Week Five: Breads for Parties
The bread I’ve picked for today takes a bit of a liberty with the term, but it is most certainly a flour-water mixture that then gets cooked, so I say it’s fair game. This recipe is for gougères, and there really is no other way to say it. I’ve seen them called “cheese puffs”, but that term always brought to my mind images of fluorescent orange, sodium-packed, styrofoam-y snack foods. Gougères are as far away from those as a Lamborghini is from a Hot Wheel, so I stubbornly and deliberately avoid that phrasing. Technically, they’re pâte à choux with cheese added to the dough, but who ever knows what pâte à choux is? As laborious as it is, you’ll probably have to explain exactly what they are every time; but once you get this recipe down pat, your guests will start asking for these by name.
What’s pâte à choux, you ask? Well, it’s the dough that éclairs are made out of, as well as profiterôles, cream puffs, those adorable little pastry swans, and countless other items in the bakeshop. Pâte à choux (or, choux paste) is one of the best tricks up a pastry chef’s sleeve, because of its speed to make, its ease (once you know how), and its simple ingredients that can adapt to endless variations of flavoring and shaping. The name literally translates to “cabbage paste” (paste as in pastry), because the original recipes, baked into little balls, rather looked like cabbages. Originally created in the mid 1500s, pâte à choux has gone through a few changes to the recipe, but it was perfected by Antonin Carème around the turn of the 19th century into the smoother item we know today.
Probably most well-known as the pastry-cream-filled, chocolate-ganache-topped confection called the éclair, pâte à choux can be piped into mounds, strips, rings, spirals, and everything in between, using a plain or a star tip in your piping bag. Because the dough contains no sugar, they can be filled with anything from salmon mousse to chocolate mousse (but not at the same time!), and all are equally delicious. They can stand alone, as in a cream puff, or be combined with other items to produce something more than the sum of its parts, like a Gateau St. Honoré. There’s one rare iteration (called a “polka”, as in “dot”) where a ring of choux paste is piped onto a circle of puff pastry, baked, then filled with a mixture of pastry cream and buttercream, and dusted with powdered sugar. It’s just as delicious as it sounds! To make gougères, you simply take pâte à choux dough, and add cheese, preferably one with a low moisture content, as that can affect the way they puff (or don’t puff, as the case may be).
Ok, fair warning: this is what you might call an “advanced” recipe. But! It’s really not that hard, once you know how to do it! If you know someone who knows how to make choux paste, they can show you what to look for; but in lieu of a pastry chef BFF, the amazing Alton Brown has done an episode about pâte à choux, and can explain it far better than I can. I almost consider it required watching if you want your choux to puff properly. The recipe below is from Bo Friberg’s The Professional Pastry Chef, one of the textbooks I used in culinary school, and one of the best cookbooks on my shelf. I have yet to find a recipe in it that didn’t succeed with flying colors, and this one is no exception. The only requirement is a stand mixer with a paddle attachment (see note #2 below), and maybe something to pipe the dough with (a Ziploc bag is fine). You can just portion out the dough with a spoon, but all those little peaks will need to be patted down before baking, otherwise they’ll burn. It is rather a lot of information, but the more you know before getting into it, the more success you’ll have. And you know what? Even if your puffs don’t exactly puff, they’ll still taste delicious. So don’t be afraid! Give it a go! You’ll never regret at least trying, right?
If you can master pâte à choux, you’ll never be at a loss for a fairly quick and supremely impressive item in your culinary arsenal. The dough will accept any number of different flavors, in all sorts of different formats: dried herbs, ground spices, flavored sugars, flavored salts, cheeses, ground nuts, etc. etc. etc. Or you could just leave them plain, and press spices, cheese, or coarse sugar or salt into the tops before baking. Gougères are perfect little bites for a wine party, and can easily be paired with specific wines based on the cheese used. You could even split the dough into three or four portions and mix a different cheese in with each one. Have your friends each bring a different bottle of wine, and have fun seeing which pairing goes best together! (Just make sure not to mix up the batches of gougères – they’re impossible to tell apart once they’re made!)
