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Homemade Gougères for Any Event

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Homemade Gougères for Any Event

The Cocktail Party of My Dreams

For a couple of years now, I’ve been thinking of throwing a cocktail party. I love the concept of it: the kind of evening when everyone wears their fanciest shoes and eats too many canapés. Unfortunately, there is no such thing in my foreseeable future—or not, anyway, until my husband and I move out of our current apartment, which has a maximum capacity of approximately four—but I try not to let reality stand in my way. Whenever I find myself stuck at a red light or in an especially long line at the grocery store, I let my imagination wander. I envision our friends, glasses in hand, chatting happily in our (magically enlarged) kitchen. Sometimes, in the most elaborate version of my fantasy, they even kick off their shoes to dance in the (suddenly spacious) living room, gathering around my husband as he expertly moonwalks à la Michael Jackson.

The hors d’oeuvres vary according to the season, of course, from deviled eggs with fried capers in the spring to tiny roasted potatoes with malt vinegar mayonnaise in the winter. But no matter the rest of the menu, when the first guests arrive at the cocktail party of my dreams, I am invariably pulling a pan of perfectly burnished gougères from the oven. That’s my favorite part.

Discovering Gougères in Burgundy

I fell in love with gougères one fall in Burgundy, on a vacation with my mother. I was working in Paris that year, and she flew in from Oklahoma to visit for ten days. We spent most of her stay in Paris, but midway through, we took a train to Beaune, a quaint town in eastern France, the hub of the surrounding wine region. We rented a metallic-green hatchback that we nicknamed June Bug, deposited our suitcases at a hotel, and spent the next few days buzzing along narrow, winding roads, exploring the area’s vineyards and villages. Each night we would return to Beaune to sleep, and each morning we would wake early and walk through the fog to the boulangerie, where we would buy a small loaf of bread for breakfast—usually rye with raisins, one of my favorites—and a couple of gougères, tucked in a filmy white paper bag, to take in the car for lunch.

Before our first morning in Beaune, I had never heard of a gougère (pronounced goo-jhair), much less eaten one. Sitting in a wicker basket on the bakery counter, they looked like large dinner rolls, but lighter somehow—as though they could, if given a gentle nudge, float away like miniature Goodyear blimps. The woman behind the counter told us that they were a specialty of the region, made from a rich, eggy dough and flavored with cheese. They are often eaten, she explained, as a snack or an hors d’oeuvre, something to accompany a cocktail or a glass of the local red. My mother leaned into my ear. She had made something similar in the ’70s, she whispered, for a bridal shower. They were fantastic, she said. So we bought two.

Mastering the Art of Choux Pastry

When we got hungry, all we had to do was pull over, retrieve the grocery sack from the backseat, and arrange our picnic on the dashboard. The mâche’s plastic box made a perfect impromptu salad bowl: We could drizzle in a bit of vinaigrette, give it a good shake, and then eat with our fingers. But the gougères were the very best part. They were delicately crisp on the outside, airy and tender on the inside, and light but loaded with flavor. Shot through with Gruyère, they reminded me of a cheese soufflé—only smaller, and portable. The next morning, we went back to the bakery for more, and we did the same thing the morning after that.

Gougères, I learned, are made from pâte à choux, or choux paste, the same versatile dough that forms éclairs, profiteroles, and cream puffs. Choux (pronounced shoe) paste may be the most unfortunate culinary term ever invented—it sounds like something a cobbler would use to glue new soles onto your boots—but I hope you won’t let that sway your opinion. Because the truth is, it’s terrifically easy to make. So much so, in fact, that now that I’ve tried it, I feel sort of evangelical.

The method for making choux paste is unusual, and unlike that for any other type of dough. It sounds odd on paper, but it’s a time-honored classic, one of those techniques that, once mastered, makes you feel as though you could leap tall buildings in a single bound. You begin by combining water and butter in a saucepan. Once it has reached a simmer, you add a good dose of flour, and then you stir until the mixture forms a ball. Then you beat in some eggs, one at a time. The dough resists at first, forming slippery clumps, but slowly it begins to accept the egg, and a smooth, sticky batter forms. This is choux paste.

From this point, you have a number of options. You can leave it plain (for sweet uses), or you can add cheese (for gougères). You can pipe or scoop it onto a sheet pan in mounds (for cream puffs, profiteroles, or gougères), or you can shape it into dainty logs (for éclairs). However you do it, during baking, the eggs make the dough puff, leaving a light, wispy center, the mark of a proper choux pastry.

Gougères for Any Occasion

Most of the time, when I make gougères, I bake them into puffs the size of a lady’s fist, a little smaller than the ones I ate in Beaune. They’re the ideal size for an appetizer, a small yet memorable prelude to dinner. (I also like, on cold days, to dunk them in tomato soup.) But for my fantasy cocktail party, I would make them a little smaller yet—the size of golf balls, let’s say—so that they would be easier to eat with a wineglass in hand. I’m sure they would be a smash hit.

If my party ever sees the light of day, I’ll let you know how it goes. In the meantime, while I wait, I think I’ll make another batch, just because I can. And who knows, maybe one day I’ll work up the courage to actually throw that cocktail party. After all, with a reliable recipe for homemade gougères in my arsenal, I’d be one step closer to hosting the event of my dreams.

Homemade Gougères: A Recipe to Impress

Ready to try your hand at these delightful cheese puffs? Here’s a classic recipe for homemade gougères that you can make at home:

Ingredients:
– 1 cup milk
– 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
– 1/4 teaspoon salt
– Dash of cayenne pepper
– 1 cup all-purpose flour
– 3 large eggs
– 1/2 teaspoon paprika
– 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
– 1 1/2 cups grated Swiss cheese (Emmentaler or Gruyère)
– Coarse salt (fleur de sel or kosher salt) for sprinkling

Instructions:
1. Bring the milk, butter, salt, and cayenne to a boil in a saucepan. Remove from the heat, add the flour all at once, and mix vigorously with a wooden spatula until the mixture forms a ball.
2. Return the pan to the heat and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 1 minute to dry the mixture a bit.
3. Transfer to the bowl of a food processor, let cool for 5 minutes, then process for about 5 seconds.
4. Add the eggs and paprika to the processor bowl, and process for 10 to 15 seconds, until well mixed.
5. Transfer the choux paste to a mixing bowl, and let cool for 10 minutes.
6. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a cookie sheet with a reusable nonstick baking mat or parchment paper.
7. Reserve 1 tablespoon of the grated Parmesan cheese, then add the remainder and all the Swiss cheese to the choux paste. Stir just enough to incorporate.
8. Using a tablespoon, scoop out a level tablespoon of the gougère dough, and push it off the spoon onto the cooking mat. Continue making individual gougères, spacing them about 2-inches apart on the sheet.
9. Sprinkle a few grains of coarse salt and a little of the reserved Parmesan cheese on each gougère.
10. Bake for about 30 minutes, until nicely browned and crisp.
11. Serve lukewarm or at room temperature with drinks.

Whether you’re hosting a fancy cocktail party or simply looking for a delicious appetizer to enjoy at home, these homemade gougères are sure to impress. Give them a try and let your culinary skills shine! And don’t forget to visit Home Cooking Rocks for more mouthwatering recipes and cooking inspiration.

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