I always kind of wished fondue would came back into style. It’s such a bonding experience. You’re practically required to enjoy it with other people. I mean they weren’t called fondue parties for nothing.
In my family, we used to do fondue for Christmas dinner. Hot oil for the meat and potatoes and cheese for the bread. Of course I hated the cheese because they always put mushrooms in it. Ick. And you know what the other problem was? They always used regular old sourdough from a bag that was so lackluster. Even if I liked the cheese, it would have been the wrong choice. I like when the vehicle for getting your dip to your mouth is just as good with or without.
So what’s the perfect choice? Focaccia! I’ve been dying to make it lately, and it’s amazing because even dried out it has a ton of flavor. It’s also a type of bread that doesn’t fall apart easily. This is super important when you have to dip it into a community bowl of cheese and have it stay on your fondue fork.
Now that we’ve got the bread figured out, the most important part comes. The cheese! How do we make a great fondue? Well now that I’m a New Englander, I figured I’d use some true New England ingredients. Maple syrup, applesauce, apples, etc. But what about the actual cheese?
A great fondue requires cheese, some acid, and a thickener. The acid is usually a dry white wine or lemon juice if you’re going non-alcoholic. A great beer is being substituted here. A bit of acid that doesn’t have a lot of sugar is necessary for a few reasons. The acid encourages softening of the cheese. Just like in the making of cheese, acid causes proteins to drop out of solution of the milk (explained here). Here, the acidity along with the heat loosens up the structure of the cheese causing it to melt well. Also, the alcohol has a lower boiling point than water, so it allows the cheese to melt at a high temperature in a less abusive environment.
As for the thickener, it is necessary to hold the mixture together. It balances the liquid and cheese by absorbing some of the liquid and gelatinizing. Cornstarch is usually used because it has a bigger bang for its buck—more thickening power because it is pure starch—but flour can also be used. These have to be added while you’re heating the mixture, however, because they are activated by heat. It should be added with the cheese to control the emulsification of the fondue.
The cheese, the most important part, is crucial to the flavor and body of your fondue. First, know that the fondue has to be at the temperature above the melting point but below the boiling point. Cheese that is more solid has a higher melting point, and cheese that is less solid has a lower melting point. Shorter fatty acid chains that fit closer together are more packed and take a higher temperature to melt. Cheese that has shorter fatty acids will have a higher melting point and be harder at room temperature. The perfect serving temperature for your fondue will then depend on what type of cheese you use. A medium hard cheese will work best because it will melt slowly and stay liquid for a while before hardening up. Too soft, and your cheese will likely seize too quickly. Too hard, and your cheese dip will harden really quickly when taken off the high heat. It will probably get really chunky and gross when you put it in your fondue pot. That’s why you never see fondue made out of only parmesan.
Another component of note is the heat. Cheese prefers low and slow heating. If you heat it too quickly, the solids will scorch before the fat melts. Also, if you heat it too long, the protein will coagulate (shrink in on itself) and push excess fat and liquid out of the cheese. This will create little hard clumps of protein and a separated fondue. If you notice your fondue starting to separate and get stringy, this is likely your problem. You should start over if this happens.
So now you know the basics of fondue. Let’s get started!
Focaccia & New England Fondue
Serves 2 with extra focaccia for sandwiches!
Olive Oil Focaccia
Adapted from Apples for Jam
1 ¾ cups warm water
1 package yeast (1/4 ounce)
1 teaspoon honey
2 ½ tablespoons olive oil, divided
5 cups all-purpose flour
2 ½ teaspoons salt, divided
½ cup hot water
2 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano
1. Put the warm water, yeast, honey, half of the olive oil, and 3 fistfuls from the 5 cups of flour into a mixing bowl. Mix until smooth. Cover and leave for 20-30 minutes until it’s frothy. Mine looked like this.
2. Mix in the rest of the flour and 1 ½ teaspoons of salt until combined. Your dough should look shaggy. Replace the beater with the dough hook and knead for 4-5 minutes. If your dough is not kneading, you may have to add a little extra flour. Cover and let rise for 1-1 ½ hours until puffed up. Mine looked like this.
3. Lightly grease an 11 by 15 by 1 ½ inch baking pan. Punch down the dough and flatten it spreading it throughout the pan until it reaches the sizes and is evenly distributed. If it is not stretching easily, let it relax for five minutes and then spread it. Let rise for another 45 minutes until puffed.
4. Preheat oven to 450⁰F. Mix the hot water and remaining oil and salt. Stir until the salt is dissolved. Poke dimples in the top of the dough with your fingers and spread liberally with the salt mixture. Sprinkle the top with the cheese. If you want more flavor, chopped rosemary or roasted garlic would be great additions as well.
5. Bake the dough for 20-30 minutes until well-browned and it sounds hollow when knocked on. Let cool slightly before cutting into squares.
New England Fondue
Adapted from Food 52
1 teaspoon olive oil
1.5 ounces minced shallots
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon chopped thyme leaves
2 tablespoons cinnamon applesauce
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon maple syrup
A pinch cracked pepper
A pinch red pepper flakes
A pinch cumin
A pinch paprika
2 ounces dark beer (I used Sam Adams)
1 teaspoon flour
3 ounces New York white cheddar, super sharp and aged if possible, finely shredded
1 ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely shredded
1. Heat the oil in a small saucepan and add the salt and shallots when hot. Caramelize. Add the thyme leaves, applesauce, mustard, cider vinegar, maple syrup, red pepper, cumin, paprika, and black pepper. Take off the heat and blend with an immersion blender or puree and return to saucepan.
2. Return to the heat and boil. Add the beer and lower the heat to low. Mix the flour and cheeses together and slowly add the mixture to the pot. You want to melt the cheese really slowly so that it doesn’t seize. Stir constantly.
3. Once completely incorporated and to a creamy consistency, transfer to your fondue pot. I don’t have one so I ate it while still warm really quickly.
Dip your focaccia into your fondue along with some New England apple slices. You can dry your focaccia out or eat it warm like I did. I just couldn’t help myself.