Cheez Doodles Français-Style

French Cheez Doodles
At the risk of flattering myself, I like to think I’m an enthusiastic cook, educated shopper, and informed eater with reasonably good, organic, local, seasonal, sustainable, minimally-processed intentions. Yet a mere mortal am I, and in the dark recesses of my soul there lies weakness.

For junk food.

Roll your eyes or cast aspersion if you must, but I know you know what I mean. We all have occasional—or maybe persistent, nagging, all-consuming—cravings for things filled with empty calories, be they sugary or salty, tender or crunchy. I’m talking Ring Dings. Hostess fruit pies. Chips of every stripe. Bugles. My own personal junk food paramour, my frailty, the chink in my gastronomic armor, is the Cheez Doodle.

(My definition of the Doodle is egalitarian. To me, the term covers all manner of crisp, orange, “cheese”-flavored sins against nutrition, whether puffed or crunchy, baked or fried, full- or low-fat, retina-searing or pallid, official Doodle or any manner of look-alike, whether Jax, Cheeto, or Utz. They’re all Cheez Doodles to me, and I hunger for each equally.)

My very first encounter with the Doodle is lost to the mists of time, although I’ll go out on a limb and say it was likely a glorious moment. My early life was spent in a house of dieters, where sugary cereals were verboten and snacks pretty much consisted of carrots, celery sticks, and fruit, which hold terribly limited allure for a six-year-old. Whenever I got my hands on the forbidden nectar, it was as if I’d won the lottery.

Fast forward through more than three decades of midnight runs to all-night convenience stores, clumsy attempts at removing greasy orange stains from off-white upholstery, and furtive glances in reflective surfaces after indulging at inappropriate hours and locations to see if I’d swiped all incriminating Doodle crumbs clinging to my lip. At an age when I ought to have been thinking more responsibly about my retirement, I took a leave from my job, rented my apartment, and liquidated my emergency fund to embrace a year of eating, shopping, and writing in Paris. Naturally, I had several practical to-do’s before relocating to France for a year — including learning a little of the language, navigating the twisty administrative path to a carte de sejour (a flimsy but priceless card that allows for temporary residence), and making heads or tails of the apartment lease in which I understood roughly every seventh word. Yet my mind kept reverting back to the one really important thing — my Doodle habit.

I know, I know.

Don’t get me wrong. The prospect of spending a year sampling French cheeses — Bonjour, Beaufort! Enchanté, Epoisses! Salut, Saint-Nectaire! — was spectacular beyond belief. But I couldn’t help wondering if the country had applied its considerable engineering ingenuity to the transformation of some of that fromage into anything puffy and crunchy and snack-like. I had high hopes.

I also had a Plan B. Midway through my sojourn in Paris, I was scheduled to return to Boston for a week of consulting work. If by that time I hadn’t found suitable Gallic Doodles, I’d buy a case or two stateside and ship them to my apartment overseas.

Day two in Paris, giddy but disoriented, I made my way to my local Monoprix supermarché on the Rue du Poteau, about four blocks from my apartment, which was situated on the back side of Montmarte along the hairy northern edge of the 18th arrondisement. This store would provide staples and whatever else couldn’t be bought at the outdoor markets. To say that I was eager to scope out the offerings is an understatement — and by “offerings,” I think we all know what I had in mind.

As I entered the store I almost stumbled into an enormous bin filled with girolles (chanterelles). Yogurt, to the left, filled a string of refrigerator cases as long as an American soda aisle. Pâté at the deli counter—nine different styles?!—and fromage de tête. Wine galore. And chocolate. Oh my, the chocolate. This was looking good.

Good enough, in fact, to distract me momentarily from my pilgrimage. After what felt like hours of ricocheting in different directions, lured by new and exotic riches, I refocused. I slowly, methodically worked my way up and down every aisle, combing the shelves centimeter by centimeter. It wasn’t until after I’d rounded the corner in the dark, shadowy recesses of the store, not far from the dish soaps and a mind-boggling assortment of bottled mineral water, that I finally happened upon le junque food. And there, stationed unassumingly, were the bags that gave my heart a joyful jolt: Belin brand Mais Souffle Croustilles au Fromage. (Rough translation: Cheez Doodles!)

In a flash I scooped up three different flavors—plain, Emmental, and fromage de chevre (goat cheese Doodles!)—paid the cashier, and trotted home. After huffing up six flights of stairs two by two, I barely made it through the apartment door before ripping open all three bags. The Croustilles—from croustillant (pronounced kroo-steey-AHN), which is French for “crust”—were of regulation length, with the standard knobby, extruded form factor, though they seemed understated in color, almost natural looking, with their creamy, cheesy beige hues that were nothing like their screaming neon American cousins.

