My favorite snack from traveling to Belgium is the cheese croquettes you can find in almost every bar and restaurant.
Bruges. It’s one of my favorite places in the world, and I’m not alone. Ralph Fiennes’ character in In Bruges may say it best, “It’s a fairytale town, isn’t it? How’s a fairytale town not somebody’s – thing? How can all those canals and bridges and cobbled streets and those churches, all that beautiful fairytale stuff. How can that not be somebody’s – thing, eh?… Are the swans still there?”
And yes the cobbled streets and tourists speeding down the canals by the boatful do remind me of Bruges. (By the way Ralph, the swans are, in fact, still there.) It’s a specific pairing between bar food and Belgian beer that reliably brings me back to Bruges every time: A warm fried Belgian cheese croquet followed by a health swig of a dark (preferably strong) abbey ale.
Sure, this is a moment you can have in myriad cities and pubs around Belgium, but I swear it’s best in Bruges. Maybe because a croquette and dark strong in Brussels is followed by being jostled between hurried tourists on crowded streets. Or because everything in Ghent is just slightly darker tinged with a medieval hue when compared to the quaint and bright surrounds of Bruges.
On my most recent Belgian excursion Bruges was my first stop. Since I knew it would be a while until I could enjoy my favorite Belgian combination again, I spent my first few days of the trip on a mission to figure out how I could recreate the pairing at home.
And so, I tracked down a recipe. An authentic Belgian recipe that requires measurements in grams and deciliters, specific cheese’s I’d never find in America, and references to ingredients that are oh so European. Nonetheless I felt confident I could recreate my favorite snack with a little experimenting and I’m happy to report, I did!
What Do Belgian Cheese Croquettes Taste like?
Rather than the fried triangles of mozzarella you find at a TGIFridays or the breaded cheese sticks in the freezer section of the grocery store, these croquettes aren’t filled with pure cheese. The filling is a mixture of cheese, cream, flour, (sometimes eggs) and butter. These ingredients make a filling that is more like a cheese pâté than a solid block of cheese.
Chefs in Belgium blend two or three types of cheese to give the filling a more dynamic flavor. Nutty and creamy, buttery and a little funky the cheese blend is complex but next overpowering.
Extra crackly panko breadcrumbs make up the crust to provide an ideal contrast to the smooth cheesy center. Yes, even in Belgium the chefs say to use panko or “Asian breadcrumbs.”
Like any pub fare these fried gooey cheese orbs could end up greasy, even heavy. Done correctly they have the texture of a rain cloud, a little dense but quick to disperse, especially with the encouragement of an effervescent, raisin and toffee flavored dark strong as their companion.
So, though this process may appear long, I assure you it is worth it. For example, if you skip the chilling the result will be more reminiscent of the greasy bricks than delicacy of a fairytale town
What Mix of Cheeses Should You Use in the Croquettes?
In Belgium the cheeses in the recipe are obviously Belgian. However, when recreating the croquettes at home you don’t need to track down something that originates in Belgium. In fact, neighboring France and the Netherlands export far more cheese and they even have Trappist options. This recipe is similar to one that uses a blend of three of the Chimay Trappist cheeses described by the brewery as creamy, aged, and pungent, respectively.
To replicate this combination with cheeses you can find at your grocery store follow this basic suggestion:
- The largest portion of your cheese should be something soft, young, with a subtle flavor. I use a young gouda but a swiss would also be nice!
- The next, slightly smaller portion, should be an aged cheese with plenty of crunchy Tyrosine crystals and nutty flavor. This cheese will grate very dry and be hard.
- The final, and smallest portion of cheese should be a little bit funky possibly with a bloomy rind. (A brie or camembert will work well.) The amount of funk it based on your comfort level with funky flavors. Just remember, this cheese is relied on for the complexity of flavor so don’t go toooo basic.
How to Store Belgian Cheese Croquettes
There are two ways to store these croquettes: First is if they have already been fried, allow them to cool to room temperature, then put them in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days. To reheat, place them on a baking sheet in an oven preheated to 400 degrees F for 3 minutes on each side.
If you don’t want to fry all of the croquettes you can freeze the filling squares separated by parchment paper in an airtight container for up to a month. Then simply bread them and fry them as stated in the recipe.
How Many Cheese Croquettes does this Recipe Make?
This recipe makes between 12 and 20 croquettes depending on the size you cut the filling into. I typically cut 18 filling squares. This is half the batch size of the original Belgian recipe. I found this to be more than enough but if you’d like endless heaps of croquettes, feel free to double!
Plus if you ended up with too many croquettes you can always use the storage instructions above.
Authentic Belgian Cheese Croquette Recipe
For the Croquette Filling
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter (113 grams)
- ¾ cups + 3 tablespoons cup all purpose flour (113 grams)
- 1 ¾ cup whole milk
- ¼ cup vegetable stock Chicken or Beef would work too but may have a stronger flavor
- 3 ½ oz (~130g) shredded soft cheese like a young gouda
- 2 ½ oz (~90g) shredded aged hard cheese like an aged gouda (at least 3 years)
- 2 oz (~55g) cubed or shredded soft cheese with a slightly funky flavor like brie or camembert
- black or white pepper and nutmeg to taste
For Breading and Frying the Croquettes
- neutral oil Like Canola
- all purpose flour
- salt to taste
- 2 egg whites
- 2 tablespoons whole milk
- panko breadcrumbs
How to Make Belgian Cheese Croquettes
- With a spatula or wooden spoon mix flour and butter over medium heat until it forms a thick golden paste, this is also called a blond roux. Mix constantly until the paste is thick and has dried out slightly, about four minutes.
- Add the milk and vegetable stock, stirring constantly until a thick, white sauce forms, do not allow the bottom of the sauce to burn or stick to the pan.
- Add the cheeses and mix over heat for one minute. Remove from heat and continue to mix until the cheese has melted and you have a uniform mixture.
- Mix in pepper and nutmeg.
- Pour this mixture into a lined 11×7” or 9×9” baking pan and freeze at least 6 hours, up to 12 hours.
- Remove the frozen mixture from the pan and slice into even pieces with a sharp knife.
- Heat the oil to 360°F.
- Lay out three dishes or bowls. Fill the first with flour. Fill the second with the egg whites and milk beaten together. Fill the third with panko bread crumbs.
- Batter the frozen squares by first covering them in flour, followed by covering them in the egg mixture and finally coating them in panko breadcrumbs.
- Fry the squares in batches of three or four. Flip them after three minutes. The croquettes are ready to be removed from the oil when they turn golden brown, about 6 minutes. If you hear them “sing,” the sound of steam escaping the crunch breading, that is another sign they are ready to be removed from the oil.
- Note: The temperature of the oil should drop to roughly 340°F upon dropping the frozen squares into the oil. Make sure the oil comes back up to 360°F before frying the next batch.
- Place croquette on a baking rack lined with paper towels. Sprinkle with salt, flip, and sprinkle the other side. Serve warm with a small side salad of lettuce, parsley, sliced cherry tomato and shredded carrot.