I think it was in a Szechuan Chinese restaurant where the list first began. After a bite of a particularly spicy serving of mapo doufu (spicy bean curd), I grabbed my glass of water, downed about half of its contents and, after reducing the fire on my tongue to a mere smolder, turned to my wife and remarked, “Water has to be one of the world’s greatest inventions!”. Thus, my list of the World’s Greatest Inventions was born.
Now before I get comments pouring in, pointing out that water isn’t strictly an ‘invention’, I ask that you bear with me and allow me the latitude to use the word ‘invention’ in the broadest possible sense. Why the requested forbearance? Because my list of the World’s Greatest Inventions includes inventions, discoveries, natural resources… well, you get the picture. And what does all this have to do with gougères? Gougères happen to be made with two ingredients that are on my World’s Greatest Inventions list; water, #2 on my list and cheese, #4 (anyone care to guess what #1 and #3 are?).
Gougères, those light-as-air French-style cheese puffs, make an ideal hors d’oeuvre or appetizer when having guests over for dinner or a party. They are quick and easy to prepare and require only a few simple ingredients. Gougères are made from a very fluid, egg and butter enriched dough called pâte à choux. Leavening is accomplished not by yeast or chemical leavening agents but by the steam that is produced within the dough during baking. It is for this reason that it is very important to whip as many small air bubbles into the pâte à choux as possible during its preparation.
The recipe presented here was modified considerably from that presented in Larousse Traditional French Cooking by Curnonsky. Because I enjoy a more substantial, less creamy center to my gougères, I’ve omitted the small amount of heavy cream in the original recipe. For the same reason, I’ve substituted water for the originally specified milk.
Pâte à Choux
- 105 g King Arthur Organic Select Artisan Flour
- 105 g Butter
- 265 g Water
- 4 Large Eggs
- 80 g Gruyère Cheese (grated)
- 1/8 tsp. Salt
To a medium saucepan is added the water, butter and salt. The saucepan is heated until all the butter is melted. Using a whisk, the ingredients are whipped until a homogeneous mixture is obtained. The flour is then added all at once and the brisk whipping continued until all the flour is incorporated and a shiny dough is formed. After incorporation, the whipping is continued on the heat for another 2-3 minutes.
After this time, the dough is removed from the heat, transferred to the bowl of a stand mixer (although the following steps can be done by hand, if so desired), and allowed to cool to room temperature. Using a whisk attachment, the dough is whisked at speed 6 while slowly adding the eggs, one at a time. Each egg is allowed to fully incorporate within the dough before the next egg is added. One half (40 g) of the grated Gruyère cheese is then added and the whisking is continued until a light and fluffy dough is obtained, about 2 minutes.
Using a pastry bag, the resulting pâte à choux is then piped into small mounds onto two, parchment paper lined baking sheets as shown below:
The remaining 40 g of grated Gruyère cheese is then sprinkled on top of the pâte à choux mounds and the gougères are baked in a pre-heated 400ºF oven for 15-17 minutes, until brown. After browning, the oven heat is turned off, the oven door is propped open so that it is slightly ajar, and the gougères are allowed to sit in the oven for an additional 5-10 minutes. This will allow the gougères to firm up and maintain their structure. The gougères are then removed from the oven and served either warm or at room temperature.