Délices au Gruyère

Starter: serves 4. Total time: 30 minutes
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75g butter
75g flour
400ml milk
150g grated Gruyÿre
salt, white pepper,
grated nutmeg and a little cayenne
2 egg yolks
flour, beaten egg and breadcrumbs, for coating
oil, for deep frying

Melt the butter in a solid-bottomed saucepan and, using a whisk, incorporate the flour until thoroughly blended with the fat. Continue to whisk gently while also allowing the fat and flour to amalgamate over the merest flame without colouring.

Now, gradually whisk in the cold milk in a steady stream, still over a gentle heat, until the mixture begins to thicken. Once this begins to happen, replace the whisk with a wooden spoon or spatula and keep stirring for at least 5-10 minutes, until smooth and very thick indeed. Add the cheese and continue stirring until it has fully melted into the sauce and all is glossy and very smooth indeed. Stir in seasoning and remove from the heat.

Leave to cool in the pan for at least 10 minutes and then ferociously beat in the egg yolks one at a time, once more using the whisk. Immediately pour into a clingfilm-lined shallow square or rectangular non-stick baking tin, smooth off the surface with a wet palette knife and then place another sheet of cling film directly across its surface. Leave to cool and then place in the fridge overnight.

For the final preparation, first have the oil in the deep-fryer heated to a temperature of 180°C. Also, have some flour, beaten egg and breadcrumbs ready in three separate bowls. Then invert the (now) solid cheese sauce on to a work surface, remove one layer of clingfilm and cut little squares -- "délices'', in other words -- from it with a small, previously wetted knife (see above left). Fondle these with flour, then dip them into the beaten egg and, finally, through the breadcrumbs.

To cook, drop them into the deep fryer (say, 6 to 8 délices or so at a time) and for about 1-11/2 minutes, or until golden and crusted and with just the merest indication of a minuscule pustule or two of their molten interior showing through their fragile, breadcrumbed coating. Lift from the fat and briefly allow to drain, then gingerly tip out on to kitchen paper. Eat at once.

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