A hundred years ago, when I attended culinary school, I learned all kinds of magic. I learned about tempering chocolate, making my own puff pastry and deboning rabbits. I consumed copious amounts of butter, spoke to people all evening long about varieties of basil and the inner workings of New York City kitchens. It was a glorious time and I loved every second of it. (Except for when I almost had a nervous breakdown because I was also working full time in addition to school and also planning a large destination wedding and I almost quit but Chef Susan talked me out of that..thank you). Of all of those magical lessons, choux pastry was possibly my favourite because of its simplicity and flexibility. You boil water with a bit of butter, add flour, and then eggs, and then you have this Play-Doh type substance that puffs up in the oven, can be made sweet or savory, is infinitely customisable and can be frozen for weeks and brought back to life with a preheated oven and 10 minutes to spare.
Despite my amazement, I forgot about choux for years. I mean other than any time I ate profiteroles, which is more than some and less than others, and probably not quite enough, but really I forgot about it. Until I found myself the proud owner of an enormous chunk of Comté cheese looking for a recipe. Comté is my desert island cheese. It is nutty and sweet, tangy and rich, with depth and complexity. It melts easily in fondue, can be chunked into a salad, is great on burgers or sandwiches and is a crowd pleaser on a cheese board because it looks innocuous enough that it convinces otherwise conservative cheese eaters to try something new. What better way to make it feel appreciated than to blend it with my favourite dough?
Gougères are little savoury puffballs, made from choux pastry, that are often served with wine as a small snack in France. They also happen to be absolutely irresistible when piled high in a bowl and plonked on the middle of the table served with a big green salad for lunch. Children love them and grown ups love them and once you get the basic ratios of water-butter-flour together you can really do anything you want with them. Blue cheese? Yes. Add nuts? Yes. Cheese on top? Yes. It all works. Making these puffballs with Comté is a perfect fit.
Maybe the best thing about gougères is that freezing thing I mentioned. Let them cool fully after cooking, stick them into a large glass jar and toss them into the freezer for a month. When you are ready, you really can bring them back to life with a preheated oven and a spare 10 minutes and they taste exactly like they did the minute you pulled them from the oven. Maybe better because they were soooo easy.So treat yourself to a bit of magic and try these guys. The hardest part is when you are mixing the flour into the water-butter mixture. It is a little tricky because the dough gets sticky and you aren’t sure what it is supposed to look like. Just keep going – it only takes 2 minutes until the dough starts clumping together and that is what you want.
And note…yours are going to look much better than mine. They usually puff up much more beautifully than the ones shown here in the photo. I messed up the egg in these and so they look like little cheesepuff swirls. I’ve amended the recipe to make sure you can’t mess up like I did. So you’re safe.
- 1 cup water (250ml)
- 1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 4 large eggs
- Freshly ground pepper
- 1 teaspoon Freshly grated nutmeg
- 100g (1 cup) shredded Comte cheese, plus more for sprinkling
- Preheat the oven to 200C / 400F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. In a medium saucepan, combine the water, butter and salt and bring to a boil. Add the flour and stir it in with a wooden spoon until a smooth dough forms, about 2 minutes. Continue to stir over low heat until it dries out and pulls away from the pan, about a minute more.
- Scrape the dough into a mixer bowl fitted with the paddle attachment. Let cool for a minute or so and then beat the eggs into the dough, 1 at a time, beating thoroughly between each one. (Don't skimp on this step). Add the cheese, nutmeg and a generous pinch of fresh cracked black pepper.
- Transfer the dough to a pastry bag and snip the end leaving about a 1/2-inch round opening. Pipe walnut sized mounds onto the baking sheets, leaving plenty of space in between. If you are going to add more cheese sprinkle it now.
- Bake for 25 minutes, or until puffed and golden brown. Serve hot, or let cool and refrigerate or freeze. Reheat in a 350° oven for about 10 minutes or until hot throughout.