Toast of the town:
Some of the country’s best chefs offer their recipes for top-notch toasties
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, Toast a , in late 2014 before opening West Melbourne cafe Toast a & 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 Toast a & 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.