We had the opportunity to travel on a family vacation to France back in 2009.…
One of my favorite “finger foods” to make for appetizers or parties is Gougères. The simple description is a cheese puff, but I always put ham in mine. The dough is the basic pâte àu Choux pastry dough that can be used for so many different items. This is a fairly simple dough to put together and is a technique that can benefit every cook.
This dough is used to make profiteroles, cream puffs, éclairs and many more. Even the beignets in New Orleans use a form of this pastry.
The dough consists of 4 basic ingredients – liquid, flour, fat and eggs. In the recipe I use for Gougères, I use whole milk as the liquid and butter as the fat. I also add ham and cheese. After all, if something is really good to start with, adding pork and cheese can only make it better. If I can find it (and afford it) I really like to use Serrano or Bayonne Ham. Since the recipe only uses 4 ounces, it normally wouldn’t break the bank…..If I can’t find those, then a good Proscuitto works well – I’ve even used the Boars Head Black Forest Ham in a pinch. My preference on cheese is Gruyère.
I have the recipe that I’ve always used, but before writing this, I did some reading on Choux pastry. Everyone agreed on the four basic ingredients, but disagreed on about everything else. Some sources use water, some milk, some half and half or a mixture of these. For flour I’ve seen all-purpose and high protein bread flour. For fat, butter, lard and shortening. The egg discussion was interesting because of one of the problems with making large pastries is making sure the inside is well dried and not a gooey mess. Since egg whites are more drying, some suggested replacing some of the whole eggs with egg whites. The cooking methods were quite similar – starting with a high heat for some time and then lowering the temperature of the oven (some recipes lower it twice). The puffs get their rise from being a very wet dough, creating steam in the oven.
The process of making the choux pastry dough isn’t that difficult, but there are a couple of tricks. Here’s what I do:
First, in a pan (as you will see in the pictures, I tend to think I can use a smaller pan than I should – for this go with at least a 3 Qt saucepan – you won’t have the trouble I did with the smaller pan) add the butter and milk and bring to a simmer.
Next, remove from the heat and stir in the flour. Traditionally, you are supposed to use a wooden spoon, but the pastry police won’t get you for using something else….. Stir until the flour is incorporated.
Next, return the pan to the heat and cook the flour mixture for a minute stirring the dough vigorously. (I can usually tell as the dough begins to leave a coating on the pan. Remove the pan from the heat.
Now we are ready for the eggs. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well (I use a hand mixer in the pot – I’ve seen other recipes that call for a food processor or stand mixer – but why get something else dirty? If you work fast enough, the pan you are already using is fine – you don’t want the dough to cool very much while you add the eggs). As you add the eggs, you may notice that the dough breaks up in what almost looks like curds, keep mixing until it smooths out before you add the next egg.
Once all the eggs are in the dough, now comes the time to mix in the ham and cheese. I use the hand mixer to distribute the grated cheese and chopped ham through the dough.
The dough is very sticky – I use two spoons to portion and form the puffs. I put it on a baking sheet covered with parchment. You need to use something like parchment as this dough will stick to the baking sheet. Traditionally, you would make a large ring with the puffs barely touching, but I just try to get them all on the pan. You can see that one recipe makes a lot of pastries.
Now we are ready to bake. We start in a 400 degree oven for the first 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 for about 25 minutes until they are done. I have seen several recipes that call for them to be put on a preheated baking stone or a heated pan – I don’t tend to do that. The big question is when are they done? I don’t have a scientific method, but, since I know we want the middle to dry out as much as we can and the dough is very wet and uses the steam created for the lift, I judge when they are done by the steam (this is one place where wearing glasses actually helps….). When I open the oven door, if steam comes out and fogs my glasses, they aren’t done yet. You don’t want them to burn, but the outsides will brown and will look done, but they can stay in the oven for a while longer and not hurt the outsides. When I open the oven and they are nice and brown AND I don’t get a face full of steam, I take them out of the oven.
These can be served warm out of the oven (let them cool some to allow the center to dry a little more) or at room temperature for a party or brunch or really, any excuse to eat these. (Leftover ones are GREAT for breakfast…..)
1 cup milk
½ cup butter (1 stick)
¼ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 cup unbleached flour (I use all-purpose, but bread flour would do fine as well)
4 large eggs, at room temperature
¼ pound Gruyère cheese, grated
¼ pound quality ham, finely chopped (I prefer Serrano or Bayonne if possible)
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- In a large saucepan, combine the butter, milk, salt and pepper over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, then remove from the heat. Add the flour and stir briskly with a wooden spoon for 1 minute to incorporate. Return the pan to the heat and continue stirring for 1 minute over medium-high heat.
- Remove from the heat and add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition until incorporated. Add the cheese and ham and beat until incorporated. A slightly soft dough will form (and it will be very sticky). Drop the dough by the spoonful onto the prepared baking sheet to form a ring.
- Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake until golden brown, about 25-30 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and serve warm on a platter.