There’s something quite magical about choux pastry, don’t you think? Also known as pâte à choux , this light pastry dough is used for sweet treats including cream puffs (click here for my recipe), profiteroles, croquembouches, éclairs, beignets and more; it’s also the foundation for delightful savoury gougères. These tasty little bites are said to hail from the Burgundy region of France, where they are often served at room temperature to accompany tastings in wine cellars although they also make regular appearances served warm as appetizers. Composed of only butter, water (or milk), flour and eggs, choux pastry puffs up beautifully thanks to the air incorporated by beating the batter vigorously, as well as by steam created while the very moist dough is baking. The key to gougères’ rich, delicious flavour is a few seasonings and a generous amount of grated cheese; Gruyère, Comté or Emmentaler are most commonly used. Sometimes they are filled after baking but I prefer them au naturel. They are the perfect pop-in-your-mouth offering for parties and best of all, they can be made ahead – you can even freeze the shaped dough for several weeks and bake as needed.
- ½ cup (125 mL) water
- ½ cup (125 mL) milk
- ½ cup (4 ounces) butter
- 1/8 teaspoon (.25 grams) cayenne
- ¼ teaspoon (.5 grams) freshly ground pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon (.25 grams) salt
- 2 teaspoons (4 grams) fresh thyme leaves, chopped
- 1 cup (125 grams) flour
- 1 cup (4 ounces) of finely shredded Gruyère, Emmentaler or Comté cheese
- 4 large eggs at room temperature
- Measure and prepare all ingredients before you begin cooking.
- Preheat oven to 400F, positioning rack in lower third of the oven.
- Line three baking trays with parchment paper.
- In a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, add water, milk and butter. Heat until the mixture just begins to boil and the butter has melted.
- Remove the pot from the heat. Add the cayenne, pepper, salt and thyme leaves.
- Stir in all the flour at once. Using a wooden spoon, beat the mixture so that it comes together in a ball and pulls away from the sides of the pot.
- Transfer the batter to a bowl – use a stand mixer if you have one – and let it cool for about 5 minutes so the eggs don’t get cooked when you add them. Stir the mixture periodically with a wooden spoon as it cools to encourage the heat to dissipate.
- When the dough is no longer really hot, add the eggs one at a time and beat vigorously for at least full minute after adding each one. As mentioned, a stand mixer makes easy work of this job; you can also use an electric beater or even a wooden spoon plus a generous helping of elbow grease.
- Don’t rush to incorporate the eggs – make sure you beat each one in thoroughly and then beat for two more full minutes after the last addition, just to be sure. Don’t worry if the dough looks a little curdled at first; that is normal and when you have finished beating in all four eggs it should look like a thick, glossy cake batter.
- Add the grated cheese and beat for one minute longer.
- Drop onto lined cookie sheets with a small cookie dough scoop or 2 teaspoons; you are aiming for uniformly sized blobs about 1.25 inches (3.2 cm) maximum, spaced about two inches (5 cm) apart. If you are adept with piping bags you can shape your gougères that way instead.
- Working with one tray at a time, put the tray in the preheated oven. Bake at 400F for 5 minutes then reduce heat to 375F.
- Bake until puffed and golden; about 15 minutes more.
- Remove the tray from the oven and quickly make a small hole or slit in the side of each puff with the tip of a sharp knife. Return the tray to the oven for 2 minutes more; this step ensures that the centres of the gougères are nice and dry.
- Let cool 3 minutes on the baking tray then transfer to a wire rack.
- Turn the oven back up to 400F and bake the remaining trays per the instructions above.
Note: it is important to shape the gougères as soon as the dough is ready; it is not good for it to sit in the bowl. If you don’t want to bake them up right away, they can be frozen on the parchment-lined baking trays then transferred to airtight containers and stored for several weeks. When ready to bake them, preheat oven and put the frozen dough balls on a lined baking sheet and bake immediately.
Serving: I love these at room temperature but if you would like to serve them warm, you can make them up to two days ahead and reheat on a baking sheet in a 225F oven for 5 – 8 minutes just before serving. Cooked gougères prepared ahead of time can also be frozen and reheated in this same manner, although it may take a little more time to warm them up.
Makes about 3 dozen puffs.