The floodgates are open. I’ve been back in the country two months and it’s been non-stop, full speed ahead ever since. Double shifts, personal commitments, a ton of travel and frankly a whole lotta crap since then. My apartment looks like it’s been ransacked. I’ve broken three suitcases in two months, a sure sign that the travel gods are telling me to stay home. Throw in the holidays and all that entails and I’m a mess. I’ve cooked non-stop but nothing really for myself, for this blog. I gotta get on it. There’s been some cool stuff too but no time to write about it… Epcot Food & Wine Festival, cooking for a sweeeeet benefit in New Orleans, a fried chicken tour, plus so many more adventures in Thailand to share. Oh another time; I’ll get to it at some point. For now, let’s talk snacks. Specifically cheesy, puffy cocktail-y snacks. The fancy frenchy name? Gougeres, of course.
This Thanksgiving, I visited a friend on the east coast who found herself family-less for the holiday. I thought it’d be fun to visit and see her new digs so I offered to whip up a classic Thanksgiving dinner, something I was looking forward to since I was out of the country last year. Curry and dumplings, while delicious, make a poor Thanksgiving substitute. And let’s not even talk about missing Lions and Cowboys. Oh my.
So this year, I made a feast with all the traditional sides and we made a pact – PJ’s only! (no dressing up!), TV on! (the parade, Miracle on 34th Street then both football games and whatever holiday movies were on after) and a nap anytime we wanted one! It was a perfect perfect day.
I made WAY too much food, of course, especially since a third friend who joined the party has an intense dislike for the traditional Thankgiving fixin’s. She brought a steak, god love her. Sure there was a ton of food for the meal but to start, we really needed some snacks. Something to munch on. Something to keep our energy up while I cranked through those prep lists. We had a nice hunk of cheese, zippy pickle-y things and two kinds of pate but we needed something warm and toasty. Gougeres were just the thing because before a big heavy meal everyone needs something warm and cheesy, right?
Gougeres are really just puffs. They’re made from pate a choux, a pastry dough that is also used to make cream puffs, eclairs, profiteroles and other puffy delightful things. Here, copious amounts of cheese are added to the batter making it ever so tasty. The mixture is then piped or scooped onto sheet pans and baked until puffy and crunchy yet soft on the inside. They are fantastic. I ate about 30 of these before the first football game and called it lunch. And just let me tell you how excellent they are with a glass of champagne. In fact, they’re even better with several glasses of champagne. (I’m just saying.) They are elegant, tasty and perfect for holiday entertaining or just for gobbling by yourself. Pssssttt … no one has to know.
You can flavor these any way you want but don’t ease up on the cheese. Here, I use sharp cheddar, a bit of parmesan and added some bacon and scallion bits. Tasty tasty. I told you, I ate a ton of them. My butt is turning into a little puff but that’s another story for another time.
Another great thing? These can be baked ahead, frozen and then popped back into a warm oven to reheat. How wonderful is that when you’re crazy insane and can’t keep it all straight? The magazines and books all refer to this as a “hostess trick” and say something stupid like “faboo when the unexpected dinner guests pop by with that bottle of chilled Veuve” but when does that really happen? You know what really happens? It’s Christmas Day and you’re about to lose your shit because the kids are screaming, the turkey is pink in the middle, the dog has it’s snout in the garbage, gifts still have to be wrapped and your in-laws just showed up for dinner with some god awful jello concoction you have to pretend to be happy about. THAT’S when it’s handy to have a little bag of these sweet babies in the freezer. Buys some time, man. And those in-laws better have that perfectly chilled bottle of Veuve because you’re going to need it.
STRESS BAKING THERAPY FACTOR: FIVE FAT FINGERS. This is one of those things that make you think “Holy crap these are good. Did I really make these?” Trust me, your guests – should you decide to actually share – will think the same thing as they shove them in their fat little faces. Warm, room temp, whatever … good all around and especially during the holidays when you need something that you can pull out of your back pocket in a flash.
BACON CHEDDAR GOUGERES
Makes about 50 pieces
4 slices thick-cut bacon slices (¼ pound), finely chopped
1 cup water
8 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1” pieces
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
4-5 large eggs
1 ½ cups coarsely grated extra-sharp Cheddar (about 5 ounces)
2 Tablespoons grated parmesan
3 scallions, finely chopped
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- Preheat oven to 375°F with racks in upper and lower third of the oven.
- For the bacon: In a skillet over medium-high, cook the bacon until crisp. Drain on a few paper towels and set aside until needed.
- For the pate a choux: Bring water, butter and salt to a boil a heavy saucepan.
- Add the flour and cook over medium heat, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon, until mixture pulls away from side of pan and a light crust forms on the bottom and sides of the pan, about 2-3 minutes.
- Transfer the mixture to a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on high for a few minutes to release some of the steam.
- Add 4 eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. (Batter will appear to separate at first but will then become smooth.) Adding the air here is very important as that is what will make them puff. No air = flat gougeres.
- Mixture should be glossy and just stiff enough to hold soft peaks and fall softly from a spoon. If batter is too stiff, beat remaining egg in a small bowl and add to batter a little at a time, beating and then testing batter until it reaches proper consistency. Keep in mind, you may not need all of the last egg.
- Mix in the bacon, cheeses, scallions and black pepper.
- Line 2 large sheet pans with silpat mats, parchment paper or lightly butter the sheets. Note: if using parchment paper on the sheet pans, anchor each corner with a dab of dough before piping.
- Shaping: You’ve got two options for shaping. Option 1: be fancy and use a pastry bag – fill a pastry bag fitted with ½” plain tip with batter and pipe walnut sized mounds, leaving ¼” in between. Option 2: go old school and use two teaspoons to scoop walnut sized mounds, ¼” apart.
- Bake: Bake, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until puffed, golden, and crisp, 25-30 minutes total. Do not overbake – this is important – they should be soft and a little eggy on the inside.
- Let cool; make more puffs on cooled baking sheets. Serve warm or at room temperature.
- Make ahead: Baked puffs freeze beautifully – freeze until firm on a sheet pan then transfer to a Ziploc bag. Rewarm in a 350°F oven.