Bread of the Month: Puffing up with gougéres

ledepuffI’ve long been obsessed with cream puffs. I learned to make them as a child, watching my mother and then whipping them up myself. It’s a strange process, puff-making, strange in its doing and even stranger in its simplicity. I continue to be baffled that the same ingredients, cooked in different ways, yield vastly different creatures. And all those years ago, as I witnessed a pot on a hot stove, with water, butter and flour, then eggs become a gluey, pasty dough, I would never have guessed that said dough, dobbed out in meager mounds on a cookie sheet and baked at high heat, would have turned into a glorious little golden pastry balloon to later be filled with some wonderful cream or custard.

book01That dough, known in culinary circles as “choux pastry” or pate á choux (pronounced SHOE), was named so since puffs resemble little cabbages, which is what the French word “choux” means. This choux pastry is the basis of many a delight in the bakery world, from cream puffs to eclairs, crullers to beignets. and yummy little savory bites I’ve had my tastebuds hankering for — gougéres.

A gougére is a savory puff made with cheese. They are served warm, usually, as a cocktail treat (if you do cocktails) or appetizer of some sort. Unlike other puffs of the cream variety, gougéres are not filled because the richness of the CHEESE flavors them to serve their duty independently.

sauce02Or in this case, cheese and BACON. Heavens, what a heavenly possibility I found in the pages of a beautiful appetizer book by Martha Stewart. She gave a few different gougére options, like adding herbs, cumin, lemon, etc. But I loved the idea of using my beloved smoked cheddar and some smoky bacon, finely diced.

spatulaChoux pastry, despite its very specific and unusual process, is really pretty simple and somewhat forgiving. If you follow all the steps — and I knock on wood here — it will turn out. Beginning from my girlhood experiences to the puffs I’ve made of late, they all usually come to successful airy fruition, but you must follow the directions. Start by cooking that flour in hot boiling water and melted butter…cook it until it balls up and pulls away from the pan.

inged_image_5Next, you add those eggs that give it sheen and flavor, beating them each in and continuing to beat that batter until it sort of strings or ribbons (think of the webby interior of a puff.

Though a new twist, I was excited to blend in the cheese and bacon and hoped it would not weigh down the puffs. I felt confident it would not.

Now I’m the first to admit I am no whiz with a piping bag, but I like the idea of piping out little circles for puffs. You can dab them out with a spoon, too, and they are fine, but it’s actually speedy and semi-efficient (outside of struggling with a pastry bag) to move along the baking sheet and squeeze them out.pipe02

It’s worth every step to behold the magic that takes a wet little glob into a perfect puffy “cabbage.” I could barely contain myself and ate one hot from the oven. That golden smoky cheddar and the bits of bacon blended perfectly with that warm puff, slightly crispy outside and tender inside. And so light! As they should be.

They are delightful on their own, but the urge to fill never dies. I added more cheese and bacon, in the form of smothered shrimp and grits, and tried it out as a filling. It seemed decadent….the puffs are enough…yet my mind swirls with more potential goodness to be tucked inside. Or, just make the cheese gougére the star, with tomato soup on the side.final01

Bacon-Cheddar Gougéres
From “Martha Stewart’s Appetizers”

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
5 to 6 large eggs
1/2 cup finely grated cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons finely chopped cooked bacon (from 2 slices)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a saucepan, bring 1 cup water, the butter, and salt to a boil. Cook, stirring, until butter is melted. Remove from heat; add flour. Stir with a wooden spoon until combined. Stir constantly over medium heat until dough pulls away from sides of pan and leaves a film on bottom of pan, 2 to 4 minutes.

Transfer to a mixing bowl. Beat on medium speed until mixture cools slightly, about 1 minutes. Beat in 4 eggs, incorporating each one before adding the next. Dough should be shiny and a string should form when you touch the surface and then lift it with your finger. If no string forms, lightly beat in another egg; add a little at a time. (If a string still doesn’t form, add water, 1 teaspoon at a time.) Mix in cheese and bacon.

Transfer dough to a pastry bag fitted with a plain 1/2-inch tip. Pipe 1 1/2-inch rounds, 2 inches apart, onto parchment-lined baking sheets. Smooth peaks with your fingertip.

In a bowl, whisk remaining egg and 1 tablespoon water; brush over mounds. Bake 20 to 25 minutes. Prop open oven door with wooden spoon; bake until gougéres are puffed and golden, 3 to 5 minutes more. Transfer to wire racks to cool. Serve warm.

Blogger’s note: Wet your fingertip to keep from sticking to dough when smoothing tops. I passed on the pre-baking egg wash, and my gougéres came out shiny and golden..sometimes I find brushing with egg wash leads to over-browning.
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