Fairly recently we were invited to a potluck. One of the dangers of a potluck is that everyone could bring macaroni salad. Which might be okay, depending on how different the macaroni salads are, or, if macaroni salad is one of your all-time favorite dishes. For us, it’s not. One of us will eat macaroni salad if it’s there; the other will casually transfer the macaroni salad to the other’s plate in hopes that it, too, will be eaten. Which is likely to happen, unless the person making the macaroni salad believes that store-bought mayonnaise is best in large quantities. I’m sure you’ve had that type of salad, the sort in which there’s so much mayonnaise that it puddles underneath the noodles. If you like your macaroni salad that way, great; next time we see you, we’ll provide you with our share.
Now, where were we? Oh yeah, the potluck. To ensure that there would be at least a couple of different dishes, we tried to think of something a little different to bring along. Maybe something that a few people have never had before, even. But it should be pretty easy, too, as we were already bring the Perfect Party Cake (see previous post), so, what could it be?
As it turns out, Dorie Greenspan came to our rescue again. In her book Around my French Table, she gives a recipe for Gougères, a savory pastry bite infused with cheese. Like Wallace of Wallace and Grommit fame, we adore cheese, and these looked cheesy. But, unlike something like cheese biscuits, these looked light and airy, and were hollow in the middle, like a tiny popover. To us, that meant one thing: you can eat a lot of these cheesy bites before becoming full. In short, we had to make them and share them with people we knew, and that was long before the potluck. But, we haven’t yet shared them with you. Time to remedy that right now.
Makes about 60 gougères.
We choose Comté cheese because it’s a strong-flavored French cheese, similar to Gruyère, which also works very well. Other cheeses to consider would be a sharp Cheddar, Parmesan (we think Parmesan and Black Pepper would be superb), Asiago, or any other well-aged cheese.
Procedure in detail:
Mise en Place. This recipe goes quickly, especially when you add the flour, but the remaining portions aren’t something that take much time, either, so get everything out, grated, and measured beforehand. You will not want to dilly-dally partway through. Besides, ther’s really very little that you have to get ready.
Preheat oven to 425°F. Adjust your oven racks to divide your oven into thirds. Line two baking sheets with baking parchment or silicone mats.
Boil liquids. In a large (3-quart) heavy-bottomed pan over high heat, bring the milk, water, butter, and salt to a rolling boil.
Add flour. Now, add the flour all at once, reduce heat to medium-low, and, using a wooden spoon, stir like crazy. Stir with vigah, as some would say in the New England area. Give your arm a workout and stir like this until the dough comes together and there’s no liquid remaining, about 2 minutes. You’ll get a crust of dough that forms on the bottom of the pan, but don’t bother trying to scrape it up; just stir with vigah.
Transfer to mixer. Dump the dough into the mixer bowl, attach the paddle attachment, and let the dough cool just a bit, only a minute.
Add eggs. Drop in an egg, turn the mixer to medium, and beat the daylights out of the dough. Continue adding the remaining eggs, one at a time, waiting until an egg is fully incorporated before adding the next. The dough might separate while you’re adding the eggs, but don’t worry; it’ll come back together before we’re through and be thick and shiny.
Add cheese. With the mixer still running, add the grated cheese and let it get mixed in thoroughly.
Spoon out. Once your dough is ready, start spooning it out immediately. Use a teaspoon to form mounds of dough about the size of a cherry, 2 inches apart on the two prepared baking sheets.
Bake. Place the baking sheets in the oven and immediately turn the temperature down to 375°F. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, remembering to rotate the sheets back to front and top to bottom, halfway through. When done, the gougères will be a nice golden-brown, puffed, with a light crisp shell, and the insides will be slightly moist. Repeat with remaining dough, remembering to re-heat the oven to 425°F while you spoon out the next batch.
Serve hot. Basically, get these in front of your hungry crowd ASAP. You want them to experience that crisp shell and the light airy interior. They will turn a bit softer as they cool.
These are a really great appetizer and have the potential to be so much more. We think they would be great stuffed with a small amount of Spanikopita filling, or a bit of artichoke dip, or even a roasted red pepper dip. Any one of those would be great, or perhaps set out a plate of gougères with a variety of fillings and small spoons and let everyone fill his or her own. Just because we’ve suggested serving ideas, don’t think that these can’t stand on their own. They most definitely can, as you’ll see as you eat one right after the other.