From The Professional Pastry Chef by Bo Friberg
Makes enough for about 35-50 puffs, 1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter
4 ounces cake flour (about 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons)
5 1/2 ounces bread flour (about 1 1/4 cups)
1 pint water
6 ounces unsalted butter (1 1/2 stick)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pint eggs (about 8 large, see note #8 below)
10 ounces cheese (preferably Gruyère or Emmenthaler) finely diced or grated
1. Preheat oven to 400º F. Sift the flours together on a sheet of baking paper and reserve.
2. Heat the water, butter, and salt to a full rolling boil, so that the fat is not just floating on the top but is dispersed throughout the liquid.
3. Form the ends of the baking paper into a pouring spout. Then, using a heavy wooden spoon, stir the flour into the liquid, adding it as fast as it can be absorbed. Avoid adding all of the flour at once, as this can make the paste lumpy.
4. Cook, stirring constantly and breaking up the inevitable lumps by pressing them against the side of the pan with the back of the spoon, until the mixture forms a mass and pulls away from the sides of the pan, about 2 to 3 minutes.
5. Transfer the paste to a mixer bowl. Let the paste cool slightly so the eggs will not cook when they are added.
6. Mix in the eggs, 2 at a time, using the paddle attachment on low or medium speed. Add as many eggs as the paste can absorb and still hold its shape when piped. Beat on high speed for a minute or two, until paste cools and becomes shiny. Beat in the cheese.
7. Pipe the paste into the desired shape, about 1 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter (they will puff up to be a little bigger than they are when piped out), onto a parchment-lined sheet pan. Bake immediately at 400º F for approximately 25 minutes or until fully baked and golden brown. When done, poke slits in the sides to release steam and ensure they stay puffy and don’t fall flat.
1. Instead of the full amount of water, I used 1 1/4 cups of water and 3/4 cup of dry white wine, for a little extra flavor. For the cheese, I used 8 oz blue cheese, crumbled into as small bits as possible. It was not top quality, but it did the job. I figure I’ll save my Maytag Blue for eating plain.
2. Bo Friberg suggests that it is “quite easy” to add the eggs by hand, just in the saucepan where the flour mixture was cooked. Personally, I’ve tried it; it only works if you have a bionic arm. It takes a lot of effort, so if you have a very strong arm (or one at your disposal), then give it a go. Me, I’ll just stick with my mixer. See, if the eggs aren’t added fast enough, they won’t all absorb into the dough, making it runny, which means they’ll be flat. I went through several batches of pancaked profiterôles before I learned what I was doing wrong.
3. Gougères should be eaten the same day they are baked, or frozen and reheated later in a 350º F oven for about 4-5 minutes.
4. As long as you do not let it become too brown, you cannot overbake pâte à choux, so make sure the shells have been baked long enough to hold their shape and not fall. The baked shells can be stored covered for a day or two, but once filled, they should be served the same day.
5. It is unnecessary to glaze pâte à choux with egg wash before baking. The egg cooks before the pastries have finished expanding in the oven, which gives them an ugly cracked appearance. (Some recipes direct you to do this. It is a mistake. Don’t listen.)
6. Cook the pastries quickly, before a skin forms on the dough. This means that if you have too much dough than will fit on your tray, don’t pipe any more out until the first batch is done.
7. Do not open the oven door fully when baking. The sudden drop in temperature will cause the shells to collapse.
8. Yes, you do have to measure out the eggs. You can beat them lightly in order to measure exactly (you may end up needing half an egg, or some such). It is best if they are about room temperature, but you don’t have to be adamant about that.
9. When piping out, use a well-moistened finger to pat down any “soft-serve-ice-cream” peaks that form. They will burn otherwise.
10. Any additional flavorings should be added in small amounts, and “like to like” (i.e., powdered spices like cinnamon in with the flour, liquid flavors like vanilla in with the eggs). The idea, most of the time, is for the dough to taste neutral, and be more like an ingredient than a finished product. Gougères are a bit of an exception.
11. You can use 9 1/2 ounces of all-purpose (about 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons), if you don’t have cake and bread flour, although it is best to use the combination.
12. By the way, I figure it goes without saying, but thought I’m mention that if you want plain pâte à choux, just leave the cheese out.