Gougeres: Puff, the Magic Cheese Hors d’Oeuvre

Leave it to the French to whip up an hors d’oeuvre that’s addictively delicious, easy to make but sounds as if you went to Le Cordon Bleu to learn how. Gougères (pronounced goo-Jer), are cheese puffs commonly served with drinks before dinner and are one of many cheese and pastry recipes the French have produced over the centuries (including quiches, turnovers, galettes and bouchées), probably more than any other culture.

“They’re the most popular hors d’oeuvres at Artisanal,” says Terrance Brennan, chef-proprietor of this New York cheese-obsessed restaurant. “It’s not unusual to see them on more than half the tables in the dining room at any given time.” That’s not surprising given the addictive nature of gougères and their versatility with aperitifs. Champagne or some other sparkling wine would be Brennan’s choice, but almost any white wine or light red wine would work.

Gougères are a good choice at home because they’re easy to make and to adapt to a variety of flavors. To make holiday entertaining even easier, you can refrigerate gougère dough for up to three days. Or freeze the uncooked individual puffs on the baking sheet until solid, then store them in bags in the freezer. Or reheat the gougères that have been baked a few hours beforehand. Don’t cover them completely or they’ll get soggy.

The basis for gougères is pate à choux, a cream puff paste or pastry made by adding flour to boiling liquid (usually water but sometimes milk as well) and butter, then eggs to form a sticky, paste-like dough.

Grated Gruyere cheese is mixed into the choux for gougères. Then the dough is piped from a pastry bag onto baking sheets and baked until golden brown. You can vary the basic gougères before or after baking. Before baking, substitute any number of firm or hard cheeses such as Parmigiano-Reggiano, Cheddar or aged Gouda as well as blue cheeses for the Gruyere. The dough might also be dotted with fresh herbs or bits of cooked bacon.

After baking, gougères can be cut in half, crosswise, and then stuffed with soft cheeses, such as fresh goat cheese, cheese spreads, or noncheese fillings such as prosciutto or steak tartar.

Whether plain, flavored or stuffed, betcha can’t eat just one.

The following recipe is from Terrance Brennan.

Gougères

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons course sea salt
  • 2 pinches cayenne
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, sifted with 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons (about 4 ounces) grated Gruyère
  • 3 eggs, at room temperature

1)Preheat the oven to 400°F. Put the butter, 1/4 cup milk, water, 1/4 teaspoon sea salt, and the cayenne in a 2-quart saucepot and set over medium heat. Bring to a boil, then gradually add the sifted flour and baking powder. Remove from heat. Stir well with a wooden spoon and return to the heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until the dough pulls away from the side of the pot, a few minutes.

Remove the pot from the heat again and transfer the dough to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the 3/4 cup of cheese and paddle on low, until just warm, about 2 minutes.

2)Add the eggs, one at a time, to the mixer, on medium-high speed. Continue to mix the dough until smooth and shiny, about 10 minutes. Let the mixture cool to room temperature.

3)Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Place the dough into a pastry bag fitted with a #6 tip (an opening about the size of a nickel). Pipe the dough into 1-inch rounds, each about 1/2-inch high. Allow about 1/2-inch space between gougères. Each baking sheet should fit 25 to 28 gougères. Brush gougères with the remaining milk. Sprinkle with the remaining Gruyere and some sea salt.

4)Place the baking sheets in the oven and bake for 5 minutes.  Turn the trays around and continue to bake until the gougères take on a deep, golden-brown color, approximately 7 to 10 minutes more. Serve hot from the oven or keep the gougères, loosely covered, at room temperature for a few hours, then reheat at 400˚F for 2 1/2 minutes.

Makes 50 to 55 gougères.

 

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