“Real” cooking: [reel kook-ing] adj., verb; techniques and skills used in preparing food that should have been learned, at culinary school, at your grandmother’s knee, from a dedicated chef-type friend or a really detailed cookbook, before you tried to wing it, in your usual slapdash fashion, without having a clue what you were doing.
So, do you know what a gougere is? I didn’t. Not until some determined Googling informed me that a gougere is a savory puff pastry, made of the same type of dough that forms eclairs and cream puffs, but with cheese. Now, you can say pate a choux all you want to me; I took French, but “paste of cabbage” doesn’t mean much to your average home cook. Nevertheless, I had a recipe, from Eggs on Sunday, with some delightful pictures that showed dinner-roll-type puffs of bread, and I had goat cheese on hand and fresh herbs wilting in the fridge. Undaunted, I, by the fact that she learned this recipe at culinary school, I boarded the Good Ship Reckless Abandon and sailed on in.
Only after the first batch came out of the oven, nicely browned on the outside but not so puffed, and a little moist & eggy on the inside, did I attempt to actually find out what I was doing. And in doing so, realized that I had no idea how to make pate a choux. In essence, the technique is to form a pastry dough that relies solely on moisture, creating steam in the heat of the oven, to cause the dough to rise or puff, instead of any leavening agent like yeast or baking powder. (In my defense, I did at one point think “how is this going to rise without any baking powder?” but then I shrugged and sailed on in blissful ignorance). There are two key steps that I clearly missed; 1) include enough water/moisture in your batter, 2) whip in as much air as possible to allow steam pockets to form and ‘puff’ your dough. Information I could have used 2 hours ago! I’ve since found a nice description of a traditional gougere recipe, with very helpful photos, at fxcuisine.com. I suspect that, like a good bechamel sauce or homemade pasta dough, this is one of those techniques that takes a few tries to get it right; but, once you have the technique down, you don’t even need a recipe, you just know how it should look/smell/feel.
So not the most successful first attempt. But, don’t get me wrong, these are still yummy. Despite not puffing much, and having a slightly too moist interior, I’ve already managed to inhale six of the gougeres for breakfast. Once they cool completely, I’m going to have to freeze some right away or I’ll eat the entire batch. I will definitely try them again. Next time, I will add some water to the batter and try to match the consistency of a thick cake batter. Live and learn!
Adapated from Goat Cheese & Herb Gougeres at Eggs on Sunday, who adapted from the Cambridge Culinary Institute
Goat Cheese & Herb Gougeres
- 1 cup buttermilk (Evan’s Farmhouse) or whole milk
- 1/4 – 1/2 cup filtered water (optional – see Options)
- 4 oz unsalted butter (I used salted, because it was on hand, and cut the salt in the recipe down to 1/2 tsp)
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 cup (4.5 oz) whole white wheat flour
- 5 large eggs
- 5 oz (about 1/2 cup) fresh goat cheese (Nettle Meadow, with fresh herbs)
- 2 heaping tbsp fresh parsley, finely minced
- 1/2 tsp freshly grated black pepper
- 2 tbsp grated hard cheese, such as Borat or parmesean
- Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or Silpat.
- In a medium saucepan, combine butter, buttermilk and salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking constantly to prevent scorching. Remove the pan from the heat and add the flour all at once. Whisk for a few minutes until well-combined, then return to medium heat and continue whisking for a minute or two to dry the paste out slightly. Remove from heat.
- Add 4 eggs, one at a time, mixing thoroughly with a wooden spatula to fully incorporate each egg before adding the next (I beat each egg in a small bowl first, then added to the paste). Add the goat cheese, herbs and black pepper. Mix well.
- Drop rounded tablespoons of paste onto a baking sheet (the dough expands, but not hugely – you should be able to fit 16 on a baking sheet), or pipe from a pastry bag. Beat the remaining egg in a small bowl and brush the tops of each round with egg. Sprinkle with grated cheese.
- Bake each sheet, one at a time, at 375 degrees F for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees F and bake for another 7 – 12 minutes, until the tops are nicely browned and the gougeres have puffed. Serve warm.
Yields 2 and 1/2 dozen.
- My gougere batter was definitely too dense, without enough water to properly puff. This may have been due to the substitution of buttermilk for milk, although I’ve now seen more traditional recipes that use no milk at all, only water. So, next time I make them, I will add water to the mix and shoot for a consistency that will mound on a spoon, but does not completely hold its shape. Stay tuned.
- Other cheeses, Roquefort, blue cheese, or grated cheddar, would work equally well. Gruyere is the traditional French gougere cheese. I think a local hard cheese like Borat or Ouray would be delicious.
- I did find these a little eggy (which may have more to do with the lack of puff than anything else). Shocking that a flour-butter-egg dough should be eggy, I know. But some time I will try substituting 2 whole eggs for 4 egg whites for a lighter flavor (Forgive me, France. I’m just an American, after all).
- Chopped, frozen herbs would work well in this recipe when fresh herbs are not available.
Completely cooled puffs can be frozen in a single layer in Ziploc bags for up to 3 months; reheat in a 400 degree F oven for 5-10 minutes to serve. Batter can be frozen in a container for up to 3 months; thaw completely and pipe as needed.