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?

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choux paste for gougeres

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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.

gougeres 2

gougeres 3

Yield: Approx 30 puffs.

Gougères

Ingredients:

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

Directions:

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.

From Jacques Pépin in Food & Wine, discovered via Smitten Kitchen.

lemon sour cream cheesecake with strawberry glaze

The grocery stores seem to be inundated with lemons lately. Every time I walk through the produce section I can’t help but crave lemony desserts. I made these lemon bars when I last had that craving, but after eating way too many of them, I decided that I needed to make a dessert that wouldn’t be so addictive.

I like cheesecake, but it’s not my favorite dessert. I lean more towards chocolate desserts. Or lemon bars. My husband, on the other hand, adores cheesecake. So, I figured I’d get to satisfy my lemon dessert craving with a slice, and he’d benefit too. Plus, he’s always happy to taste-test experimental dessert recipes for me.

I wanted to make this with Meyer lemons, but I couldn’t find any at the grocery store on the day I made this. I also wanted to use marscapone cheese, but I couldn’t find that either. I used what I had on hand — regular lemons instead of Meyers and sour cream instead of marscapone.

The cheesecake turned out very light, with a perfect lemon flavor – and a bit of a tanginess – that was balanced perfectly with the sweet strawberry glaze on top. Craving (and husband) satisfied.

lemon cheesecake

Lemon Sour Cream Cheesecake

Ingredients:

Shortbread:

1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup ground shortbread cookies [I used Keebler Sandies.]

Cheesecake:

24 ounces cream cheese (3 packages)
8 ounces sour cream
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
3 teaspoons lemon zest
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Directions:

Crust preparation:

Using an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar on medium high speed for 3 to 4 minutes. Add flour and ground shortbread cookies and blend for 3 to 4 seconds until fully incorporated. Press the mixture into a 9-inch springform pan. Bake crust at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden brown. Allow the crust to cool completely. When cool, wrap bottom and sides of the springform pan tightly with aluminum foil in preparation for cooking cheesecake in a water bath.

Cheesecake preparation:

Using an electric mixer (hand-held or stand mixer), beat the cream cheese until light and fluffy. Add the sour cream and sugar and continue to beat on medium speed. Add the eggs one at a time. Blend in the lemon zest and lemon juice. Pour mixture into cooled crust.

Set the cheesecake into a roasting pan, and add enough water to come halfway up the sides of the springform pan. Place in a 325 degree oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until the cake is set and the top is golden. Remove the cheesecake from the roasting pan and let cool on a wire rack. After it has cooled slightly, chill the cheesecake in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours or overnight.

For the strawberry glaze:

Puree two cups of hulled strawberries until smooth. Combine strawberry puree with 2/3 cup sugar and 1 tablespoon cornstarch in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to low, cook for 1 minute, then remove from heat and let cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally.

Adapted from this recipe from Epicurious, by Chef James Irby.

getting my umbrella ready

Those who know me well know that I am at my happiest when I’m planning my next vacation. There may be a scientific reason behind this, but I just know that I adore planning trips. And going on them, too, of course.

We’re headed to Las Vegas in June, and I’m getting more and more excited about it. I’m not the gambling type — I’d rather get a sure thing for my money — but Las Vegas is such a great city for entertainment, food, people watching, shopping. And did I mention shopping? And food?

But guess where else I’m going. Go on. Guess!

I’ll give you a hint:

I’ve been to Seattle as a kid, maybe when I was around ten or so. I have a handful of memories of Seattle from way back then — eating bagels with cream cheese and smoked salmon, watching the salmon swim upstream through the locks. I also remember rain, lots of rain. I can hardly wait to see the city again as an adult. And to top it off, I get to attend a fantastic conference with lots of other people who all love food and writing as much as I do.

If you’re also interested in attending the IFBC, general registration opens on April 19th. Hope to see you there!