Friday: Gougeres

To be honest, I can’t remember the last time I cooked on Friday.  About 4 1/2 years ago, frustrated with having to plan and prepare every meal every day of the week, I unilaterally declared Fridays to be Pizza and a Movie Night.  I have to admit there was about a one year period where I ended up making my own pizzas because I had made our pizza delivery boy cry (pregnancy and hunger induced rage) and I was too embarrassed to use the pizza company again, but then we moved apartments and just like that, a fresh start and the ability to order pizzas again without the shame. I do, on occasion, still like to cook on Fridays. It’s definitely more enjoyable when it’s something you do because you want to rather than because you have to. Today, it was gougeres, or French cheese puffs. This is my go-to recipe whenever I need to bring something in for a school event. It’s quick and simple, easy to eat, and sounds impressive when you tell people you brought gougeres (make sure to say the French word rather than saying you brought French cheese puffs. Cheese puffs just doesn’t have that same ring to it).

This is another seven ingredient recipe which almost guarantees that I won’t need to make any special trips to the grocery store. It’s also great for using up leftover bits of cheese since you can use pretty much any hard, sharp cheese. I’ve made this with vintage cheddar, manchego, parmeggiano reggiano, emmentaler, gruyere, as well as different combinations of leftover cheeses and they all turn out wonderfully (although my boys definitely didn’t like the manchego version). My favorite cheese to use is gruyere. I love gruyere but find it to be a bit too strong and pungent for some recipes, but somehow it’s just nice and smooth and mellow in these. Again, you’ll find a hundred recipes out there for this, but David Lebovitz’ version is the one I use most. They’re all pretty much the same, but I love his addition of chile powder which gives the puff that extra oomph at the end.

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Gougeres, makes about 30 bite-sized puffs
Adapted from David Lebovitz

1/2 cup water
3 Tbs. butter
1/4 tsp. salt
Big pinch of chile powder, or a few turns of freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup flour
2 large eggs
12 chives, finely-minced or 1 to 2 tsp. minced fresh thyme (I used a lavenderless herbs de provence for mine)
3/4 cup grated cheese

Preheat the over to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Heat the water, butter, salt, and chile or pepper in a saucepan until the butter is melted. Dump all the flour in at once and stir vigorously until everything in the pot starts to come away from the sides of the pot cleanly forming a big ball. Remove from the heat and let rest two minutes. (you want the batter to cool a bit before adding the eggs to ensure that it doesn’t cook them).

Add the eggs, one at a time, stirring quickly and vigorously. The batter will appear lumpy at first — just keep stirring and it will all even out. (At this point, the dough is called pâté à choux, and is the beginning of all sorts of wonderful — profiteroles, eclairs, and beignets just to name a few.)

Add about 3/4 of the grated cheese and the chives or whatever herb you’re using. Stir until well mixed.

Spoon or pipe the dough into mounds onto your prepared baking sheet. The mound should be about the size of a cherry tomato. Make sure they’re evenly spaced. However, they won’t expand too much so you can find quite a few. I can usually fit an entire batch on one sheet. Top each puff with a bit of the remaining cheese and put in the oven.

Bake for 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 375F and bake for an additional 20-25 minutes, until they’re golden brown. For extra-crispy puffs, five minutes before they’re done, poke the side of each puff with a sharp knife to release the steam and return to the oven to finish baking. Serve warm.

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