Monday, December 14, 2009
Something fun and savory
Do you want to serve something impressive for your holiday party - sophisticated little appetizers that will make your friends exclaim in delight while they greedily gobble them up?
Meet the gougère - a treat from the Burgundy region of France. Pâte à choux is made savory with cheese is baked in a hot oven till it puffs up. And you wouldn't believe how easy it is!
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare cookie sheets by lining them with parchment paper or use a Silpat pad.
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup milk
3 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup flour
1 pinch of salt
1 cup shredded Gruyere cheese (or your choice)
optional - minced herbs, ground pepper, cayenne, other flavorings
Bring the water, milk, salt and butter to a boil in a medium saucepan on the stove. Turn the heat down to low and add the flour, stirring with a wooden spoon.
It will look lumpy and ugly at first and then almost magically it will coalesce into a rubbery ball of dough that pulls away from the sides of the pan.
Continue to stir and cook just about 2 minutes over the stove, then take it off the heat and transfer to a mixer bowl.
Be sure to let the dough cool down, about 3 minutes. I use my Kitchen Aid mixer with the flat paddle. To help the dough cool down, I turn on the mixer and let it break up the rubbery ball of dough.
Then add the eggs, one at a time, beating each one in. Beat after each addition until the dough is smooth - it will start out lumpy but then becomes smooth, satiny and almost gluey.
After all 4 eggs have been beaten in, add the shredded cheese and seasonings of your choice.
Conventional recipes say to put the batter in a pastry bag and pipe it onto prepared cookie sheets. I don't have a pastry bag and really don't know how to use one, but the first time I tried to make gougères I used a trick someone told me to put the batter in a ziplock bag and cut the corner off.
Maybe it was my poor technique or my substandard equipment, but it was difficult to pipe uniformly sized and shaped puffs while squeezing the dough through the bag. There were problems lifting the bag away without trailing a thread of dough or making an oblong blob instead of a nice round puff.
Finally I said to heck with it and just used a teaspoon to plop little mounds on the sheet - they puffed up perfectly shaped, and that's the technique I use now.
You can sprinkle them with extra shredded cheese, or you can brush them with an egg wash if you like. But if you don't want to bother, they'll come out pretty and shiny anyway.
Bake the puffs for 20 minutes or so, and let them cool on a rack. You can eat them right away or you can heat them up again in a hot oven for 5 - 10 minutes just before serving them. If you do this, cut your initial baking time down a little so they don't brown too much in the second baking.
You can freeze gougères after they've cooled completely, and they'll keep for months. Pop them in a 350 degree oven for 5 - 10 minutes if you have surprise guests or just want a tasty savory bite with a cocktail or glass of champagne.
Gougère batter is pâte à choux, the same technique is used to make eclairs, profiteroles or cream puffs. Instead of a leavening agent, like yeast or baking powder, the high moisture content of its batter creates steam while baking, puffing up the dough.
The classic French recipe calls for gruyere cheese, but I've tried them with sharp Cougar Gold cheddar and with inexpensive Danish bleu cheese. I've also seen a recipe that mixes crumbled bacon and cooked corn kernels into the batter -I haven't tried it but it sounds good.
You can serve them as they are or you could get fancy with them. Because the little puffs are hollow inside, you could fill the hollow with a mixture of something tasty like sauteed mushrooms, minced ham, sausage, or curried minced chicken. Perhaps a little dab of chutney would be good inside a sharp cheddar puff. Or how about some dices of pear inside a bleu cheese puff?
You could make slightly larger gougères, and split them in half to make an elegant hors d'ouevre sandwich, layering baby greens and thinly sliced charcuterie between the halves. With some pickled red onions.
Gougères are elegant, easy, and delicious. Give them a try for your New Years Eve menu!