I had this idea that I could post recipes all week, seeing as I’d built up a treasure trove of ideas and photos from my Christmas Open House. Pre-holiday life intervened, however. Extra hours at the office, a variety of social events and Christmas shopping at odd hours pretty much burned up every nanosecond of free time and smidgen of energy I had left. If you find yourself in a similar state, yet still need to make a little something for a party or gathering, I’ve got the hors d’oeuvre of your dreams right here.
Make-Ahead Potential? ✔
First off, the name. You could call these cheese puffs, but let’s use their proper French name, gougères. For those of you unfamiliar with the pronunciation, allow me to put my almost forgotten degree in French to some use with a guide: goo-zhair. Don’t forget to make a raspy, rolly ‘r‘ (that’s half the fun) and – heed my warning! – don’t pronounce the ‘s’. It’s silent, there to separate the true French speakers from the English-speaking wanna-be’s. Let’s say it again: gougères. Doesn’t that sound elegant and sophisticated?
These puffs are light as air and full of cheesy goodness. The secret to them is the choux pastry, which is used as the basis for sweet treats like cream puffs and eclairs. The addition of grated cheese and spices turns them into the savoury delights known as gougères, which originated in the Burgundy area of France.
If you’ve never made choux pastry, you’ll be surprised at how easy it is. Years ago I made it entirely by hand with a wooden spoon, which definitely tests your arm musculature and delivers a satisfying workout. That’s not something I can do now with my wonky wrists, so I finish the mixing in my stand mixer.
You can always have some of these on hand for when they’re needed, simply by scooping tablespoons of the dough onto a cookie sheet covered in parchment, freezing until solid and then storing the pastries in a heavy freezer bag. To make, just put onto a baking tray and pop into the oven still frozen. Within 30 minutes the magic show will run its course, the pale small balls of dough puffing up and browning, until they are ethereal, crispy spheres of hollow cheesy goodness. They are delicious served hot (careful!) or at room temperature.
I wish I had a cutaway photo so I could show you how just how light they are, but I was lucky to get a picture at all. I realized at last week’s party that they were all gone except for a few, so I whisked them off the serving tray and onto a plate for a quick photoshoot before returning them to be devoured in short order by my guests.
A quick story before I get to the recipe. As I’ve mentioned before, in the pre-internet, pre-Food Network era, there were only a few cooking shows on television. If they were showing a recipe I liked, I had to scribble it down, fast, and often the instructions suffered, as you can see in my photo of this recipe. That’s fine when you’re making the dish in relatively short order, but I hadn’t made these in over 20 years. My scrawled recipe was definitely lacking in the technique explanation department, so I had to go onto the internet to ensure I was making them properly. I used the technique described by Dorie Greenspan, here, as a guide and also made changes to the ingredients while I was at it, inspired by recipes I saw in different places on both the internet and YouTube (how did I function without all these resources in the past?).
The gougères were a big hit with my guests, and many people were curious about how I’d made them. They all seemed to think they were very complicated, but now you know that they’re not! We baked batch after batch throughout the open house, and every last one of them was gone at the end. Next year, I’ll make at least twice as many, and probably a couple of different variations. This year’s version was fairly mild, but in the past I’ve used a sharper cheese with cayenne for extra kick. It’s good to have options to meet different tastes.
Gougères with Gruyère
Adapted from my recipe, scribbled down while watching a long-forgotten cooking show many years ago.
Pre-heat oven to 375º and position the racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven.
In a heavy saucepan, bring 1 cup water and 6 tbsp unsalted butter to a lively boil. Dump in a mixture of 1 cup flour and 1 tsp salt all at once, and stir over medium low heat until the mixture comes together into a paste. A slight crust will form on the bottom of the pan, after which continue stirring for two or three minutes to ensure the paste is sufficiently dried out. Transfer the dough to your mixer bowl, and begin to beat with the paddle attachment. After a couple of minutes to let the heat dissipate somewhat, add five large eggs, one at a time, beating after each until well incorporated. Then add 1-1/2 cups grated Gruyère cheese and a good grinding of pepper and mix well. (Or, as my original recipe calls for, you could add 1-1/2 cups grated sharp cheddar and 1/2 cup grated parmesan plus 1/4 tsp dried mustard and 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper. Or come up with a variation suited exactly to your taste!)
I use my 1 tablespoon-sized ice cream scoop to measure these out. To make right away, place onto a parchment or Silpat-lined baking tray a couple of inches apart. Bake in the pre-heated oven for about 15 minutes, then rotate the trays top to bottom and front to back. Bake another 10 to 15 minutes, until beautifully golden and crispy. If you tap on a puff with a fingernail they will sound hollow.
You can also freeze the raw dough balls and store tightly sealed for up to a couple of months. They can go into the oven frozen, following the instructions above, but will need a few more minutes to bake.
I hope you agree this is an easy and impressive savoury nibble for a holiday party or any gathering. With a few bowls of mixed and spiced nuts and a glass of bubbly, these gougères help put the festive into any celebration.