Upon my touchdown in Toulouse two years ago, within hours Gaylord was planning to make us naan au fromage. To give you some perspective, two years ago was a slightly tumultuous time, there was this little pandemic on, and lockdowns were declaring it was illegal to drive as far as your nearest airport. So, Gaylord and I had spent six months apart. Consequently, after getting over the delight to be back in my winsome company, Gaylord was ecstatic to have someone to make cheese naan for. And they say romance isn’t dead.
Cheese naan, or naan au fromage as it’s known as here, may not strike you as particularly French. Well, you would be right as it is not. However, while naan bread is of Indian origin, and of course, cheese naan is enjoyed in India and around the world, here its filling of those adorable foiled wedges of Laughing Cow cheese – or should I say La Vache Qui Rit – is the roguish wink of a Frenchie who is enthusiastically wrestling with a rolling pin to recreate their favourite Indian side dish.
This is no exaggeration – in France, naan au fromage is a national celebrity. There are take-away restaurants here that enthusiastically announce ‘Cheese Naan’ in font bigger than their restaurant’s own name. People will come for curry, yet crowds will come for the cheese naan.
If you use Uber Eats, you may have noticed that you can leave reviews of dishes, and the collection of five-star ratings under the chicken pasanda I was eyeing up from a local Indian take-away 100% influenced my dinner plans. Over in the naan section, however, the cheese naan has 689 five-star reviews – compare that to the measly displays of appreciation for garlic and peshwari (104 and 18 respectively).
As is the case in any country, the mixture of cultures shape the cuisine. Indian food here is different to what we’d eat in the UK, and of course, both are incomparable to dishes in India. France’s option of foie gras tandoori miiiiight be taking the cultural culinary interpretations a step too far, yet the cheese naan is here to stay.
Considering that France is the country famous for its fromage, it seems fairly underwhelming at first to know these blistered and blackened naan breads are full of Laughing Cow cheese – a childhood favourite for all of us I don’t doubt! I remember the cardboard wheel with all the wedges nestled inside, and how satisfying it was to peel back the foil by pulling on the red tag to find creamy smooth cheese, effortless to spread on squares of white bread or maybe over ham which I’d then roll up for a salty snack.
And yet. Somewhere along the line, wherever the exact origins of this French version of cheese naan came from, someone clever discovered that Laughing Cow cheese held the perfect balance of creamy smooth, ready to melt into oozy gooey supplication, and seasoned with a satisfactory amount of salt to stuff a naan bread. You may think I’m joking but seriously, I really don’t advise you to substitute it for another cream cheese – we have in the past as our second home Lidl doesn’t sell those sacred wedges, and the alternative was utterly bland and claggy. Making cheese naan is a serious business.
How to make naan au fromage (aka cheese-stuffed naan)
Maybe I have flatbreads on the brain at the moment, so please excuse me because I’m being repetitive as this is the second recipe for them that I’ve shared in mere months. And, while both are reassuringly easy – anyone feeling daunted by the thought of making flatbreads can be rest assured that even a child can make them as they involve stirring and kneading and that’s about it – these cheese naans take the title of the easiest and quickest of the two.
I followed David Lebovitz’s recipe who was inspired, guided and advised on how to recreate Indian cuisine by his friend Beena Paradin, a food entrepreneur and Indian cookbook writer. David adapted her recipe slightly, no doubt insisting on the Laughing Cow cheese part because these triangles are sacred on the French food scene – yes, there’s baguette, pain au chocolat, buttery creamy heavenly dauphinois, and La Vache Qui Rit cheese triangles – you heard it here first folks.
So, to business – how to make these cheese naan?
The dough is airy soft, bringing to mind my childhood beanie babies. Made with flour, water, salt and yeast, the fantastic four when it comes to bread making, there is also yoghurt in there, as well as baking powder for a fluffy rise and extra clarified butter for richer depth of flavour.
Now, each cheese naan requires two Laughing Cow triangles – excessive, I thought. Surely it will bulge out with next to no encouragement? In fact, not in the slightest, not even through this silky soft dough. The cheese is soft and pliable, much like that easy-going mate who always goes with the flow. Even when flattened, the cheese stays put. Then, when the heat gets involved, as the cook is short and sweet, the ooze is ready and waiting for you when you tear open the naan. We all need a friend like the Laughing Cow.
And so to reciprocate Gaylord’s act of giving when I arrived in France two years ago – his love language if you will – I in turn served him hot blackened naan breads stuffed with cheese, greasy with clarified butter, and he ripped his open to reveal the oozing melted core of creamy cheese, before taking a greedy mouthful. Cheese naans surpass flowers and chocolates every time.
Naan au Fromage
- 160 ml lukewarm water
- Pinch of sugar
- 1 sachet dried yeast 7 g
- 250 g flour
- ¾ tsp baking powder
- 2 tbsp plain yoghurt
- 75 ml melted butter, clarified see notes for more details and make more for frying and brushing on the finished naans
- ¾ tsp salt
- 12 wedges Laughing Cow cheese
- In either a bowl or a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, fill the bowl with the lukewarm water, sugar, yeast and 110g flour and stir to combine. Set aside in a warm spot and leave for 30 minutes to become frothy.
- Add the rest of the flour, baking powder, the yoghurt, 3 tbsp of the clarified butter and salt to the mixture and stir with a wooden spoon to create a dough. Tip it out onto the floured countertop and knead for 5 to 10 minutes until smooth – the dough will be very soft and a bit wet so add more flour if it sticks to your hands. Put the dough back into a clean bowl and cover it with a tea towel. Leave to rest in a warm spot for another 30 minutes for it to rise.If using a stand mixer, knead the dough on medium speed for 5 minutes then follow the rest of the instructions.
- After 30 minutes, remove the dough from the bowl and cut it into six equal pieces. Dust the countertop with flour and shape each piece into a disk around 10cm (4 in) in diameter.
- Unwrap the cheese triangles and place two next to each other in the centre of each naan. Fold the four edges of the dough over the cheese, sealing the cheese safely inside. Turn the naan over so the seam is on the bottom then gently roll out each naan with a rolling pin until it is 15cm (6 in) in diameter.
- Heat your skillet or frying pan over high heat. Once hot, brush with a little clarified butter. Place one naan in the pan and cover with a lid to cook for 1 minute until it puffs up. Flip over the naan – it will be speckled like a leopard. Repeat cooking on the other side. Slide the hot blistered naan onto a plate and quickly brush with some more clarified butter.
- Repeat these steps with all the disks of dough then serve immediately.