I took a bite. And then another. And another. The Doodles with the Gallic accent were a bit lighter, not quite so crisp, and somewhat less greasy than my beloved, though they still delivered that hallmark crackle-in-your-mouth, dissolve-on-your-tongue, textural tour de force that I love so. Of the three, far and away my favorite was Emmental. As Doodles go, it had gravitas, with an umami undercurrent and a creamy, nutty top note that imparted an uncommon depth and complexity. This was a stand-up Doodle.

I wish I could say that mastering the language and obtaining the carte de sejour fell into place as gracefully as the snacking. At least I had croustilles to help see me through those lesser pursuits. Even now, years later and firmly back in the bosom of the American Doodle bonanza that has sustained me for most of my life, I pine for those beguiling French Doodles. And while my friends head straight to stand in line at Ladurée or for some Mont d’Or each time they visit Paris—and, to be honest, I do, too—at least I can grab a bag of my pedestrian pleasures before so much as stepping out of the airport terminal.

Hungry for more? Chow down on these:

About Adam Ried

Boston Globe Magazine cooking columnist Adam Ried is also the kitchen equipment specialist on the PBS shows "America’s Test Kitchen" and "Cook’s Country from America’s Test Kitchen" and the author of Thoroughly Modern Milkshakes.

Comments
Comments
  1. Ling says:

    After reading the last sentence of this article, I walked straight down to the cafeteria and bought myself a bag of the Dutch equivalent (Hamka’s). I am never, ever able to resist a cheesy, puffy, crunchy whatchamacallit, and I will choose it over any other crunchy snack…!

    • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

      Love to hear that, Ling! Clearly, you are not alone in your passion…

    • Adam Ried says:

      Hey Ling —

      Long live the cheesy, puffy, crunchy whatchamacallit! You and I are clearly cut from the same cloth in that regard. I’ve never come face-to-face with a Hamka, Doodle, but on to the bucket list it goes!

  2. Sofia says:

    Fun writing. Actually I was introduced to this vice when I first came to the States. But it MUST be a very American thing, this obsession with these type of snacks. I DO recall when my American husband first went to Portugal he missed them terribly and sure enough would ask his Mother to send him some. I on the other hand miss other European oddities such as Lupini beans.

    • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

      Lupini beans, Sofia? Do tell more, please…

      • Sofia says:

        Ohh Renee do go to an Italian store or some type of grocery with European products and buy yourself some Lupini beans (usually in a jar), remove them from the liquid they come in, place them in a bowl, with cold water, sea salt and squeezed lemon wedges. Place the bowl in the fridge and tonight open up a nice cold beer, grab some lupini beans and enjoy them. They are addictive. Ohh, you first bit off their end, then squeeze the actual bean into your mouth and throw their skin away (hope this makes sense). Once you eat one or two you will not be able to stop. Luckily I was able to grow them in my garden, so have a few bags of dried ones.

    • Adam Ried says:

      Hey Sofia —

      So true that some of the foods with which we grow up make permanent impressions. One man’s Doodle is another woman’s Lupini (I’m going to have to try those out — is the bean itself creamy or starchy?) What was your husband’s true junk food love?

      • Sofia says:

        Adam, the lupini bean is starchy and so addictive much as certain junk food is. My husband loves just about all of them but mostly those cornucopia thingies (Bugles-much as you) and anything that is cheesy and spicy! Now I have my younger daughter totally loving cheetos which is one I cannot seem to get used to! Call me an Euro snob!

        • Adam Ried says:

          Hey Sofia —

          Off to the North End (Boston’s traditional Italian neighborhood) this weekend to get some Lupinis. Perfect excuse to hit a few of the markets I haven’t visited in a while. Not having tasted them yet, I wonder if their texture is a little like roasted chickpeas (which I love, especially with a little smoked paprika). Vis a vis the Bugles, much of their allure is the shape. I admit that it’s been a while since I’ve had a Bugle, being staunchy pro-Doodle as I am.

  3. Beth Kujawski says:

    Tres bon, Adam!

    Cheetos used to be my favorite road-trip food, washed down with Pepsi.

    Alas, somewhere in the shift toward “healthy” junk food, something changed. Maybe it was the recipe. Or maybe it was me. But they don’t taste the same to me anymore.

    I still eat them from time to time, but the cheesy thrill is gone.

    • Adam Ried says:

      Beth —

      No… no….. no!! Say it ain’t so that the cheesy thrill is gone. You must reach out and reconnect with your inner cheesy thrill. If you need a segue somewhat milder than the venerable Cheeto, try some Pirate’s Booty. Awfully good, that. Honestly, I wish we could all get these French doodles. They are a thing apart from the neon orange.

  4. Allison Parker says:

    I’m late to the party, but I loved reading this piece, Adam. (Love the illustration, too!) I’m a Doodle kind of gal, though I haven’t eaten them in forever. I remember when I was little: my mom did not stock such things in the kitchen, so whenever I went out it was Doodles, Doritos, Pringles… let’s just not mention Funyuns.

