gougères, the little french cheesepuffs
While on the hunt for an appetizer recipe to bring to a wine and cheese party we were invited to recently, I stumbled across this post by Deb of Smitten Kitchen. Her site is an amazing wealth of recipes, great writing, and food photography. And, as often happens, one of the dishes featured in her post caught my eye.
I am a serious novice when it comes to French cuisine, but attempting to make some classic French dishes is on my running list of things I want to accomplish in the kitchen. I’m not sure that gougères are a classic French appetizer, but they are indeed French, and it took me several tries to pronounce it correctly, so I think they count.
The basis of the dish is the choux paste, a very sticky pastry dough. I turned to the food science expert, Harold McGee, and his book On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, for some background information on choux paste and gougères. This is what Harold says:
Choux is the French word for “cabbage,” and choux pastry forms little irregular cabbage-like balls that are hollow inside like popovers…It provides the classic container for cream fillings in such pastries as cream puffs (profiteroles) and éclairs, and also makes such savory bites as cheese-flavored gougères and deep fried beignets, whose lightness inspired the name pets de nonne, “nun’s farts.”
Choux paste was apparently invented in late medieval times, and it’s prepared in a very distinctive way. It’s a cross between a batter and a dough, and is cooked twice: once to prepare the paste itself, and once to transform the paste into hollow puffs.
So, wow. I learned something. I just love that book. It’s such a great resource in the kitchen. Plus, who knew I’d learn about nun’s farts?
The recipe was very easy to follow and quite quick, too. I baked one batch on parchment paper and the other on a Silpat baking mat. The ones baked on the parchment puffed up more and looked more golden brown on top. The others came out puffy but then fell a bit. Both tasted delicious – savory, filled with the rich taste of the Gruyère, the sweet smokiness of the Spanish paprika, and saltiness from the sprinkling of fleur de sel on top of each puff.
Gougères have been added to my make-again list. It was such a simple, tasty appetizer to make – if you ignore the hassle of cleaning the sticky choux paste out of the food processor, that is.
Yield: Approx 30 puffs.
1 cup milk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
Dash cayenne pepper
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon paprika [I used the Spanish paprika, Pimenton de la Vera Dulce.]
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 cups grated Gruyère
Fleur de sel or other coarse salt to sprinkle on top
Bring the milk, butter, salt, and cayenne to a boil in a saucepan. Remove from heat, add the flour all at once, and mix vigorously with a wooden spatula until the mixture forms a ball. Return the pan to the heat and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 1 minute to dry the mixture a bit. Transfer to the bowl of a food processor, let cool for 5 minutes, then process for about 5 seconds.
Add the eggs and paprika to the processor bowl, and process for 10-15 seconds, until well-mixed. Transfer the choux paste to a mixing bowl and let cool for 10 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with a reusable nonstick baking mat or parchment paper. Reserve 1 tablespoon of the grated Parmesan cheese, then add all of the remainder and all of the Gruyère to the choux paste. Stir just enough to incorporate. Using a tablespoon, scoop out a level tablespoon of the gougère dough, and push it off the spoon onto the cooking mat. Continue making individual gougères, spacing them about 2-inches apart. Sprinkle a few grains of the coarse salt (or Fleur de sel) and a little of the reserved Parmesan cheese on each gougère.
Bake for about 30 minutes, until nicely browned and crisp. Serve lukewarm or at room temperature.