Several years ago, Jason gave me perhaps the most generous and at once self-serving birthday gift ever: he signed me up for a six-week pastry seminar.
It was a win-win for both of us. I learned the joys of pastry. And Jason enjoyed the fruits of my newfound skills.
My Facebook feed at that time looked something like this:
Mission: Make the world jealous. Status: Accomplished.
I’ll be honest, I was skeptical at first. I have always loved baking, but pastry seemed like a whole new ball game with way more rules and steps and technique. Plus, everything is in French, so it always feels slightly uppity to be talking about my Pâte Sucrée recipe.
But after a little practice [and quite a few translations], I have found myself embracing the intricacies of pastry and the pure glimmers of joy they bring to Jason’s face when I make them. [I’m pretty sure I could keep him happy forever with croissants alone.]
So when we decided to have a couple of foodie friends over for dinner the other night–mostly as a thank-you for watching our dog–we made the concerted effort to bring in a full arsenal of French accented cuisine: étouffée, gougères, and éclairs.
Let’s just say it was a smashing success, which is a relief because these guys are some of the best cooks we know.
We’ll get to all three of the dinner elements eventually, but for now, we’re just going to concentrate on the gougères, also known in this household as cheese puffs [correction per Jason: cheesy poofs]!
WARNING: We’re about to throw a bunch of French terms in your face, but don’t let them scare you. We’ll translate along the way.
The foundation of gougères is pâte à choux [translation: cabbage paste], so named for its resemblance to cabbages [“choux” in French] after baking. It is actually the same dough you would use if you were making cream puffs or éclairs, but since it has a very mild flavor, it is often used as a container for a range of sweet and savory ingredients, whether pastry cream [as is the case for éclairs] or cheese, like these delicious gougères.
So before we can address the gougères, we first have to make our pâte à choux or choux paste.
PÂTE À CHOUX [CHOUX PASTE]
- 1 cup (8 oz) milk or water [water makes them crispy]
- 1/2 cup (4 oz) unsalted butter, cut in small pieces
- 1 3/4 c. (7 oz) all purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 5 large eggs (plus additional eggs for egg wash)
- Water to adjust consistency
- Place milk and butter in saucepan and bring milk and butter to a full, rapid boil.
- Remove the milk/butter mixture from the heat and add all of the flour and salt at one time. Stir together quickly with a wooden spoon. Mixture is heavy and will have a play dough-like quality.
- Return the panade [a fancy word for the milk and flour mixture] to the heat. Stir and dry the panade until it starts to stick to the bottom of the pot, about 30 seconds.
- Place panade in a mixing bowl and mix with a paddle at low speed for 1 to 2 minutes to release the heat. This is so the mixture won’t cook the eggs.
- Begin adding eggs one at a time. The choux paste will become sloppy as the eggs are added. When it comes back together, add another egg. Beat the last egg and add in 1 teaspoon intervals. If necessary, add water to achieve proper consistency.
Congratulations! You have officially made choux paste!
This will serve as the foundation for so many fun pastry creations.
This batch alone will make at least two dozen gougères or five dozen éclairs. But since we were only feeding four people, we opted to split this batch and use half for the éclairs and half for the gougères. Win win!
The beauty of making gougères is that there are absolutely no measurements. Everything can be altered based on your favorite flavor profiles. We still love the tried-and-true cheddar versions, but one of these days we might start experimenting with more shocking combinations, like blue cheese and bacon.
The world is your oyster with these fluffy biscuits. So go crazy.
Here’s how you make ’em:
GOUGÈRES [CHEESE PUFFS or CHEESY POOFS]
- Choux paste
- Shredded cheese, about half as much by volume as the choux paste [we used cheddar, but parmesan, swiss, and dry blue cheese all make tasty combos…just don’t use any wet cheese like gruyere or brie.]
- Black pepper
- Cayenne pepper
- Chopped herbs [we used rosemary, but parsley and thyme would be yummy too]
- Flavor the choux paste with desired additions.
- Pipe rounds or scoop with a small ice cream scoop onto a parchment lined pan.
- Egg wash twice.
4. Bake at 375 to 400 degrees until golden brown, about 25 minutes [time will vary with size]. For even color, rotate the tray after 18 minutes.
Serve fresh with any meal. But be careful–these suckers disappear quickly!
So, are you a pastry believer yet?