 g de sucre
    60 g de beurre ramolli
    20 g de levain
    5 cuillers à soupe de lait
    1 oeuf

    Garniture
    125 g. de sucre
    2 dl de crème (à 2,5 dl)
    1 cuiller à soupe de farine ou 2 cuillers à café to Maïzena

    Préparatifs
    Mélanger farine, sel, sucre et beurre, incorporer le levain, dilué dans le lait, et ajouter l’oeuf battu. Pétrir cette pâte et l’abaiser sur 3 mm d’épaisseur. Buerrer une plaque à gâteau de 30 cm ø environ. La foncer avec la pâte enlaissant un bord de 1 cm. Verser la garniture et glisser la plaque immédiatement à mi-hauter du fair préchaffé a 200°.

    Conseil:
    Retenir 1 dl de crème et l’ajouter après 15 min. de cuisson. Le gâteau aura une surface plus moelleuse. (Très réussie.)

    Faire la même sur un fond de pâte feuilletée (4 cuillers à soupe de sucre, 1 bonne cuiller à soupe de farine)

  • As a further comment, you might be interested in this bit of history on the subject, which I found online:

    “I have a slightly different take on this question. I grew up a young boy in one of these villages in the 1960′s. It was called Vinzel and at that time it had one small cafe (the only commercial establishment in town) which was the only place in the area where one could get these cheese balls. They were known as “croutes de Vinzel”. In later years cafes in nearby villages starting serving them under the name of “croutes Malakoff”. I left the town by then and I was told that there was alot of hard feelings at the old Cafe de Vinzel that their patrimony had been robbed. I heard that the family who had come up with the original recipe had broken with the owners of the Cafe de Vinzel and were somehow behind the propagation of Malakoffs in the region. In any event, I have some doubt about the proffered explanation of the source of the name.”

    By David Reynolds on Jan 01, 2002 12:26PM

  • Ok, I live in Northern Switzerland and you have convinced me to hop the train and go there now. Well, maybe next week. Thanks!

  • Leah: Thanks for sharing that recipe. Someday I might give it a try. The Malakoff, however, I think I will leave to the experts.

    Claudia: I was wondering more about the history of this place. There was also an article in the Wall Street Journal apparently a number of years ago that I’d love to dig out.

    Gary: Since I’m traveling, I didn’t have time to do extensive research (and links, etc) but the Malakoff I used to make was from Julia Chid’s book and her version does include chocolate. It is pretty simple to make – especially if you use pre-made ladyfingers! : )

    Arzu: The only thing I could figure out here is that they use some corn starch as a binding agent. I also think the way they form them into perfect domes has something to do with their success.

  • The wine is actually chasselas with an S…!

    (I lived near Lausanne for 25 years and drunk plenty of it)

  • If you decided to sacrifice your health and svelte figure for us, I would start with shrimp toast recipes and reckon on how they get that to hold up during frying. There’s a certain resemblance there.
    In the end, though, you live close enough to Switzerland, yes? So like many great foods, it may be better not to know.

  • David,Your blog is the only one I read religiously from beginning to end. This one is a perfect example of why. Thank you for your ability to write a simple foodie tale so well.

  • Fantastic. Never seen anything like that before and sadly may never get to try one [sniffs].

    Can only mirror Regina… another captivating blog post. I started following blogs only relatively recently and where at first I would read every post from every blog I followed, now I’m finding I cherry pick and there are just a handful that I read every post for.

    It’s so nice to read something that can transport you and I always find myself lifted with your blogs (albeit feeling a tad hungry afterwards).

    LB

  • I have to agree with Regina. It’s wonderful to see what you encounter on your travels.

  • Malakoff sounds like some type of a gun! Hmmm got to travel to CH somewhen again :)

  • You do realize that you have set 1,000 cooks loose into the world making malakoff this weekend. (My mother still makes Charlotte Russe for my sister’s birthday – 40 years later).

  • Once again, I have submitted myself to torture…reading your post BEFORE breakfast. Those look amazing. You are one lucky dude!

  • Hi David………I know a Malakoff as a Malakoff Torte and have a recipe from my aunt in Austria……..It is a sweet layered almond Torte and very delicious………
    It is interesting how people all over Europe call their creations by names that had importance in history……and they honor these times with food………..

  • Hi David, They called it Beignet de Vinzel instead of Malakoff, fxcusine.com has this recipe: http://fxcuisine.com/default.asp?language=2&Display=133&resolution=high

  • I secretly love fried food. Fried Gruyere Cheese – could quite possibly be the the ultimate guilty pleasure! If anyone could get into the kitchen, see them in action…it’s you! Thanks for taking me to Switzerland!

