Gougères... how can I describe these? To the eye, they appear to be some kind of dinner roll, but once they are torn into, that resemblance disappears. The inside of a gougère (pronounced goo-jhair) is impossibly airy and light, yet rich and full of flavor. One might could call them portable souffles, but I guess that's kind of a stretch. Honestly, I only just heard of these for the first time a couple of months ago. Bon Appétit did an article on them last spring and the author described them in such an eloquent way and had such a beautiful story to explain her love affair with them, that of course I just had to try them. She had discovered them in a small boulangerie while vacationing with her mom in the French countryside. They feasted on them daily while driving around and stopping off at all the local vineyards. I wish I could say my first experience with gougères had the same romantic appeal, unfortunately, that is not the case. Instead, my first time tasting one was at Artisanal, a well known French restaurant here in NYC. They were good- nothing to shout from the roof tops about, but still- they were delicate, with a crisp exterior and wispy center- the mark of a good gougère.
From my experience, making any type of edible item that is identified by a light and airy texture, requires lots of time and patience... and room for error. Well fear not my friends. Gougères are extremely easy to make, almost ridiculously so. It literally took all of 10 minutes to throw them together, and all of the ingredients, with the exception of the gruyere, I already had on hand. The process of making this rich, eggy dough (proper name: pâte à choux) may sound a little unusual, however, it's the same technique used to make profiteroles and eclairs. In fact, the only difference between a gougère and an eclair is that cheese (and a little salt and pepper) is added to the pâte à choux (pronounced shoe) at the very end. So feel free to follow the recipe below (eliminating the cheese) should you have the sudden urge to bake up a batch of homemade profiteroles. However, I prefer my pâte à choux on the savory side, shot through with a healthy helping of gruyere.
Recipe courtesy of Bon Appétit
1 cup water
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
4 large eggs, chilled
1 cup (packed) coarsely grated Gruyere cheese (about 4 ounces)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Position one rack in top third and one rack in bottom third of oven; preheat to 400 degrees F. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
Bring 1 cup water, butter, and salt to a simmer in a heavy, medium saucepan over medium heat, whisking until butter melts. Add flour; stir rapidly with wooden spoon until flour absorbs liquid and forms a ball, pulling away from the sides of the pan. Stir vigorously until film forms on bottom of pan and dough is no longer sticky, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Remove pan from heat; cool dough 2 to 3 minutes. Using electric mixer, beat in eggs one at a time. Stir in cheese and pepper.
Drop rounded tablespoonfuls of dough onto baking sheets, spacing about 3 inches apart. Using a damp fingertip, press down any peaks of dough.
Bake gougères until golden brown, about 30 minutes, reversing position of pans halfway through baking. Using a small, sharp knife, pry open 1 gougère to check for doneness (center should be slightly eggy and moist). Serve hot or warm. They can also be made 3 hours ahead and rewarmed in a 350 degree oven for 5 to 10 minutes.
Makes 2 dozen 1 1/2 inch gougères