I don’t care about the Super Bowl.
I don’t know which teams are playing.
In fact, I will not even watch it until the last quarter, and that is only if my kid turns it on.
But I concede. The Super Bowl is as good a reason as any to have a bunch of friends over for food and fun. However (and I will forever hear Marissa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny, “howev-uh, in 19-sixty-faw the correct ignition timing would be faw degrees be-faw top dead cent-uh.”), Super Bowl snacks should not be limited to wings, sliders and nachos. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy those those things – but sometimes I like to have something a little more elegant.
Not every snack food needs to be finger-lick-able.
Allow me to introduce… cheddar and black pepper gougères.
And, what exactly are gougères, you ask?
Goo-zhare are simply cream puff or eclair pastries (pâte à choux) that lean towards the savory with the addition of cheese. Gruyère is tradtional, but if you think outside the box you can create something that will appeal to all of your guests. Even the ones who insist they only like cheddar cheese.
These gougères were made with a goat milk cheddar from our friends at Edgwick Farm. Talitha and Dan are two awesome people who raise the most adorable, gentle goats. They have developed a line of fresh and aged farmstead cheeses handmade with milk from their micro-dairy. [Check out a video here.] Thomas and I went to visit them last weekend. The goats are kidding (before Talitha, I had no idea this meant the goats were having babies) and there are cuties to play with. They offer tours, by the way, so get over to their Facebook page for details.
Assemble all of your ingredients before you start because the process of making pâte à choux goes quickly.
Butter and water are first brought to a boil in a medium saucepan, then flour and salt are stirred in. You want to keep stirring this doughy mass over the heat until it pulls away from the side of the pan (pic 1). Give it a minute or two of stirring after that to allow some of the moisture to evaporate. You will see wisps of steam rising out of the pan. Let this cool in the pan for about 5 minutes, then move on to the eggs.
Now, your first egg will be cracked into a bowl and ready to add in… RIGHT?… Yes. Stabilize the saucepan on a folded towel or pot holder. You will be beating the heck out of it. Add the first egg and beat like mad with a wooden spoon until it’s completely incorporated. As you can see (pic 2), the egg will make the mixture separate. Thorough beating after adding each egg will give you a beautifully silky end product (pic 3). FYI, you can certainly use either a standing or hand-held electric mixer for this part. I just hate having to wash MORE dishes. Plus, it’s an upper body workout.
After you get a silky smooth mixture you go and mess it up by adding a bunch of lumpy grated cheese (pic 4).
Let the mixture cool off for about 5 minutes, or longer… longer is fine, too. Now you get to play. You can shape the gougères with a pastry bag and make dainty little sticks. Here, I used a 1/2″ diameter plain tip (Ateco 806). The sticks are 4″ long (no, I did not measure) and are spaced about 1 1/2″ apart because they will spread as they bake.
If you prefer to not dirty a pastry bag, make tiny balls of dough with a cookie scoop. You can also use two teaspoons to form the balls – one to scoop the dough and the other to push the dough off onto the parchment-lined sheet pan. I’m sure you’ve seen your mom or grandmom do this when making cookies. Try to make them all the same size so they bake evenly.
If the shaped pastries have pointy bits sticking out of them, simply dip your finger in cold water and press them down into place. The dough will not stick to you if your fingers are wet. Any peaks sticking up will likely get very dark in the oven, so this step, while not essential, definitely improves the appearance. Once you have your gougères formed, sprinkle them with additional coarse salt and pepper and even some more grated cheese if you like.
Bake these beauties in a PREHEATED 425° oven for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature (this is when I rotate the pans and swap them from top to bottom rack if there are 2 pans) to 350° and continue baking for another 15 to 25 minutes depending on the size of the pastries. If you tap on the puff after 30 minutes and it sounds hollow, then they are done. If not, leave them in for a few more minutes and test again.
Gougères are golden and crunchy on the outside. The interior, in contrast, is laced with salty, cheesy goodness. If you choose to make these in advance, and as quick as they are to prepare you really could whip them up in under an hour, by all means do so and freeze them in an airtight container or bag. They can be easily tossed onto a baking sheet (no parchment, no spacing concerns) and re-crisped in a 425° oven for 5-8 minutes prior to serving.
You’re still hearing Marissa Tomei, aren’t you? ‘Cause I’m reading aloud with her accent…
Cheddar and Black Pepper Gougères
Recipe yields about 6o sticks or 80 tiny balls.
**I used cheddar but you can use any cheese you’d like. Parmesan, gruyere, provolone, brie or blue would all work well. Use the larger 3 oz quantity of milder cheeses.
1 cup water
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 t salt
2-3 oz cheddar cheese, grated
coarsely ground black pepper, 1/2 – 1 teaspoon (know your audience – my kid would FLIP if he saw black pepper)
kosher salt for sprinkling
Preheat oven to 425°. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
Melt butter and water in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the flour and salt all at once. Stir and cook over medium heat until the mixture pulls away from the edges of the pan, about 2 minutes, then continue to cook mixture about 2 minutes more. You want to let a lot of the steam evaporate, so keep stirring.
Remove pan from heat and set aside to cool slightly. Start adding the eggs one at a time and beating thoroughly after each addition. You want a smooth, shiny mass to form before adding the next egg. After all 4 eggs have been incorporated, stir in the grated cheese and pepper.
Shape the gougères with a pastry bag and a plain 1/2″ tip, a small cookie scoop, or by using two spoons and space them about 1 1/2″ – 2″ apart on baking sheets. Tap down any pointy bits with a wet finger. Sprinkle with additional coarse salt and pepper, and cheese if you prefer, then bake at 425° for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350° and continue baking gougères for 15-25 more minutes, until deep golden brown, crusty and hollow-sounding when tapped.
Serve immediately. Gougères may be frozen for up to 3 months in an airtight container or bag. Recrisp the pastries on a baking sheet in a 425° oven for 5-8 minutes.