14 December 2011

Party Noshes: Cheese Gougeres

Dear Lissy,
I've been baking off cheese gougeres all evening for an upcoming party, and you insisted that I write the recipe for you on your blog.  These simple little pate-a-choux bites are crunchy and cheesy on the outside, soft on the inside, and nearly irresistible.  I like them piping hot from the oven, Dad likes them room temperature, and your brothers will eat anything that doesn't move, so they don't count.  Gougeres (pronounced Goo-Zhays) are notoriously snobby party fare for something that is basically a spherical Cheez-It.  They're traditionally served as finger food at parties, but they're also a nice change from crackers or rolls along with soup or salad.
My recipe for gougeres is from one of my favorite chefs, Jacques Pepin.  That said, I've taken several liberties with his ingredients to tweak them to our taste.  True French gougeres use Comte cheese, a variation of Gruyere.  I vastly prefer Asiago (an Italian mountain cheese) to Gruyere (French mountain cheese) or even the Emmenthaler (Swiss mountain cheese) recommended by Pepin. Any fairly dry cheese will work.  I also dislike the thin, sharp heat of cayenne pepper, and substitute ancho chile pepper instead.  My final tweak is just a pinch of sugar, gleaned from another famous chef, Thomas Keller.  The sweetness isn't discernible, but they crisp up a little better with the sugar.

Cheese Gougers
from Jacques Pepin, published in Food & Wine, 2002
1 cup milk
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/4 tsp. salt
Pinch sugar
Dash ancho chile powder
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
1/2 tsp. Paprika
1/2 cup Parmesan (A little pecorino romano is extra special!), grated
1-1/2 cups Asiago cheese, grated
Coarse sea salt

Bring the milk, butter, salt, sugar, and chile powder to a boil in a saucepan over medium high heat.  Remove from the heat, add the flour all at once, and mix vigorously with a wooden spoon until the mixture forms a ball.  Return the pan to the heat and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 1 minute to dry the mixture a bit.  Transfer to the bowl of a food processor fitted with the knife attachment, let cool for 5 minutes, and then process for about 5 seconds to break it up.

Add the eggs and paprika to the processor bowl, and process for 10-15 seconds, until well mixed.  Transfer the choux paste to a mixing bowl, and let cool for 10 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Line a cookie sheet (I use an insulated sheet) with a Silpat or parchment paper.  

Reserve 1 Tbsp of Parmesan/Pecorino Romano and stir the rest of the Parmesan and the Asiago into the choux paste until just incorporated.  Using a tablespoon, scoop out a level tablespoon of the gougere dough and push it off the spoon onto the cooking mat.  Continue making gougeres, spacing them about 2 inches apart on the baking sheet.  I like to keep both the tablespoon and the "pushing" spoon wet to make the balls more uniformly round.  Sprinkle the tops of the gougeres with the reserved cheese and a little coarse salt.

Bake for 25 - 30 minutes until golden brown and crisp.  Serve warm or at room temperature for noshing along with punch or cider.

You can vary this gougeres recipe by adding spices, nuts, bits of bacon or ham or even by using blue cheese in place of Asiago.  They're also good split and filled with fig preserve and a bit of prosciutto or good bacon. They freeze exceptionally well and heat through quickly, so you can make them well before the holidays and save some stress.   Be sure to call rent-a-troll if you're making them ahead and have teenage boys on the premises, though!

Love you bunches, little mouse,

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