“Indeed, Monsieur le Comte?” Silas Hawkins raised thick, graying brows toward our end of the table. “Have you found a new partner for investment, then? I understood that your own resources were…depleted, shall we say? Following the sad destruction of the Patagonia.” He took a cheese savoury from the plate and popped it delicately into his mouth.
The Comte’s jaw muscles bulged, and a sudden chill descended on our end of the table. From Mr. Hawkins’s sidelong glance at me, and the tiny smile that lurked about his buisily chewing mouth, it was clear that he knew all about my role in the destruction of the unfortunate Patagonia.
Diana Gabaldon, Dragonfly in Amber (Chapter 18 – Rape in Paris)
The Comte is hardly the first character to come to mind when you think of Christmas entertaining, but I’ve wanted to do this recipe for awhile, so I’m asking you to grin and bear with me.
Make your own batch of gougères (cheese savouries) and you’ll agree that these crispy, puffy, cheesy, single bites of French culinary delight are worth a little time in bad company.
For me, thinking about the Comte also brings to mind another enigmatic Frenchman — my culinary instructor, and the first person I ever addressed as “Chef!,” a man we know here in Outlander Kitchen as Chef P.
An emigrant to my birthplace, Vancouver, Canada, from France in the mid-70s, he had apprenticed and worked in many of Europe’s finest restaurants in the 60s/70s, the heyday of classical French cuisine in the 20th Century. When he came to Vancouver, Chef P opened a Parisian-style bistro downtown and quickly rose to local foodie fame; even back then, Vancouver was a food-lovers mecca, with fine restaurants serving cuisine from all over the world.
I actually dined, with my family, at Chef P’s bistro in 1978. Even as an 8 year old, I was pretty
certain stubborn about my food choices. When I ordered a steak & frites, medium-rare, my Dad jumped in to correct it with the waiter to medium. A minor father-daughter face-off — “You won’t eat it!” Dad kept repeating — was averted by the maître d‘, who actually brought the chef out of the kitchen to help with the big decision.
I remember it very clearly: the chef sided with me. “If the girl wants it medium-rare, that’s what she should have,” he said, in broken English.
Thirty years later, I walked into his classroom for my first day at culinary school as a mature student.
It took me exactly 5 minutes into Chef P’s introduction to realize who he was. With that realization, any residual worries about whether I was doing the right thing — moving away from home and husband (and back in with my mother) for 6 months to follow an almost 20 year yearning to attend culinary school — vanished.
Coincidence/convergence/coming full-circle. Call it what you will. I’m old enough now to know better than to disregard a blaring sign like that.
So, I relaxed and enjoyed myself. And learned everything Chef P cared to teach.
His English was still pretty broken, even 30 years on. He rarely followed a recipe as printed in the official curriculum, and he was mostly oblivious to the resulting confusion that followed him everywhere. He was often quick to anger when any of my fellow, younger, students asked him to repeat his latest unintelligible instruction, but for some reason, I got away with almost anything.
I’m not sure what endeared me to him. I never told him the story of eating in his restaurant all those years ago, but the two of us clicked anyway. In many ways, he was my Master Raymond.
I wouldn’t mind sharing Chef P’s aura, no matter that he is a bit crotchety. All good cooks are.
The choux pastry that these gougères are made from is one of the recipes that Chef P made us repeat over and over. As the son of a Paris bakery owner, Chef P had a lot of experience with this centuries old, double-cooked pastry that is versatile enough to also form the base of eclairs, profiteroles, croquembouches, crullers, beignets and even some gnocchi.
Among all of those, as a savoury girl, gougères are my favourite by far. Traditionally served at Burgundy vineyards as an accompaniment during wine tastings, these most certainly would have been at home on the table at Jared’s place in Paris.
They’re wonderful finger food for your holiday party…if it’s easier, bake them earlier in the day, then recrisp in a warm oven just before serving.
(Click on the link below for a printable version of the recipe.)
Yield: approx 2 dozen
Light, cheesy puffs of (almost) air. The perfect finger food for your next cocktail party or potluck.
- Water – 1 Cup
- Butter, cubed – ½ Cup
- Salt – ½ tsp
- Dry Mustard Powder (optional) – ½ tsp
- All-Purpose Flour – 1 Cup
- Eggs – 4 Large
- Grated Cheese (Gruyere, Aged Cheddar, etc) – 1½ Cups (6 oz)
Ensure the rack is in the middle position and preheat the oven to 425° F.
Combine the water, butter, salt and mustard powder (if using) in a medium saucepan over med-high heat. Bring to a rolling boil.
Remove from the heat and, using a wooden spoon, vigorously stir in the flour until a smooth paste forms. Return to heat over med. low and stir constantly for 3-5 minutes to dry out the dough. It’s ready when it’s shiny and stiff.
Transfer the dough to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle. Beat the dough on med-low for 1 minute, until the steam dissipates. Alternatively, use a handheld mixer, or beat the dough by hand with a wooden spoon.
With the machine on, add the eggs one at a time, waiting until the egg is absorbed and the dough smooth before adding the next. Scrape down the bowl as needed. When all of the eggs are incorporated, you will have a smooth, creamy batter that hangs from a sp0on in a ragged V. Beat in the cheese.
Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment or silicone mats. Use a piping bag fitted with a medium-sized round tip to pipe out ping pong ball-sized mounds, at least 1” apart. Alternately, drop the dough by teaspoonfuls onto the sheet if you don’t have a piping bag. Wet your finger tip with cold water and smooth down the peaked tops.
Bake one sheet at a time. (If there’s room, refrigerate the second sheet while the first bakes.) To prevent the dough from collapsing, do not open the oven door for the first 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, turn the sheet in the oven, reduce the oven temp to 350°, and continue baking until golden, about 10-15 more minutes. The gougeres should feel lightweight and hollow.
Cool on a wire rack. Reheat the oven to 425° before baking the second batch.
Serve warm. Store leftovers in the refrigerator and recrisp in a warm oven before serving.
Ith gu leòir! (Eat Plenty)
- Strong, aged cheeses work best for this recipe. Let’s just say Mozzarella Gougeres won’t knock your socks off. Gruyere is traditional, and my favourite.
- I love adding a little freshly ground, coarse black pepper or cayenne to the dough instead of the dry mustard powder for a little extra kick.
- When I say LARGE EGGS, I really mean it for this recipe — not extra large. If you can’t find LARGE, buy medium instead. Too much egg will cause the puffs to cave-in. And if they do cave in, don’t sweat it! They’ll still be delicious…with character. 😉
- Gougeres can be any size you like. Marble-sized (to garnish soup), or big tennis ball-sized ones (which make great fancy sandwiches). Adjust baking times as required
- I have never tried it, but I’m told you can freeze the piped out, uncooked dough, then bake it direct from frozen. Let me know if you try!