I recently saw Ina Garten (oh yes, my food maven) make them on the Food Network. Filed it away in my head as to something I should make someday then promptly forgot about it.
Until we went to Float-a-Way Cafe recently for dinner. (I've mentioned the place before, so no need to elaborate other than http://www.starprovisions.com/). Gougeres were on the menu. I ordered them.
They showed up, golden brown and crisp to the bite. Okay, just like Ina's. But unlike hers, when you bit into these, they had this wonderful goey, melting, tangy cheesiness inside, so much so that it dripped all over the plate and on the front of Henry's shirt. We're talking pure heaven in this little sphere of pastry. These were gougeres amped up to a whole new level.
I needed to recreate this in my own kitchen. Never mind that I could have called my friends at the restaurant and asked for the recipe. This was mine to conquer!
And I did. Or at least I created a reasonable facsimile, after some trial and error. I knew I didn't want a simple gougere with a hollow center. I wanted it to have that same melting, cheesy goodness as the one(s) I had at Float-a-Way. I just wasn't sure how to achieve it.
I perused my (thousands of ) cookbooks. Thomas Keller had a recipe. So did Ina Gartnen, Martha Stewart, Alice Waters and Shirley Corriher. Most of the recipes were basically the same but slightly different in minor ways. I was tempted by Keller's recipe, but it called for using only water, while Ina's called for whole milk. I opted for the whole milk version, tempered by Shirley's added flavors.
So I baked them. They were good, but hollow in the centers, no oozing cheesy goodness. Now what?
I started by letting them cool and removing the tops from a few of them. Added some grated gruyere, replaced the tops and baked again for three minutes. They came out warm with melted cheese which just sat there as one solid layer on the bottom layer of the gougere. Uh, no.
Henry, who is no food expert, suggested brie. I scoffed at that, saying it didn't have enough taste. But then I thought about it. Hmm - it has the right "meltingness" just not the right taste. What about Camembert?
Ka-ching! That's what I did and it worked. Beautifully. Henry said it was better than the ones we had in the restaurant (well, he always says that). Guess I should allow he's a better food expert than I give him credit for sometimes!
Here's the recipe. It's not as daunting as you might think. If I can do it, anyone can. You can eat these immediately or freeze them (unfilled) and use them later. They are the perfect hors d'oeuvre and now that I have perfected the recipe, my freezer will never be without them.
GOUGERES (adapted from Ina Garten's "Barefoot in Paris" and Shirley Corriher's "Bakewise")
1 cup whole milk
4 oz. unsalted butter
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste (I used 1/8 teaspoon)
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 cup all- purpose unbleached flour
4 eggs (I used extra-large) at room temperature
1 cup grated Gruyere cheese, plus more for sprinkling
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1 egg, beaten with 1 teaspoon water (for egg wash)
8 oz. soft cheese of choice, such as Camembert, Brie, Blue Costello or Saga Blue
Preheat oven to 425-degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment.
In a saucepan, heat the milk, butter, salt, pepper, nutmeg, mustard and cayenne pepper over medium heat until butter melts. Add the flour all at once and beat with a wooden spoon until mixture comes together. Reduce heat to low and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Your objective is to dry out the dough as much as possible.
Remove the dough to the bowl of a food processor. Add the eggs, one at a time then add Gruyere and Reggiano and pulse until eggs are incorporated and dough is smooth. Do not over-process.
Spoon some of the dough into a pastry bag fitted with a large, plain round tip. (If you don't have a pastry bag, or if you are terrified by the thought of one, then spoon your dough into a ZipLoc bag and make a small cut on one of the corners. Make sure top is closed and pipe out dough as described next).
Pipe the dough in mounds, about 1-inch wide and 3/4-inch high onto the parchment-lined baking sheets. With a wet finger, lightly press down the swirl at the top of each puff. Brush lightly with the egg wash and sprinkle with remaining Gruyere.
Bake for 12 minutes, or until just golden. (You want them to be fully baked, but not overly browned as you will be baking them again).
Remove from oven and cool slightly. Carefully remove the top third of each puff, leaving a small part attached if possible, like a hinged lid. At this point, you can continue on with the recipe or cool completely and freeze puffs for later use.
Cut cheese into 1/2-inch chunks. Place a chunk into the cavity of each gougere, then return to oven and bake for an additional 3 minutes or until cheese is melted. Serve immediately.
Yield: about 40 puffs
If you are using them when frozen, follow the same procedure as above. Do not thaw puffs first - they can go directly from the freezer to the oven. Of course the danger of this is that they are readily available to you at any time - not so good for the "diet." Oh well.