When I was given a very nice bottle of Veuve Clicquot rose champagne for Christmas, I heaved a sigh of relief (New Year's Eve champagne all taken care of) and, in a matter of seconds, resolved to make gougeres to go with the bubbles. I think I first heard of gougeres in a review of the restaurant Artisinal. I never made it to Artisinal, but I couldn't stop thinking about the hot, delicate cheese puffs they served at their bar, as described by the reviewer. They sounded impossibly heavenly. Finally, in December 2004, Per Se served me a gougere with a flute of champagne as I looked over the menu. It was good, but that Times reviewer (was it you, Grimes?) had done me a disservice, making me dream it into something greater than any cheese puff could possibly be.
Still, I wanted to make my own--even brought down to earth, a cheese puff is still pretty good. I used Ina Garten's recipe from Barefoot in Paris, which was easier than I expected. First you make a kind of roux, then you pulse that in the food processor with cheese and eggs. You can make the puffs with a pastry bag, but, finding myself bagless, I shaped mine with spoons. Unfortunately, I felt as if I had been cooking all day and so was not patient enough to make them quite as small as they should have been. The photos will give you an idea how outsized they were. Ina seemed to suggest you bake two trays at once, and so I did. Since they baked completely unevenly, I will do one tray at a time if I do it again. The one change I made (besides my lazy shaping) was to substitute cayenne pepper for nutmeg, which I do not keep around (though I'd like to).
What's great about gougeres is how light and airy they are--they won't spoil your appetite at all. (I think this might be my secret objection to them, too; somehow I want them to be more substantially cheesy. Bad American.) In fact, they are hollow in the center. Thinking this was a result of some error of mine, I went to my Larousse, which informs me that baked choux dough, which is what a gougere is, should be hollow. (It's the same kind of dough you use for cream puffs and eclairs; you just pipe the hole full once the puff is baked.)
[I was getting some weird traffic to this picture and had to remove it]
No, I didn't eat the whole tray of gougeres (and yes, I am dressed for preteen day camp on New Year's Eve...it was a night of strenuous cooking that took a turn for the worse, as I will relate in the fullness of time). Ina says you can freeze them, then reheat at 425 degrees for 5 minutes. Now I have a bag full of frozen gougeres waiting for lucky visitors.
-Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
-Heat over medium heat 1 cup of milk, 1 stick of unsalted butter, 1 tsp kosher salt, 1/8 tsp black pepper, and a shake of cayenne pepper until just before the milk begins to boil. When your psychic powers tell you the milk is just about to boil, dump in 1 cup of flour and beat it with a wooden spoon until everything comes together. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring all the time.
-Dump the flour ball into your food processor. Pulse in all at once 4 extra-large eggs (I used 5 large, which was fine), 1/2 cup grated Gruyere, and 1/4 cup grated Parmesan; pulse until incorporated into a smooth, thick dough.
-Pipe or spoon dots onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper. The dots of dough should be 1.25 inches wide and .75 inch tall. Brush the tops of the gougeres with a wash of 1 egg beaten with 1 tsp water. Sprinkle a little extra grated Gruyere on top. Bake for 15 minutes, until golden brown.