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Maximum impact, minimal effort

Gougères, made with pâte à choux dough. (Hillary Levin/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)
Gnocchi Parisienne, made with pâte à choux dough. (Hillary Levin/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)
Gougères easily pop from oven, to freezer, to platter

“Poppers” was the word that jumped out from the freezer case.

Scanning the package’s ingredients, I noted egg whites as the second ingredient, followed by evaporated milk, butter and three types of cheese. Assuming the little mouthfuls would resemble Starbucks Egg Bites, I bought the Fiesta and Mardi Gras flavors, noting with satisfaction instructions for preparing them in an air fryer. If it’s processed food I’m after, might as well go all in.

But Sunday Market Poppers are nothing like the creamy, tender, delicate miniature custards that Starbucks accomplishes through the French “sous vide” technique. No, Poppers, in fact, imitate another classic of French cuisine: gougères.

Delightfully hollow, gougères are crispy on the outside with a moist, eggy interior crumb. They’re the savory counterpart to airy cream puffs, made very simply by mixing grated cheese and spice, instead of sugar, into a batch of choux pastry.

While convenient, Sunday Market Poppers, which substitute gluten-free cassava for wheat flour, aren’t tender like true gougères. And for the price, I could make several dozen gougères, freeze them until the mood strikes and warm them for a couple of minutes in the air fryer.

With entertaining season approaching, I think I’ll do just that, I told my partner, who expressed appreciation for the Poppers. I can make you something way better, I told him.

Gougères are one of those recipes that makes maximum impact for minimal effort. It almost defies logic how just a few basic ingredients — flour, milk, butter, salt and eggs — yields something so elegant, so refined, yet so approachable and almost universally appreciated. I can eat a half-dozen without skipping a beat, which is why I always double the recipe when preparing these for an occasion, rather than risk a skimpy appetizer platter.

Favoring gougères for any celebration — birthdays, baby showers, holiday cookie exchanges — my family also has been known to prepare them for just a little pick-me-up. And we typically take the recipe a step further by filling the baked pastries with an herby, oniony, garlicky cream cheese mixture. The pastry still can be mixed, baked and frozen weeks ahead and the filling stirred up and piped or spooned in just before serving.

Similarly, gnocchi Parisienne is another choux pastry preparation that can be made ahead, refrigerated overnight, then baked, topped with freshly grated Parmesan and/or Gruyere cheese. Lighter than potato gnocchi, these dumplings are as addictive as their gougères cousins.

And don’t stop there. Choux pastry is the starting point for eclairs, cream puffs, profiteroles and their ilk. Sweeten the same dough for gougères with a couple of tablespoons of sugar, form it into balls, bake it and fill with vanilla-flavored whipped cream for cream puffs.

Or substitute ice cream for the whipped cream, then drizzle the puffs with chocolate sauce for profiteroles. Or for quintessential chocolate eclairs, pipe out the choux pastry …

On second thought, I think I’ll buy an eclair and stick with the gougères.

Reach features editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4494 or slemon@rosebudmedia.com

Basic Pâte à Choux

1 cup milk

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons superfine sugar (optional; see note)

1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted

4 large eggs, beaten

In a large saucepan, heat the milk, butter, salt and sugar if using (to make a sweet pastry) until butter melts. Bring to a boil, remove from heat and dump in flour all at once. Stir with a wooden spoon until it forms a ball.

Return pan to heat and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds to dry dough; a film will collect on bottom of pan. Transfer to a large bowl and beat in the eggs in three or four additions, mixing briskly after each one until fully incorporated. Dough will look bad after first quantity of eggs is added, but when finished it will be smooth and glossy. Dough can be kept covered in refrigerator for up to 1 day.

NOTE: Use superfine sugar only if making a sweet pastry such as eclairs or cream puffs. To make superfine sugar, place granulated sugar in a blender and blend on medium or high for 10 seconds.

Makes 18 servings.

Gougères

1 Basic Pâte à Choux recipe

1 cup (about 4 ounces) grated Gruyère cheese, divided

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon ground or cracked black pepper

1 large egg

Preheat oven to 400 F and position racks in top and lower thirds of oven. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

In bowl of a stand mixer, combine the dough, 3/4 cup of the cheese, the mustard and the black pepper. Mix on low just until evenly blended.

Spoon 1-inch rounds of dough onto prepared baking sheets, about 1 inch apart. In a small bowl, lightly beat the egg to blend thoroughly. Brush a light coating of egg over tops of rounds, being careful it does not drip down sides (it will glue dough to parchment). You will not need entire egg. Sprinkle each round with a little of remaining 1/4 cup of cheese.

Bake gougères in preheated oven for 20 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 350 F. Switch sheets between racks, rotate each pan from front to back and bake for 10 to 15 minutes longer. Transfer to a rack to cool briefly. Serve warm, piled on a platter for guests to help themselves.

Gougères can be stored in an airtight container in refrigerator for up to three days. To serve, reheat them in a 375-degree oven for 7 to 9 minutes, which will make them warm and crisp again.

Makes 8 servings.

Recipe from “The Art & Soul of Baking” by Cindy Mushet.

Gnocchi Parisienne

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, preferably freshly grated

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons, divided

1 cup all-purpose flour

3 large eggs

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, Gruyère or Asiago cheese

In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup water with the salt, nutmeg and 2 tablespoons of the butter; bring to a boil over high heat. As soon as water boils, add the flour all at once and beat dough with a wooden spoon until it is thick and comes away from sides of pan. Cook, stirring to dry out dough, for about 30 seconds. Transfer dough to a medium bowl and let cool slightly, for about 5 minutes.

Beat 1 of the eggs into dough until incorporated. Beat in 1/4 cup of the cheese and another egg until blended, then beat in last egg until dough is very smooth.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Set a bowl of ice water near stove. With a large spatula, transfer dough to a resealable plastic bag, pressing it into one corner. Cut off tip of bag; opening should be about 1/2 inch long.

Reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Carefully hold bag over water and press out dough, using a small sharp knife to cut it into 1 12/-inch lengths before it drops into pot (you can also use 2 teaspoons to form gnocchi). Simmer gnocchi for 3 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer gnocchi to ice water bath to stop cooking. Transfer gnocchi to paper towels and pat dry.

Grease a 9-by-12-inch baking dish with remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Arrange gnocchi in dish and sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons cheese. Bake until puffed, for about 25 minutes. Preheat broiler. Broil gnocchi 6 inches from heat for 1 to 2 minutes, or until browned. Serve right away.

Gnocchi can be prepared through stovetop step, then refrigerated overnight before baking and broiling.

Makes 4 servings.

Recipe by Jacques Pepin in Food & Wine magazine.