Special Feature: Products Sally Recommends
There's no denying that this is the perfect time of year for a steamy bowl of hot soup or a hearty stew. One of my favorite accompaniments to soups, stews, even salads or a glass of wine reaches back into the classic French culinary past -- a small tasty puff flavored with gruyere cheese -- named gougere.
Gougeres are made from a thick paste called pate a choux (which translates to"cabbage paste" since the shapes when baked in a round form resemble small cabbages). The pastry for the pate a choux (also known as cream puff paste) is one of the simplest and most versatile. From the basic dough you can bake desserts such as cream puffs, eclairs and Paris Brest. The addition of grated cheese (and/or herbs, spices, ham, etc.) transforms the dough into savory gougeres.
The gougeres' "built in" secret is that as the small puffs bake, the liquid in the paste turns to steam and causes the small drops of dough to swell into crisp, golden shells with hollow interiors
Once baked, gougeres are best eaten fresh, but after cooling them you can store them in airtight containers in the freezer up to 10 days. To serve, recrisp directly from the freezer in a 325 degree oven for about 8 minutes or until hot.
Yield: About 5 dozen 2-inch puffs.
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch slices
3/4 cup water
4 large eggs
4 ounces Swiss Gruyere cheese, coarsely grated
Fit a large pastry bag with a 1/2-inch round decorating tip. Lightly grease a large baking sheet and dust lightly with flour. Adjust rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees for at least 20 minutes before baking.
Sift the flour and set nearby. In a 1-1/2 quart saucepan, bring the salt, butter and water to a rolling boil over medium heat. Immediately remove from heat and stir to combine the ingredients. Add the flour all at once, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon, and scraping sides of pan, until a stiff paste forms and comes together in a ball. Return to medium heat, stirring quickly for about 10 seconds to eliminate extra moisture.
Remove from the heat. The paste should be smooth, thick, and glossy. Transfer the thick paste to a large mixing bowl to cool for no more than 10 minutes.
Using an electric mixer, add all the eggs and the grated cheese and beat at medium speed until the eggs and cheese are completely incorporated into the dough. (It should be smooth, glossy, and stiff yet fall slowly in a ribboning effect when dropped from a spoon.)
Fill the pastry bag with the paste and pipe bite-size cheesey puffs about 1-inch in diameter. Space the cheesey puffs 1/2-inch apart to allow for expansion. (Form them larger, if you prefer. Alternatively you can drop the paste from a spoon rather than pipe the mixture from a pastry bag.)
Dip a pastry brush into a small amount of water and glaze each puff lightly with the water. The brush helps shape each form smoothly.
Bake about 20 or 25 minutes or until they are golden and the sides are rigid enough so they will not collapse when removed from the oven. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and place on a cooling rack.
Flo Braker has been teaching baking techniques and her sweet miniatures across the country for twenty years and is the author of several cookbooks.