Happy New Year, all!
I’m not sure if any of you folks noticed, but my customary Saturday post fell gently by the wayside yesterday. (I say gently in that it was cushioned by several geological layers of confetti and crumpled paper napkins and party hats.) Thanks and blame go to those naughty little Champagne bubbles; how can a hostess possibly help herself after all that party-planning and prep?
What a way to ring in the new year: a generous assembly of wonderful friends, a groaning board of good food, a stage-four rapid of drinks, a happy riot of color and noise and giggly good cheer. We got all decked out and we laughed and flirted and toasted and kissed and hugged at midnight, and it was such fun.
Of all the treats I put out for nibbling, I think these gougères might be my favorite. I burnt the first batch beyond all recognition (it was early in the evening, so I can’t even blame those naughty bubbles), but the second batch made the rounds, thanks to my ever-helpful friend Scott who tossed a towel over his arm and put on his best Fraaansh accent while passing them out.
Gougères, as you might imagine, are just delightful with Champagne, rich little cheese puffs that are pleasantly eggy and toothsome on the inside, browned and crisp on the outside, scented with thyme and black pepper. They’re addictive when hot or warm or room temperature, and surprisingly adaptable for entertaining: freeze ahead unbaked (I made mine before heading East for Christmas), or bake early in the day and re-crisp in the oven when guests arrive.
Once you get the hang of preparing pâte à choux (or “cabbage paste”, in French, because of the piped dough’s round little cabbage shape), you’ll find a whole new world of French delights are open to you: profiteroles, cream puffs, éclairs. (It’s the same exact technique.) If you’d like to see a room of highly accomplished physicians turn into a pack of eight-year olds, set up a dessert bar with vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, graham crackers and sweet pâte à choux puffs, as my (other) friend Scott and I did for his office party this Christmas. It felt familiar and a little fancy all at once, and isn’t that exactly what you want from a holiday soirée?
So with a sigh of contentment (and a little relief), I can say that the holidays, at least for me, are officially over. The confetti’s all swept up, the dishwasher is humming for the third or fourth time, and earlier today a small group of friends dispatched the rest of the leftovers. It’s with a clean house, a quiet mind, a full heart and a sated tummy that I’m looking ahead to all the great things to come in the New Year.
Wishing you and yours the same and all the very best in 2011!
adapted from Tartine by Elizabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson; makes about 30 puffs
- 1 1/4 C non-fat milk
- 10 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 C all-purpose flour
- 5 large eggs
- 3/4 C Gruyère cheese, finely grated, plus more for garnish
- 1 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
- 1 tsp fresh thyme, minced
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment and set aside.
Prepare the pâte à choux: in a heavy saucepan over medium heat, combine the butter, milk and salt and heat until the butter melts and the milk comes to a boil. Add all the flour, stirring the mixture vigorously with a wooden spoon. Keep stirring for about three minutes while the dough forms a mass, separating from the sides of the pot and leaving a film on bottom.
Add the mixture to a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Beat on medium-high speed for 10 seconds. Add the eggs, one at a time (it will look curdled at first) until fully incorporated (the last few eggs will take longer) and you have a smooth, shiny, elastic dough. Take off the mixer and fold in the thyme, Gruyère and pepper.
If you have a pastry bag, fit it with a 1/2″ round tip and transfer the dough to the bag. If not, use a spoon to mound up the dough in 1″ puffs about 1 1/2″ apart.
Whisk together the egg and salt and lightly brush each puff. Sprinkle each with a bit of grated cheese. Bake until puffed and well-browned, about 25-30 minutes. Serve warm or room temperature. You can also cool them, store them in the fridge and recrisp them in a 350 degree oven for 5-8 minutes.