Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Gougères...and gnocchi à la parisienne

When researching google images for the Burgundian amuse-bouche and apéritif nibble, gougèresthat is, delectable cheese puffs, one photo in particular caught my eye. Following the link, I discovered the chef (Mon Dieu, he's French!) recommends baking powder to get the puffs, well, puffy. Modern convenience, hang your head in shame! Pâte à choux is a lovely thing, forming a basis for both sweet and savoury delights.  No chemical leavening needs to apply.

Though I have made my fair share of this pastry, including profiteroles, I took very seriously this first attempt at making gougères.  Why? If there is too little or too much liquid in relation to flour, the puffs will either not rise or will deflate.  Steam formed inside the puffs is what makes them airy. Michael Ruhlman gets this point so his proportions of ingredients worked a treat.

Though other aged cheeses like Comté, Gruyère, and even Cheddar can be chosen, Parmesan works very well and along with chopped black olives is used often in the south of France.

about 35 medium-sized gougeres, a good size for stuffing, dinner roll substitutes, and to accompany drinks plus two small servings of gnocchi à la parisienne

Water, 8 fluid ounces
Butter, 8 T
Flour, 8 fluid ounces
Eggs, 8 fluid ounces (about 4 large eggs)
Parmesan, 2 T and extra for topping
Fleur de sel and freshly ground black pepper for topping

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Gather your ingredients.

On high heat, bring water and butter to a simmer. Add the flour all at once and over medium heat, beat until it pulls away from the sides and forms a ball. Cook gently for a minute or two so the moisture content is reduced.

Either wait for a couple of minutes or run cold water over the bottom of the pan. Add the eggs, one by one. After each addition, incorporate it fully into the dough. The texture is very stretchy and sticky--you will need to show it who's the boss. Alternatively, the dough can be processed with an electric hand mixer or transferred to a standing mixer (use the paddle attachment).

Incorporate the cheese. The dough conveniently can be refrigerated for up to twenty-four hours before baking.

On parchment-lined baking pans, place a rounded teaspoon and then another on top, to increase the height of the puff. Dipping the spoon in cold water can help in shaping the puffs. With a finger moistened in cold water, smooth out any pointy peaks which could burn. Sprinkle with Parmesan, fleur de sel, and a turn of the pepper mill.

Bake at 450 degrees F for ten minutes and then lower to 350 for about thirty minutes. Towards the end of baking, test by eating one--yeah, I know, such an arduous task! The puffs will be hard on the outside, golden brown, feel hollow, and when bit into, will be mostly dry inside but still soft. Turning the oven off and leaving the gougères inside for a few minutes may be needed to complete their perfection. Fresh out of the oven, these cheese puffs were deliciously fragrant, crisp, and light. They are best when served piping hot.

Upon breaking open a puff, The Calm One exclaimed, It's empty! I replied, Well, they are a circular version of cheese crisps. He quipped, like Cheetos?

Then he promptly filled his puff's inner void with cream cheese.

Split gougères can be filled in numerous ways. One that is very appealing and will boost the cheese quotient (as these are not that cheesy) is to chop up some Brie and Parma Ham or any other high quality ham, spoon into the cavity, replace the tops, and put in a warm oven until the Brie is melted and all is heated through. Another possibility is this scrumptious ham mousse stuffing by Emeril Lagasse. 

For the gnocchi, boil some water in a medium-sized pot.

Using a small spoon (which can be dipped in cold water to ease the formation of the gnocchi), scrape off segments of dough into the boiling water. They will float to the top in a few minutes.

Scoop them out. Brown some butter (no smoking butter though!) in a skillet and saute the gnocchi until they are golden which takes about five minutes.

Serve with Parmesan, fleur de sel, and freshly ground black pepper. These were wonderful--the crisp outside enclosed a tender, smooth, and dense inside.

À la prochaine!