Cheesy Chic

’Tis the season to entertain. Sometimes guests are expected and sometimes they just pop in. No matter what the case, it helps to have something to munch on hand. You don’t have to feel tied down to only offering cereal snacks and nuts. With a little preparation, you can pull out a few dozen pre-made gougères from the freezer and bake them for a savory, hot, cheese puff snack.

Batter
Gougères are very similar to a cream puff made from pâte à choux batter. The only difference is that gougères are not typically filled and they usually are more savory with cheese, spices and herbs mixed into the batter. The three main components are water, flour and eggs; honestly, the rest is just fluff and flavor.

The water evaporates while baking and the steam causes the structure of the batter (flour and egg) to rise. Don’t get antsy while baking, though. If the steam starts to form in the gougère and you open the oven door to take a peek, the dramatic drop in temperature could cause the gougères to fall if the outer structure has not fully set.

Extras
Flour and egg make up the structure, so you can add just about anything else for flavor. Since gougères are French, they traditionally contain French cheeses. You can use any type of cheese, even if the French gougère gods frown on some of your choices. Herbs, spices and other small diced flavorings can easily be folded into the batter once the eggs have been added. I always like to have the oven ready to do a test run with a few gougères if I am adding new seasoning or ingredients to the gougères. Doing a test batch allows me to adjust the seasoning if needed. It is always easier to err on the side of less salt — you can add more later.

 

Shaping
The fresh, warm batter is pretty sticky. It works great for piping but don’t touch it with your hands or it will form a big mass. Allow the batter to cool and it is a little easier to spoon or portion with a small ice cream scoop.

 

IQF
Individually quick freeze to hold the gougère’s shape and keep on hand for when you are in a bind. Portion the cool batter and, using wet hands, roll slightly and place on parchment paper on a sheet tray. You don’t have to worry about expansion during the IQF process; they will be baked on another pan. Once the pan is full, place it in the freezer for 30 to 45 minutes until the gougères are firm. They may then be placed into bags or containers and stored in the freezer until needed.

When you’re ready to bake, place the frozen gougères on parchment-lined sheet trays and let them sit at room temperature for 15 minutes, then bake normally. IQF gougères will last several weeks to a month in the freezer.

 

Baking
Parchment or high-heat baking sheets will make the removal of the gougères much easier, though they are not essential; a well-greased sheet pan will also work. The baking process has three purposes. The first is to cause the moisture in the batter to turn to steam; this causes the gougères to puff and rise. The second is to set the outer shell of the gougères; this structure will become crisp and hold the puffed shape. The third is to dry the batter on the inside; this will allow it to be stuffed if needed. I like the center a little under-done when they are removed from the oven. This helps keep a little bit of moisture to keep the gougères from drying out too much as they cool.


Gougères
Makes 30 to 40

1 cup water or milk
6 tablespoons butter
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup bread flour (all-purpose will work as a substitute)
1 cup grated gruyere (or other cheese)
4 eggs
Cheese and salt for dusting, if desired

Bring liquid, butter and salt to a boil. Add in flour all at once and turn down heat to medium-low while stirring with a wooden spoon. Keep stirring until flour and liquid form one mass of dough and pull away from the side of the pan, about 1 to 2 minutes. Place dough in a mixer bowl and affix the paddle attachment to the mixer. Mix at medium-low speed, and slowly add all the grated cheese, and then add eggs one at a time. Wait to add the second egg until the first egg is fully incorporated, and so on. Batter can be piped or scooped immediately onto parchment paper and baked, or can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days (see above for IQF variation).

To bake, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a 13-by-18-inch sheet tray with parchment paper or a nonstick baking sheet (a well-greased cookie sheet will also work). Pipe or scoop (using a small #50 or #60 ice cream scoop) batter onto the parchment, leaving room for the gougères to almost double in size. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until gougères have become slightly brown. Test one; it should be firm and crisp on the outside and have a small amount of moisture left on the inside. Serve warm or pull out of the oven a little early and reheat as needed for serving.

Brook Harlan is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. He is a culinary arts instructor at the Columbia Area Career Center.

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