The apéro is one of the most fully embraced French institutions in our house. Paris doesn’t have the preponderance of Happy Hours that you find in most American cities (“Le Happy Hours” usually go from about 5-8pm which is nice, but beers are still 5 euros – not exactly a deal), so Nick and I almost always have an apéro when he gets home from work. Often the nibbles consist of peanuts or pretzels or something equally simple. But if we’re having company, or I’m feeling energetic, we’ll do something a little more involved. The ever-popular bacon-onion dip makes frequent appearances, but the subject of cheesy poofs has been coming up more and more.
Gougères are a French classic: airy puffs of savory pâte à choux flavored with cheese (traditionally Gruyère). They make perfect little bites for the apèro – bite-size, no plates or forks required, and very very more-ish. Being a pâtissière, I have made a batch or two of choux in my day, so I really have no excuse not to make these more often.
And yet I don’t. Pâte à choux, which literally translates to “cabbage paste” (sounds appetizing, doesn’t it?), is named for the way the baked puffs resemble little heads of cabbage, so the story goes. It is actually a quick dough to put together – I made these while Nick was in the shower – and once baked, the piped choux, be it in the form of puffs, éclairs, wheels, or even swans, freezes very well. The problem is that the process sounds a bit fussy and complicated when in practice it isn’t. You start out by explaining that you boil water, milk (choux made without milk will be drier, less tender, less beautifully golden brown, and all around less appetizing), butter salt and sugar. Then you stir in the flour and any dried spices you may be using and cook it until the dough forms a ball. And then you have to stir in eggs one at a time until the ideal consistency is reached before folding in grated cheese, piping it out into the desired shapes and baking it. (And if you leave out the cheese and spices and use a little more sugar, you can make any of the myriad of French sweets based on the ultra-versatile dough.)
I know, it all sounds like a bit of a hassle. You just have to trust me when I say it’s not. And the payoff – savory, cheese-inflected, French pastries that somehow just beg for a more plebeian name – is way more than you would expect from such a minimal amount of effort.
For this particular batch, I used cheddar cheese and seasoned the dough with powdered mustard and ground dried chilis (inspired in part by Jenni’s spicy cheese biscuit recipe) for a distinctly American flavor. These are definitely cheesy poofs. If you want to go the bourgeois route, by all means call them gougères and use refined French cheese and maybe some delicate fresh herbs. But if you ask me, “cheesy poofs” is a whole lot more fun to say. And nobody should need much convincing that they kick ass.
Spicy Cheddar Gougères
80 ml/ 1/3 cup water
80 ml/ 1/3 cup milk
½ tsp. sugar
¾ tsp. coarse sea salt
65 g/ 5 Tbsp. butter
85 g/ 3 oz. pastry flour (substitute bleached all-purpose flour if you must)
½ tsp. mustard powder
¼ tsp. chili powder or cayenne
70 g/ 2½ oz. sharp cheddar cheese, grated on the smaller holes
- Preheat the oven to 190 C/ 375 F.
- Combine the water, milk, sugar, salt, and butter in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat and add the flour, mustard, and chili powder all at once. Stir over heat with a wooden spoon until the dough forms a ball and leaves a thin film on the sides of the pan. Transfer to a heatproof bowl.
- Add the eggs to the dough one by one, stirring until smooth in between each addition. (This can be done in a standing mixer with a paddle attachment, which I recommend for larger batches.)
- Fold in the cheese by hand, using the wooden spoon or a rubber spatula.
- Using a pastry bag fitted with a medium round tip, pipe out small bite-size rounds onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Space them out to allow for some puffing. (You can also just use a couple of spoons or a small cookie scoop to portion out the dough.)
- Bake 18-25 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking time, until the gougèresare puffed and golden brown. The best indication of doneness is the lack of moisture bubbles on the sides. A few are ok, and will ensure a moist interior, but too much moisture inside will cause the beautiful little puffs to collapse when removed from the oven.
- These are best served warm from the oven, but are still entirely appealing at room temperature. The baked puffs freeze well once cooled, for up to a month – simply reheat in the oven 5-7 minutes before serving.
Makes about 4 dozen cheesy poofs.
Originally published on Croque-Camille.