01 January, 2008

New Year's Eve Gougères

Here we are, in the new 2008. Best wishes to everybody! As promised, I will start the posts this year with a short look behind - to the last day of the old year - and will show you a couple of simple appetizer/cocktail food recipes, which I made for our fairly impromptu party. (Funny side note - the next day, today, I saw one of the recipes in an old Martha Stewart book. The photos looked amazingly similar, which - considering the low production budget of my own images - I will take as pretty flattering.) But you be the judge!

So we start with the savory treat. If made according to the most basic recipe, the dough for these cheese puffs is without a strong taste, which is why it is used as the foundation for pastries that range from profiteroles and eclairs to the gougères
I made. In this pristine form, before the creams, the fillings and the toppings, it is called pâte à choux.
You start with the liquid part. Some recipes call for water, but I feel there is something intrinsically wrong about trying to mix butter and water. Thus I went with the ones which ask for milk instead (whole).

In a saucepan mix and bring to a boil
1 cup of whole milk
4 tablespoons of butter.

Since I am only giving the recipe I actually made here - the savory kind - here is the place to mention I added

salt and pepper (technically listed as 1 teaspoon each, but who really measures these; just use your eye and good judgment), as well as

to the liquid mixture while it was heating. Savory here, by the way, refers to an herb, also known as summer savory which is widely used in my country's cuisine. (Even the English-language Wikipedia article about it focuses on that.) This was completely my own touch and I imagine you can put any other dry and finely ground herb which goes with savory meals.

As soon as the boiling starts, you should remove the saucepan from the heat and add (all at once)

1 cup flour

which you start energetically mixing with the liquid using a wooden spoon. Pretty quickly (depending on how energetic you have been; it's like the trade-off in the gym - to reach a certain goal you can either exercise less vigorously for a longer time or vice versa) you will see how the two parts have mixed to create a fabulously obedient dough ball which does not stick to the walls of the pot and shapes into a perfect sphere. This will not last through the next step, so enjoy while you can here.
The next step is to return the pot with the dough to back to your stove-top, now at low heat, and to dry-cook if for about 5-6 minutes, while constantly stirring (or more precisely, rolling the ball around). You want it to get a bit drier than before, but still to remain soft. If you see a whitish film cover the bottom of your pan, the dough is dry. You don't have to, however, wait for this cover to appear.

What gets added next are
4 eggs, one by one.
(Which, ideally, you have taken out of the fridge still at the beginning of your work and by now they have reached room temperature. I personally leave mine on the stove while all the cooking is going on to ensure this. But you should know yourself and if you as much as suspect that you might break yours or in trying to avoid doing so might burn yourself or - god forbid - let the milk+butter boil over, forget about it. Keep them on the counter away from yourself.)
Some wise cooks will tell you that if you are adding eggs to a hot mixture, you should let the foundation cool down for 5 minutes or so. Good advice, always, unless you want to make an omelet.

So the next thing - after the dough has had its 5 minutes of rest - is to add each egg and incorporate it into the mix by stirring rapidly with the same wooden spoon. I will post only one picture of what this looks like and you can imagine it three more times.
As you can notice, the nice ball I loved starts to lose its perfect shape and goes all over the pot again. Ultimately you see something much less disciplined and much more yellow.
Here I took the liberty to add a bit more flavor by adding
which was advice from Emeril Lagasse that I encountered somewhere. I don't much like the man, but you can count on him to kick it up a notch. Can't give you an exact amount, but it looked something like this in terms of squirts and this much resulted in a subtle, just-enough taste.
At this point all we have left to add is the main flavor of the pieces - cheese. Again, I saw various recommendations about what kind of cheese works and to tell you the truth, it seems any either soft or hard but meltable ones would do. I went with
1/3 of a standard packet of Philadelphia cream cheese, and
60 grams or so of grated Edam (a semi-hard, fairly mild yellow cheese).
Given the very mild-tasting result and my love of cheese, next time I will bravely go with double the amount of Edam. Until then, however, no guarantees.

Now, the last part was to make little dollops of the dough and to place them on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. The little things behave wonderfully - no sticking, no expanding to touch each other. They puff up just enough to deserve their name. Here is how they go into
the oven, preheated to 400 F.
One more thing concerning the baking arrangements. With this size of the scoops I got about 3 dozen beauties. Since I do not have such a huge oven, I had to separate them on 2 baking sheets which I placed on 2 racks. Thus the times I list below should be adjusted depending on the way you get your own puffs in your own oven. The best advice I can give is to simply check on your product often and go with what it tells/shows you.

So the trick here is that
after 10-15 minutes of baking them at 400,
you reduce the temperature to 350 F and bake 25-30 more minutes or until golden-brown.

And this is how we get to the infamous picture "as if out of that Martha Stewart cookbook" I mentioned above.

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