Because this is the giving season and I am nothing if not a giver, here is my Christmas present to you: One of the best appetizers you'll ever taste, the best friend a flute of Champagne ever had. You can make it in about 20 minutes and even freeze it so you always have some on hand when the occasion to pop a cork arises.
Gougeres are truly a gift that keeps on giving. They're light, they're crunchy and they taste deeply of butter and roasted cheese.
And they're so easy to make.
Here's what you do: Make a cream puff dough -- basically, boil water and butter and stir in flour; keep stirring until the flour forms a thick paste and then beat in whole eggs; add some grated cheese and then pipe them out into little balls on a cookie sheet (if you don't have a pastry bag, you can do a nice job with just a couple of spoons -- wet them in water from time to time so the dough will slip off cleanly).
If you want to bake them right away, you certainly can. But the thing that will really rock your world is sticking them in the freezer, still on the cookie sheets. After a couple of hours they'll be frozen solid. Just collect them in a plastic bag and keep them in the freezer until the need arises.
Pop them onto a cookie sheet and bake just as you normally would. Instant gougeres!
There are many recipes for gougeres and having tested them extensively, I'll say that almost all have something to recommend them. The recipe I prefer is based on the one Thomas Keller serves at the French Laundry and wrote about in "The French Laundry Cookbook." (One word of caution: These gougeres push right up to the line on saltiness -- if you are salt-sensitive, or if you're using fine salt instead of coarse kosher, you might want to adjust down).
But as perfect as this recipe is, it might have remained one of those only-on-special-occasion treats were it not for my old friend, the extraordinary baker Dorie Greenspan. She's the one who clued me in that the dough could be frozen before baking, allowing you to pull hot, crusty gougeres out of the oven almost any time you feel like it.
Now, that's a gift.
1 hour, including baking, plus optional freezing time. Makes about 4 dozen gougeres
Note: Adapted from "The French Laundry Cookbook."
1 cup water
7 tablespoons (3 1/2 ounces) butter
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 1/4 cups (5 ounces) flour
4 to 5 eggs
1 1/4 cups grated Gruyere (5 ounces), divided
Freshly ground white pepper
1. Heat the oven to 450 degrees if you're going to be baking the gougeres right away. Line 2 baking sheets with silicone baking sheets or parchment paper.
2. In a medium saucepan, combine the water, butter, salt and sugar and bring to a boil over high heat. Add all the flour at once, reduce the heat to medium and stir with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes, or until the dough forms a ball and the excess moisture has evaporated (if the ball forms more quickly, continue to cook and stir for a full 2 minutes).
3. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle and beat for about 30 seconds at medium speed to cool slightly. Add 4 eggs and continue to mix until completely combined and the batter has a smooth, silky texture. Stop the machine and lift up the beater to check the consistency of the batter. It should form a peak with a tip that falls over. If it is too stiff, beat in the white of the remaining egg. Check again and, if necessary, add the yolk. Finally, mix in three-fourths cup of Gruyere and adjust the seasoning with salt and white pepper.
4. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a three-eighths-inch plain pastry tip with the gougeres batter. Pipe the batter into 1-tablespoon mounds on the baking sheets, leaving about 2 inches between the gougeres, as the mixture will spread during baking. Sprinkle the top of each gougere with about one-half teaspoon of the remaining grated cheese. (At this point, the gougeres can be frozen on the baking sheets until solid, then stored in the freezer in a tightly sealed container.)
5. When almost ready to serve, if you're using frozen gougeres, transfer them back onto a lined baking sheet. For both frozen and fresh bake at 450 degrees until they puff and hold their shape, 7 to 8 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake until they are a light golden brown color, an additional 20 to 25 minutes. When you think the gougeres are done, break one open; it should be hollow and the inside should be cooked but still slightly moist.
6. Remove the pans from the oven and serve the gougeres while hot.
45 calories; 2 grams protein; 2 grams carbohydrates; 0 fiber; 3 grams fat; 2 grams saturated fat; 28 mg cholesterol; 0 sugar; 87 mg sodium.