I recently went to a fête for my birthday at a friend’s home in the Marais, whose family is renowned for making exceptional French wines. I don’t know a lot about wine, but I know that when combined with certain things, the effect is transcendental. Gougères, or cheese puffs, are one of those things. Although to me, they go with just about anything. But are also a great pre-dinner snack with wine, other drinks, or on their own.
Known in English as “cream puff dough,” gougères are cheese puffs made by folding cheese into the dough then baking them in little rounds. You can vary the flavor by deciding what type of cheese that you’d like to use. I sometimes use Gruyère, which are shown in the cheese puffs you see at the top of the page. But if you use a cheese like Mimolette or cheddar, they’ll turn a deeper shade of brown when baked. (Just below.) The choice is up to you.
The best thing about this recipe, aside from being easy to make from ingredients one normally has on hand, is that they can be made earlier in the day, which is a good thing for those of us who like to take a break before our guests arrive. A quick reheat in a moderate oven, just until rewarmed through, makes them as good as new.
About thirty bite-sized puffs
Two things to keep in mind when making these. One is that you should have all the ingredients ready to go before you start. Don’t let the water and butter boil away while you grate the cheese. Otherwise you’ll lose too much of the water. Second is to let the batter cool for a few minutes before adding the eggs so you don’t ‘cook’ them. When you stir in the eggs that you do it vigorously, and without stopping. I’m not a fan of extra dishes to wash, but a stand mixer is the best way to mix the eggs in quickly.
Use a strong cheese, such as Gruyere, aged Comte, sharp cheddar, or a mix of cheeses. Adding some smoked cheese to the mix is nice. If you don’t have a pastry bag with a plain tip, you can put the dough into a freezer bag, snip off a corner, and use that. Or simply use two spoons to portion and drop the dough onto the baking sheet. This recipe can easily be doubled.
1/2 cup (125ml) water
3 tablespoons (40g) butter, salted or unsalted, cut into cubes
1/4 teaspoon salt
big pinch of chile powder or a few turns of freshly-ground black pepper
1/2 cup (70g) flour
2 large eggs
12 teaspoons chives, finely-minced (or 1 to 2 minced fresh thyme)
3/4 cup (about 3 ounces, 90g) grated cheese (See above for ideas)
1. Preheat the oven to 425F (220C.) Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
2. Heat the water, butter, salt, and pepper in a saucepan until the butter is melted.
3. Dump in the flour all at once and stir vigorously until the mixture pulls away from the sides into a smooth ball. Remove from heat and let rest two minutes, to cool it down a bit. At this point, you can scrape the dough into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. If you don’t have a mixer, let it cool in the pan, stirring it a few times to let the heat escape.
4. Add the eggs, one at a time, stirring quickly to make sure the eggs don’t ‘cook.’ The batter will first appear lumpy, but after a minute or so, it will smooth out.
5. Add about 3/4s of the grated cheese and the chives, and stir until well-mixed.
6. Scrape the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a wide plain tip and pipe the dough into mounds, evenly-spaced apart, making each about the size of a small cherry tomato.
7. Top each puff with a bit of the remaining cheese, the put the baking sheet in the oven.
8. Bake for 5 minutes, then turn the oven down to 375F (190C) and bake for an additional 20 to 25 minutes, until they’re completely 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. Serving: The puffs are best served warm, and if making them in advance, you can simply pipe the gougeres on baking sheets and cook right before your guests arrive, or reheat the baked cheese puffs in a low oven for 5-10 minutes before serving. Some folks like to fill them, or split them and sandwich a slice or dry-aged ham in there, although I prefer them just as they are. A bit of troubleshooting: The most common problem folks have with pate a choux, or cream puff dough, is deflated puffs. The usual causes are too much liquid (eggs), or under baking. Make sure to use large eggs, not extra-large or jumbo, and use a dry, aged cheese, if possible. And bake the puffs until they’re completely browned up the sides so they don’t sink when cooling. If yours do deflate, that’s fine. I’ve seen plenty of those in France.