Saturday, March 3, 2012

Gougeres: French Cheese Puffs

I just finished reading Ruth Reichl's book, Garlic & Sapphires, a fascinating memoir about her experiences as the New York Times restaurant critic. In one chapter, she writes about the gougeres she had at Daniel. These sounded so good, I was inpired to put down my book and make them before dinner one night. Gougeres sound fancy, but the're actually simple little cheese puffs (they just sound prettier in French). They're fluffy and light with a crisp outer shell and make superb hors d'oeuvres served with cocktails at a party or as a delicious snack.

I tried out two different recipes for gougeres, both were coincidentally from Ruth Reichl. The one I liked best comes from The Gourmet Cookbook. On my first attempt at making these, my dough was too wet and my gougeres rose but then quickly collapsed after removing them from the oven, resulting in little cheese pancakes. While still delicious, they weren't quite what I was going for. Part of the problem was that the first recipe I used called for too many eggs (not to mention I was using extra-large eggs, which only contributed to their demise). It's necessary that you remove enough moisture while cooking so that the dough reaches the right consistency. The recipe provided below calls for 4 to 5 large eggs. Use the fifth egg if you find your dough to be too stiff. However, if you removed too much moisture while cooking and the dough still seems stiff after the additional egg, add some water by the teaspoon until the dough is glossy and holds soft peaks.

Slightly adapted from Ruth Reichl, The Gourmet Cookbook

1 cup water
1 stick (8 tbsp.) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
½ tsp. salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 to 5 large eggs
1½ cups finely grated Gruyere (about 4 oz.) 
2 tbsp. finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus extra for sprinkling
1 heaping tbsp. chives, minced
¼ tsp. ground nutmeg (freshly ground if you have it)
¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Place oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line two sheet pans with parchment and set aside.

Combine the water, butter, and salt in a 4 quart heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Stir until the butter is completely melted. Reduce heat to medium and add the flour all at once. Vigorously stir in the flour with a wooden spoon and cook until the mixture pulls away from the sides of the pan, about 30 seconds. Continue to cook and stir the mixture to remove any excess moisture, about 1 1/2 minutes. Remove the pan from heat and set aside to cool for a few minutes. 

Add the eggs one at a time and stir vigorously to incorporate after each addition (don't worry if the batter seems to separate, it will become smooth once beaten long enough). You've reached the desired consistency when the dough becomes glossy and falls gently from the spoon (if the mixture seems too stiff, beat the remaining egg in a small bowl and add a little of it at a time, incorporating each addition fully before adding more. If the dough still seems stiff, add a little water until you feel its reached the right texture). Stir in cheeses, chives, nutmeg, and pepper. Taste to adjust seasonings.

Transfer the dough to a pastry bag (or gallon-sized zip-top bag with the end sniped off) and pipe dough into 1-inch mounds (about a tablespoon), spaced 1-inch apart. Sprinkle each mound of dough with Parmigiano-Reggiano. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until puffed and nicely golden brown (switch the position of the pans halfway through cooking time). Continue making more gougeres in the same manner with the remaining dough. Serve warm.

Yield: about 50 gougeres

  • The gougeres can be made 1 week in advance, baked, cooled, and frozen in well-sealed gallon-sized zip-top bags. Reheat uncovered on a sheet pan at 350 degrees F for about 12 to 15 minutes. You do not need to defrost them before reheating. 

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