What's the best type of toast
Many, many years ago, when the Mraz family did not run a two-star restaurant but a Beisl called Mergenthaler Stüberl, the ham and cheese toast was the signature dish of the restaurant. The story goes that customers came from far away to try the crispy-fat-juicy miracle, and after enjoying the delight, an enthusiastic customer even made a portrait of Grandpa Mraz, the chef at the time, who is still admired in the restaurant to this day can be.
When I started my search for the perfect ham and cheese toast, Mraz und Sohn seemed to be the first address. Hospitable as they are, the Mraze welcomed me immediately and made toast with me (before anyone worries: that was long before the Corona crisis).
Very classic and with garlic
Mraze have a classic approach: not too thin, not too fresh (matured one night in a cloth bag) toast bread is generously coated on both sides with garlic (!) Butter and then topped with not too short of ham and processed cheese. Then it is slowly fried in the press toaster at a low temperature and buttered over and over again, turned once, and finally crunched over high heat.
The result is an exemplary ham and cheese toast, exactly as one would dream of on a beautiful late summer afternoon in the Gänsehäufl buffet, albeit with a not very surprising, but annoying note of garlic.
I then let the project rest for a while. Only half a kilo of leftover Easter ham and regular conversation with the cheese dealer I trusted (thanks, Stefan Gruber, Vorarlberger and the man behind kaes.at) reminded me of it and made me experiment.
You could argue that the grilled cheese sandwich is the better ham and cheese toast anyway (just as the best goose will always be a duck) - or go straight from the Tschocherl to the bistro and make croque monsieur. In this case, it seems to me that this is a missed topic. So I actually limited myself to the ham and cheese toast in my experiments.
The technology was also more important to me than the ingredients, because shopping is not really fun and it depends more on the cook than the baker or ham maker whether the toast is successful.
The ingredients or, better, the cheese
The bread should not be too small, not too thin, white and fluffy before toasting. I'm not against rye bread toasts in principle (I often think of you, sauerkraut-cheese toast, aka Alpen-Reuben), but it's out of place here.
A good sourdough wheat toast is ideal. The latter should be freshly cut, not too much, and by no means "toasted ham", but that's about it.
The star of the toast is the cheese: It is from it that the powerful taste and the creamy melt come from, and it is its stringy splendor that makes your mouth water at the sight of the halved toast. Friend M. (married to a Swiss woman) goes so far as to describe his ideal toast as "cheese fondue in bread".
The French, who take ham and cheese toast very seriously, mostly use Gruyère, and they are absolutely right - it melts wonderfully and tastes great: strong, but not demanding, a cheese to feel good without being boring. If you like it a little more exciting, mix in a little smelly Vacherin: It provides extra melting and that aromatic certain something.
How to toast?
Frying bread in fat, especially butter, is by far the best way to toast it. No other method gives such a wonderful golden yellow color, such wonderful crispness, such a beguiling buttery taste. This also and especially applies if the bread is topped with ham and cheese.
Ham and cheese toast needs a bit of a feeling: too hot, and the toast burns before the cheese has melted, too tender, and the processed cheese does nothing. Medium heat and a watchful eye are in order.
For the perfect browning and melting of the cheese, it also helps to imitate a squeeze toaster and place a medium-heavy saucepan on the toast in the pan. If you put a paper towel in between, you will also suck up excess fat.
How much toast?
Americans, who admittedly know something about sandwiches, tend to toast the bread for their grilled cheese sandwiches on both sides: Firstly, this should provide extra crunch, secondly, it should help prevent the cheese from completely sinking into the bread. The technology doesn't convince me: firstly, it makes the preparation much longer, secondly, the result is a real butter bomb - already awesome, but a little over it - and thirdly, I like it when the toast is crispy on the outside but a little soft on the inside . I only fry on the outside.
How to layer
Cheese-ham-cheese is by far the most common recommendation, but I'm not entirely happy with it. The cheese just melts too much into my bread, I don't have enough cheese melt left. So I started layering ham-cheese-ham. My concern that the toast could then slide apart has proven to be unfounded, but a bit of the cheese is missing in the bread and any crispy edges from the leaking cheese. Therefore, in my opinion, the cheese-ham-cheese-ham-cheese toast (short and clear KSKSK) is ideal.
While you are welcome to hold back on ham, you should by no means skimp on cheese. As with spinach or mushrooms, there is less left of it in the end than expected. Feel free to put in a little more than initially seems sensible - a ham and cheese toast or KSKSK is not the place to save on fat. And if you do rub too much, simply press the cheese leftovers onto the outside of the toast - this gives even more crunch when frying.
The KSKSK or a pretty good ham and cheese toast
Make the cheese mixture: grate 2/3 Gruyère and 1/3 Vacherin finely (Gruyère) or cut very thinly (Vacherin).
Cover the first slice of toast: first sprinkle Gruyère on top, then put a slice of ham, sprinkle Gruyère, put Vacherin, cover with ham, and then sprinkle with Gruyère again. Put a second slice of toast on top.
Melt the butter over medium heat in a heavy (preferably cast iron) pan and let it bubble up once. Put the toast in it, place the roaster or pan on it and fry it, turning occasionally, until it is golden yellow and crispy, about three minutes.
Turn, weigh down with a pan again and finish frying until the other side is also crispy and the cheese has melted, another three minutes.
Slice in half to enjoy the melted cheese and enjoy. (Tobias Müller, April 26, 2020)
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