NEED A CLASSY APPETIZER for your next cocktail party? Try the savory Gougères (pr. “goo-ZHAIR”) pictured up top. These are made from Choux pastry, the same easy dough used for cream puffs and eclairs. You can form a great many gougères and then freeze them, unbaked, just as I do. Then, when guests arrive, simply pop the little balls in the oven, where they will puff to perfection. I season mine with fresh thyme from the garden, and a generous amount of Gruyère cheese. The recipe:
About the cheese. Although I use Gruyère for my gougères, you certainly don’t have to. Sharp cheddar, Parmesan, and salty Asaigo will work as well. Just be sure to grate the cheese by hand. Cheese grated in the food processor, as I learned (the hard way), can weight the dough down and reduce its ability to rise. Flat-as-a-pancake gougères may be delicious, but this is not the look we are going for.
Choux pastry is made by adding flour to boiling milk or some other liquid. The flour is beaten in with a stout wooden spoon. French cooks somehow manage to beat the eggs in with a wire whip. But when I tried this, the thick, sticky dough became jammed inside the wire openings. Consequently I find it easier to beat in eggs — and air — with an electric, hand-held mixer.
The Herbs. I used thyme, because I have it in my garden. But you could just as easily use finely-chopped chives, rosemary, or whatever you happen to have on hand. The gougères is a versatile thing. The only true requirements are boiling liquid, flour, and eggs.
If you want perfectly-shaped balls, by all means use a pastry bag outfitted with a large tip. I could not for the life of me fine my pastry bag today (does this ever happen to you?). Consequently I used two tea spoons to form little clumps.
Gruyère & Thyme Gougères
Kevin Lee Jacobs, A Garden for the House
Ingredients for about 72 appetizers
1 cup milk (lactose intolerant? use water)
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup all-purpose flour, scooped and leveled
4 large eggs
1 1/2 Tablespoons fresh English thyme, finely chopped
1 cup grated Gruyère (can also use sharp cheddar, Asiago, Parmesan — all one or a combination)
Special Equipment – a heavy-bottomed 2-3 quart saucepan; a stout wooden spoon; a hand-held electric mixer; 2 parchment- (or Silpat-) lined baking sheets
Making the Dough – Preheat oven to 400 F; set oven rack at lower-middle position. Pour milk, salt, and butter into the saucepan; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. With the pan still over heat, dump in the entire cup of flour, and beat it vigorously with the wooden spoon. It will form a mass of dough that will pull away from the sides of the pan. Lower the heat, but continue to stir another minute or two, to evaporate much of the moisture in the dough.
Adding the eggs, herbs and cheese – Crack one egg into a cup. Add the egg to the dough, and then immediately beat it into the dough, using your electric mixer. Repeat with the remaining three eggs, adding them one at a time. The dough will look like a thick, sticky batter. Fold in the herbs and 3/4s of the cheese.
Forming and baking the puffs – Using tea spoons or a pastry bag, spoon or pipe little grape-size mounds onto the parchment-lined baking sheets, allowing about an inch or more space between them for spreading. (If you are not baking the Gougères right away, you can cover them with plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours. Or, you can flash-freeze the little balls on the baking sheet. When thoroughly frozen, transfer to a zip-lock bag.) Sprinkle tops with the remaining cheese and a tiny pinch of kosher salt. Bake the gougères until puffed and golden brown – 20-25 minutes. Serve warm or at room-temperature.
Note: To bake frozen gougères, set them on the lined baking sheet, and allow them to thaw to room-temperature. Then top them with the cheese and salt, and bake as described above.
Think you’ll make gougères? You can let me know by leaving a comment. As always, I love to hear from you.
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