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The Burgundians have it all figured out. Wine is meant to be drunk with food. And so when glasses of Burgundy are poured, even for a tasting, the hors d'oeuvres are never far behind.
That's why they invented the gougère.
It looks like a tiny, golden dinner roll. Its delicate crust offers a little resistance to the tooth, and the inside is soft and melty — as the French say, moelleux. Served warm, it's light and rich at the same time, with the soft flavor of cheese and butter and eggs. There's nothing better with a glass of Pinot. Or Beaujolais. Or, well, any wine, really. Then you want another. And another.
Burgundy's perfect savory tidbits are actually light-handed cheese puffs, made from pâte à choux (cream-puff paste) enriched with Gruyère cheese that's piped or spooned onto a baking sheet and baked until golden. Though they're terribly sophisticated, they're easy to make.
In Paris, gougères have been served at Taillevent, the renowned Michelin three-star restaurant, for as long as anyone can remember. Lightly flavored with nutmeg these days, they appear at the start of the meal, to accompany the apéritif. Stateside, at Artisanal, chef Terrance Brennan's cheese-lovers' restaurant in New York, they appear as an appetizer, sprinkled with rock salt. Thomas Keller has been known to offer them as an amuse bouche at the French Laundry in Napa.
A friend just back from Paris reports that the gougère is the "amuse of the moment." Chefs are riffing on the classic, he says, flavoring it with anything from leeks to celery root to ham to foie gras.
Here's the good news: gougères are not only easy to make, they're also foolproof. You just boil water, add butter and flour, stir it up, beat in eggs one at a time, and stir in some grated cheese. Drop them by spoonfuls onto a baking sheet and pop them into the oven. You can even make them ahead and freeze them. Three minutes in the oven and they're as good as new.
At least once, make classic gougères. You'll be amazed at how they please a crowd. They're great finger food at wine or cocktail parties, or to serve in baskets as guests are sitting down at a dinner party.
Then you'll want to riff. You can flavor them with almost anything that sounds good: chopped fresh herbs such as thyme or rosemary, chopped olives, sun-dried tomatoes or sun-dried tomato paste, wild mushrooms, finely chopped vegetables, prosciutto, cheeses other than Gruyère — or combinations. Just stir the flavoring into the paste as you add the grated cheese.
But we didn't stop there. Thinking about cream puffs (gougères' cheeseless cousins), we decided to try filling them. We whipped up a simple chicken liver mousse, flavored it with a touch of Cognac, filled a pastry bag and piped it right into the middle of each puff.
We poured a glass of Pinot. We tasted the gougères. We've never been happier.
Total time: 1 hour
Servings: Makes 3 dozen
Note: This master recipe is the
basis for several variations listed below.
1 cup plus 1 teaspoon water,
1/4 cup ( 1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup unbleached white flour
4 whole eggs (room temperature)
1 egg white (room temperature)
1cup grated Gruyère cheese
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg yolk
1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Line 2 or 3 baking sheets with parchment paper. Bring 1 cup of water to a boil in a medium saucepan with the butter and salt. When the butter is completely melted, remove from the heat, and add the flour all at once. Stir briskly with a wooden spoon until the dough forms a ball, about 1 minute.
2. Make a well with the spoon in the middle of the dough, add one of the eggs and beat with the wooden spoon. The consistency will be strange at first — pieces of the dough will slide off of each other — but in about half a minute, the consistency will become uniform. Add each egg separately, beating until the consistency is uniform, then add the egg white, and beat until smooth and glossy. Beat in the cheeses.
3. Using a teaspoon, drop spoonfuls (about 1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter) of the mixture onto the baking sheet, leaving about 1 inch between them. In a small bowl, lightly beat together the egg yolk and 1 teaspoon water. Brush the top of each gougère with this mixture. Bake for 10 minutes, then turn down oven to 350 degrees and bake 20 to 25 minutes more, until puffed and golden brown.
4. As soon as you remove them from the oven, make a small incision in each puff with a small sharp knife to release the steam (and prevent them from getting soggy inside). Serve immediately, or cool and freeze them, reheating for about 3 minutes in a 350-degree oven.
Thyme: Stir in 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme as you add the grated cheeses.
Blue cheese: Substitute one-half cup crumbled blue cheese for one-half cup grated Gruyère.
Olive and rosemary: Stir in one-half cup chopped oil-cured pitted black olives and 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary as the cheeses are added.
Porcini mushroom: Rehydrate one-half ounce dried porcinis in 1 cup boiling water. Drain, pat dry and finely chop. Stir in with the cheeses.
Each puff (main recipe): 51 calories; 3 grams protein; 2 grams carbohydrates; 0 fiber; 3 grams fat; 2 grams saturated fat; 37 mg. cholesterol; 72 mg. sodium.
Chicken liver mousse
Total time: 20 minutes
Servings: Enough to fill 3 dozen gougères plus one-half cup for
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks)
1 pound chicken livers
1 cup minced onion
1/4cup chicken broth
1/8teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons Cognac
1. Heat 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet until melted and bubbly. Add the chicken livers and cook over medium-high heat until browned, 2 to 3 minutes, then turn and add the onion. Continue cooking, stirring, until the chicken livers are almost cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes.
2. Add the chicken broth and bring to a simmer. Cook until the livers are cooked through and the liquid is reduced by half, about 5 minutes.
3. Spoon the livers and onion into the bowl of a food processor, along with the salt, black pepper and Cognac, and purée until smooth. Cut up the remaining stick of butter and add bit by bit to the liver, continuing to purée until smooth and blended. Spoon the liver mixture into a bowl. Cover and refrigerate until it firms up enough to pipe through a tube.
4. Using a pastry bag fitted with a filling tube, make a small opening in the side of each slightly cooled gougère and pipe in the mousse. Refrigerate any leftover mousse to serve as a spread along with baguette slices or small toasts.
Each serving: 40 calories; 2 grams protein; 1 gram carbohydrates;
0 fiber; 3 grams fat; 2 grams saturated fat; 53 mg. cholesterol; 40 mg. sodium.