  • maybe i am reaaaaalllly late to the party – but i hadn’t imagined such delicate food from Switzerland! i expected cheese yes, but this is such an interesting preparation that i have never heard of or seen, and it looks divine.

    aside from the malakoff looking insanely good, what is that tart??? i skimmed the comments and didnt see an explanation, but it looks amazing!

  • Ahah, Ed you beat me to it. It appears that this may be a likely candidate for the Malakoffs David experienced. In any case David, I am sure chocolate is just fine for a first course – and these beinets would be good even for breakfast. Ohhhhh, another post to expand my horizons. Thanks.

  • Wow. That’s really all I have to say. I’m going to be spending a few months in Europe this summer and if I keep reading your blog my destinations will end up as just a map of your food explorations. Not that it would be a bad thing…

  • David, I was once a sort of purist and made my ladyfingers from scratch. As you know, it’s not hard to do, but you’re right. Store-bought ladyfingers are more or less as good in a charlotte as homemade ones.

    So this summer I’ll get out the old charlotte mold and make a Charlotte Malakoff or two in its different variations. I’m sure my friends will appreciate it, first chocolate, then almonds, then maybe I’ll try to concoct chocolate and hazelnuts. If I remember correctly, the almond recipe also had a liqueur in it, was it kirschwasser?

    In any event, I don’t think my friends and I could ever tire of Charlotte Malakoff and its variations, though there is no shortage of other delights that you have recommended to make instead!

  • My guess is , as it is with most things, there is a basic method or way to do things and then the creative juices get going and people adapt it to their own.

    I found this recipe for Malakoff – http://www.lake-geneva-region.ch/en/TownsLakes/Rolle/gastronomywine/regionalrecipes/malakoff_de

    but I agree, some things are best left with the experts…

    I love Switzerland, and if I find myslef there in the next few years I will definitley try and find ‘Au Coeur de la Côte’.

  • Oh, now that does sound decadently delicious. I will have to do some research on these Malakoffs! In fact I have a Swiss chef friend I play petanque with, maybe he will divulge a secret or two…

  • Funny, when we made malakoff in the pastry shop at the hotel it was a chocolate hazelnut candy…

  • Ed: Am not sure why you say that since the menu and the sign (shown in the post) says “Malakoff” ?

  • WoW. Thank you so much for sharing your culinary travels. Thanks to you, my taste buds go on delicious trips all over the world. Most sincere “Gràcies” from Barcelona!

  • David,
    The”autocorrect” function in Word tried to turn the French recipe into English. I thought I caught all the false corrections but I just re-read the recipe (because now I’m thinking it’s time to make it again) and I caught a few typos.

    “to Maïzena” should be “de Maïzena”
    “du fair préchaffé” should be “du four préchaffé”

    : )

  • “préchauffé” – Zut, alors!

  • How common is frying in peanut oil?

  • These look divine with the cheese oozing out. Sometimes it’s best not to try and recreate something at home but leave it as something special to enjoy both as a memory and a tantalizing sensation to look forward to when you are next able to visit. Thanks for sharing your culinary adventures!

  • Um, you WILL be duplicating them for us in the near future, correct?

  • David,

    Will you be going to Geneva? If so, just outside of Geneva, the best chocolatier in Switzerland is located in Bougy-Villars http://www.chocolatier-tristan.ch

    Kind Regards,
    Robin

  • I’m drooling reading your explanation. That tarte à la crème looks much like creme brulee (my favorite dessert) but with crust! My knees just went weak! I’m in search of Chasselas now to try that as well.

  • I have forgotten about these delicious globs of melty wonderfulness. When I was going to school in Geneva eons ago they were called beignet de Vinzel.

    Tom: I had to edit your link to the recipe since it was broken. If you’d like to leave it again, please do Thanks! -dl

  • i must say, the title of this post reads like a seinfeld episode. too funny. :) thanks for the heads up on this restaurant – our expat kochen crew will have to give it a go…and try the malakoff!

  • I’m sure that if you ate enough of those, you would have been able to do your magic of separately flavors enough to decide what else was in those cheese-y delights and you might have come up with enough to play with to re-create the recipe!!

  • Now I really want to try one of those Malakoffs!!! :)

  • Fried cheese? Holy moo cow yumness!

  • I live in Switzerland and this is only the second time I’ve heard about Malakoff. The first time was on another food blog about two months ago! I am very curious and will be trying the next time I’m in that area!