Want to know what’s my magic fairy dust for easy hospitality? It’s having gougeres, or French cheese puffs, in the freezer, ready to be baked into little puffs of cheesy goodness at the first trill of the doorbell. Don’t let the French name intimidate you … these are far easier to make than you might think, and the flavour possibilities are seemingly endless. Today’s Margherita Gougeres feature that classic Italian combination of tomato, mozzarella and basil.
A Gougere Primer
The base of gougeres is choux pastry, which may be more well-known in cream puffs and eclairs. Feeling intimidated about making ooh-la-la French pastry? Don’t please — choux pastry is really quite simple to make, and much more forgiving than, say, pie pastry.
For these savoury puffs, you flavour unsweetened choux with cheeses, herbs and other delectables. Once the prep work of measuring ingredients, grating cheese and chopping the other additions is done, you can mix up a batch of gougeres in about 15 minutes.
Surprised? Who knew something that looks so fancy-schmancy could be this simple to make!
I like to use a tablespoon-sized ice cream scoop to measure out the dough, and each batch I’ve made has reliably yielded 50 or more puffs. I line them up in regimental rows close together on a parchment-covered baking tray, pop them into the freezer, and then store the ice-hard cheese balls in a well-sealed freezer bag.
And there they are, ready for when someone rings the doorbell. Or for when you feel the need for a special snack. Just pop them into the oven and, through the alchemy of eggs, those solid little balls of dough puff up to airy, sophisticated heights. I mean really, what would you rather have, a bowl of popcorn or a pretty plate of savoury cheese puffs?
Now back to these little Margherita beauties. Having recently made a tomato, mozzarella and basil pizza I wanted to try these classic flavours in gougeres. May I say that was an inspired decision? <pats self on back> With both mozzarella and parmesan cheese, and bright pops of sun-dried tomato and fresh basil flavour, these Margherita gougeres will make you want to fly both the French and Italian flags in your kitchen.
Let’s Get Cooking!
© Marlene Cornelis, Urban Cottage Life, 2017
If baking right away, preheat the oven to 375ºF and line your baking trays with baking mats or parchment paper.
In the early days I used to make the choux pastry the traditional way: mixing in all the eggs using a wooden spoon. These days I use my stand mixer to get the job done. I measured out the batch you see using a spoon instead of the usual scoop; they’re not as uniform as usual, but that’s okay, don’t you agree?
Don’t let the lengthy directions put you off; I wanted to go through each step as fully as possible for maximum clarity!
- 1-1/2 cups shredded mozzarella
- 1/2 cup finely grated parmesan (the best you can afford)
- 1/4 cup diced sun-dried tomatoes
- 6 medium basil leaves, minced
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 4 eggs
- 1 cup flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 cup water
- 6 tbsp unsalted butter
Start by preparing your mise en place so that all ingredients are ready and to hand when you need them. Place the cheeses in one bowl and the tomato and basil in another, and set aside. Combine the flour and salt in a separate bowl. Break the eggs into a measuring cup for ease of pouring and have on standby next to your mixer. Put the water and butter in a medium sauce pan. Now you’re ready to begin the simple process of making gougeres.
Over high heat, bring the water and butter to a lively boil. Dump in the flour and salt mixture all at once, and stir with a trusty wooden spoon over medium-low heat until the mixture comes together into a pasty ball. 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. It looks a bit like children’s play dough at this point.
Transfer the dough to bowl of your stand mixer, and beat on low with the paddle attachment for a couple of minutes to let the heat dissipate somewhat. If your kitchen is cool, like mine, it’s exciting to see the billowing steam. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each until completely incorporated. The mixture will look split after each addition and you may wonder if it will come together; don’t despair, it will. Once you’ve added all the eggs and you’re admiring the lovely smooth paste you created, it’s time to add the flavourings. First I mix in the cheese on low speed, and then I add the tomato and basil, and mix just until the red and green are well distributed.
Using a 1 tablespoon-sized ice cream scoop, measure the dough out onto the prepared trays. You could put the batter into a piping bag, but let’s face it, that’s more work. Absent a small ice cream scoop or a piping bag, just use two spoons to make tablespoon-sized dollops of the dough. You can smooth down any peaks with a wet finger.
To bake right away, place the mounds of dough 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 it should sound hollow.
One of the wonderful things about gougeres is that you can freeze the unbaked dough. In this case, line up the dough balls in close formation but not touching each other on your baking tray. (I can get an entire batch onto my half sheet pan — 18×13 inches.) Once frozen, place them in airtight freezer bags, labelled with the type of gougere and the date. They’ll keep for several months in the freezer if well sealed.
Then, when company arrives, just put the frozen gougeres on a lined tray while the oven is heating up, and bake them for four or five minutes longer than usual. Remember, you’re looking for a nicely browned puff that sounds hollow when you tap it.
Could entertaining be any easier?
Hungry for More Gougeres?
If you think a plate of Margherita gougeres will impress your guests, just imagine the reaction when you offer several different flavours! How about classic gruyere and thyme, Italian-style ham and cheese, or spicy sharp cheddar gougeres?