Gougères (Cheese Savouries) from Outlander book Dragonfly in Amber

Gougères (Cheese Savouries) from Dragonfly in Amber

"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.

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.

ragged-V choux

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.

piping bag

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.

piping bag full

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.

choux-dough

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.

gougeres (cheese savouries)

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.

gougeres (cheese savouries)

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