COVER STORY

Get out the jaf­fle maker – top-notch toasties with a twist are all the rage.

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Con­tents -

Cheese toasties are one of life’s sim­plest plea­sures. With bub­bling fro­mage cas­cad­ing over crisp bread, the melted cheese caramelis­ing and form­ing salty, crusty bits, they are im­pos­si­ble to re­sist.

With ver­sions such as Welsh rarebit and croque mon­sieur dat­ing back cen­turies, the hum­ble snack is cer­tainly noth­ing new. But now the golden blend of bread, but­ter and cheese is get­ting set to bump the burger off its culi­nary pedestal.

Deter­mined to el­e­vate the toastie to gas­tro­nomic heights is Dar­ren Purch­ese, owner of Mel­bourne patis­serie Burch & Purch­ese. While the pas­try chef is best known for his sweet cre­ations, his so-called “life’s work” has been per­fect­ing the hum­ble toasted sanga. Now he’s shar­ing his recipes in a new cook­book, Chefs Eat Toasties Too.

“For my par­ents, they al­ways knew this day would come,” the 42-year-old says, laugh­ing. “I was prob­a­bly putting top­pings on pizza and bread from the age of nine and the cheese on toast recipe (in the book) with the chorizo – that’s been honed over my life­time.”

With tomato, chilli and co­rian­der, it’s ac­tu­ally one of the sim­pler recipes in the vol­ume, which fea­tures more than 50 sweet and savoury toasties ex­tend­ing from a gor­gonzola, pump­kin, maple-cured ba­con and caramelised onion sand­wich to cof­fee-in­fused French toast with ba­nana, nut crum­ble and yo­ghurt. The book also in­cludes recipes for top­pings such as kim­chi, potato crisps and his wife Cath’s slow-cooked lamb.

“More peo­ple are ap­pre­ci­at­ing the toastie and they’re def­i­nitely get­ting their day in the spot­light,” he says.

Mel­bourne’s Re­becca Fein­gold agrees. The sanga en­thu­si­ast started toastie food truck, Toasta, in late 2014 be­fore open­ing West Mel­bourne cafe Toasta & Co last year to meet de­mand.

“I think it all stems from that nos­tal­gic eat­ing ex­pe­ri­ence,” she says. “It’s an item that re­minds every­one of child­hood – what mum made you when you were sick. It’s tak­ing that food that re­ally touches home and warms the heart and recre­at­ing it in in­ter­est­ing and high qual­ity ways.”

Fein­gold sells around 1,000 toasties a week, rang­ing from clas­sics like ham, cheese and tomato to eclec­tic op­tions com­bin­ing pork sausage, mushy peas, chips and gravy to dessert va­ri­eties star­ring ap­ple, rhubarb, mas­car­pone, ri­cotta and cin­na­mon.

Felix Kong and brother Justin also run a venue ded­i­cated to the toastie called Melt Brothers in Bris­bane’s CBD. The eatery serves up ev­ery­thing from a sim­ple three cheese mix to the over-the-top BFC – but­ter­milk fried chicken, slaw, buf­falo sauce and aged ched­dar – plus va­ri­eties with ve­gan cheese and gluten-free bread.

“I used to eat toasties back in uni days and they were al­ways a mix­ture of what you had left in the fridge, so we kind of drove it from there,” Felix says. “I think peo­ple are look­ing for taste. It’s the flavour combo – some­thing ex­cit­ing and some­thing dif­fer­ent to what they would or could make at home.”

In Syd­ney, it was chef Peter Gil­more at Ben­ne­long who, two years ago, first of­fered a $22 toastie with five ar­ti­sanal cheeses and black truf­fle. Now, top-of-the-line toasties in­clude the jaf­fle with ham, pro­volone and salted egg lava at Devon cafe in Baranga­roo, the bur­rata, so­brasada, an­chovies and fer­mented chill­ies at Potts Point’s Dear Sainte Eloise, and the Korean Army Stew jaf­fle at chef Dan Hong’s Ms G’s, in­spired by late-night din­ners at Korean res­tau­rants.

“We love the fact that it’s like a hot pot with sausages and Spam and kim­chi, but it’s so de­li­cious. So we came up with the idea of try­ing to cre­ate that same flavour pro­file in­side a jaf­fle,” Hong says.

“But in­stead of Spam, we use mor­tadella, in­stead of the cheap­est frank­furts you can get, we use some nice dou­ble-smoked kran­skies – so we try to make it a lit­tle bit more lux­u­ri­ous.”

Hong is also plan­ning to cre­ate the “ul­ti­mate grilled cheese toastie” for his new menu at Syd­ney speakeasy Palmer & Co. But what does it take to cre­ate the best toastie?

“I would say a mix­ture of dif­fer­ent cheeses – like a stretchy cheese, ob­vi­ously, but also a cheese with a lot of flavour like a blue cheese or washed rind or ta­leg­gio,” Hong says. He rec­om­mends us­ing plain white bread for jaf­fles and qual­ity bread for a toasted sand­wich.

At Toasta & Co, Fein­gold only uses or­ganic bread and says qual­ity in­gre­di­ents are a must. “It’s all about the pro­duce you use. It is re­ally bread and cheese and the way that that varies is in­sane,” she says. “It’s also the cook­ing tech­nique. We cook with our cast iron press and it cooks evenly and crisps it a lot more.”

For Purch­ese, sim­plic­ity is key. “I think the ul­ti­mate toastie is some­thing you don’t have to spend too much time on. It’s prob­a­bly sim­pler in terms of in­gre­di­ents – prob­a­bly less is more.”

As for cook­ing it, he says pans are best when try­ing not to squish in­gre­di­ents, while sand­wich presses are bet­ter for melt­ing cheesy fill­ings. “Noth­ing is set in stone – the great thing about toasties is that any­one can make one,” he says.

WARM GREET­INGS soft labne spread by Dar­ren

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