    When I lived in France for several months in the early 1990s, though, the thing I couldn’t find anywhere and missed horribly: bagels. Really good bagels.

    Thanks for the great essay, with its wonderful humor and lots of memories for me, too.

    • Adam Ried says:

      Hey Allison —

      A Doodle kind of gal is my kind of gal indeed! And Funyuns!! Yikes…. I’d completely forgotten about those. As I said in the piece, when I was a kid we also didn’t have such things in our house, (except for chocolate ice cream… thank God for my father’s addiction). Their forbidden nature may help account for the lasting thrill.

      One of the American things that I missed in France was packaged chicken broth. Couldn’t find it anywhere. There was plenty of concentrate, but no liquid broth. The other thing was iced coffee, which I was used to drinking almost by the gallon. I got some funny looks in cafe’s the first couple of times I requested ice, then I got self-conscious and stopped asking. It’s funny that I never noticed the dearth of bagels. The baguettes ancienne (sp) saw me though.

    • Adam Ried says:

      Hey Allison —

      I forgot to mention how much I love the illustration, too!

  5. vel says:

    For the ultimate in cheese doodleness in the states, one must try the Utz Cheese Balls, and they *must* come in the barrel: http://www.utzsnacks.com/store/p-484-barrel-of-cheese-balls.aspx . It’s a different recipe than the ones in the bags, and will ruin you for any other cheese ball.

    • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

      Wow. A barrel of cheez doodles. I fear this may send Adam into a cheez doodle-induced catatonic state…

    • Adam Ried says:

      Hey Vel —

      Last summer I walked into a friend’s place at the beach and there on the table was a barrel of Utz cheez balls. I think it was a 5-gallon size. I had to leave the room lest I do damage to myself….

  6. Richard says:

    Okay Adam, you have my attention, but where’s the recipe? If you found these in la boulangerie I am sure they can be made at home. Surely with your “connections” you have tried at some time, n’est pas?

    The best I have found commercially in the States are from Barbara’s Bakery. They are called Cheese Puffs and come in two flavors. They are not overly dyed (neon glow in the dark orange)and go well with either wine or beer.

    • Adam Ried says:

      Hey Richard —

      In my world view some things are best left to the pros, and Doodles are one of them. I’ve never tried to make ‘em. I did get pretty good at making gougeres during my year in Paris, though (despite the availability of very good frozen ones at Picard — that’s the place with all the frozen food, right?)

      I concur that Barbara’s makes a fine Doodle. Pirate’s Booty is similar, and also very good.

      • Richard says:

        I’ll bet all commercial Doodles involve frying on an industrial scale of some sort. That, and the fact that they almost all begin with some kind of cornmeal, makes me want to start experimenting with a baked version.

        I will start with my gougere recipe and see if it will work in a different (cheese puff) shape. It may not have the light puffy volume, but perhaps I can make up for that with great flavor and good crunch. I know starting with real cheese and butter will make a huge difference.

        Yes, you are correct. Supermarche Picard has everything and they are everywhere.

  7. Alisa Morov says:

    Love this article! After living here 10 years, i still crave the extra-crunchy Cheetos – les Belin work in a “crunch”…. but nothing works like Extra Crunchy Cheetos and large Fritos.

    • Adam Ried says:

      Hey Alisa —

      Extra-crunchy, huh? How is it that I can’t remember trying those? Going grocery shopping tomorrow… I may have to take a stroll down the salty-crunchy aisle. If I find the Cheetos in question, I’ll raise one to you!

  8. Jamie says:

    Doodles with a Gallic accent? I love it! Fabulously written piece, had me hanging on every word! After 25 years of living in Europe (7 in Italy and more than 18 in France), I still get the occasional craving for salted popcorn, bbq potato chips, and Bugles–yes, wasn’t I thrilled when they started selling Bugles in France! I don’t eat the cheesey doodles often but tend to grab a bag of the peanutty-flavored ones (American puff snack and peanut butter–two American snack food cravings at once!). But today I will be heading to Monoprix for a bag or two of Croustillants…btw, you should see how and what I eat when I get back to the US!)

    • Adam Ried says:

      Okay Jamie, you can’t end a comment like that without telling us what you grab when you’re back on this side of the waves! Inquiring minds….!!

      Glad you liked the piece… thank you. Your passing comment about peanut butter made me smile. I think it’s a uniquely American thing. My European friends are generally mystified (that’s putting it politely) by peanut butter.

      • Richard says:

        For the French, just the concept of Peanut Butter is hard to ‘swallow’. However once they visit the States they want to bring some back home just like we want to bring real cheese to America.

  9. Scream says:

    Velma Barfield, the serial killer who was executed in NC in 1984…guess what her last meal was on death row? Cheez Doodles and a can of Coca-Cola.
    http://www.famouslastmeals.com/2010/10/velma-barfield.html

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