Remember our friend, pâte à choux, the French pastry dough? It’s time we turned it into little appetizers, gougères (pronounced “goo-zhair”), also known as cheese puffs. The version I’ve made is flavored like Roman cacio e pepe pasta (cheese and pepper) but the flavors you choose are only limited by your imagination.
Pâte à Choux is the easiest of the French pastry doughs and you can transform them into sweet or savory entrees, appetizers, or desserts. I love their flexibility! A while back I shared that my mom used to make large puffs to house shrimp salad (see: Spring Screams Shrimp Salad).
Gougères may be eaten as is, warm out of the oven or at room temperature. Alternatively, they may be filled (example: Cream cheese mixed with mascarpone and chopped herbs, crispy bacon bits, chopped nuts, etc.). A fun idea is to make a variety of fillings and let your guests break open a puff and fill their own.
Any dryer cheese may be used in this recipe such as parmesan, pecorino, asiago, etc. I suggest avoiding any really moist cheese that produces a lot of grease or water once melted. Like I said, this is a very flexible dough and recipe.
Unfilled gougères freeze well, too. Once completely cooled, place them into a plastic freezer bag. When ready to use, bring them to room temperature then pop them into a pre-heated 350F (180C) oven for about 5-7 minutes.
Aggiornamento Arliano (Arliano Update):
We are in the process of moving into the country house. While we still have a valid parking permit for the city center, we’re doing much of the move ourselves. This means that mysterious bruises, cuts and scrapes have been populating our bodies — we’re excited, but exhausted. The larger furniture pieces will follow by a moving company once we sell our current apartment, which will be an exercise in patience, for sure. Try selling an apartment during Covid in Italy — it may take a while! In the meantime, we’ll largely be camping in the new house until that happens.
The garden is coming along nicely. Zucchini flowers just started popping; the potatoes are right on schedule; and the corn is growing 6 inches every week. The tomatoes are doing well enough that we’ve started building a fence for them to climb using materials from an old home renovation — thrifty! I’ve also built “tee-pees” out of bamboo and tree branches for the beans to climb, but due to a couple of weeks of rain and cold weather, they are taking their sweet time.
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Cacio e Pepe Gougères (cheese and pepper cheese puffs)
- 1 cup (125 g) flour
- 1 cup (8 ounces) water or milk (or half of each)
- 4 large eggs
- 1/2 cup (113 g, or 4 ounces) unsalted butter
- 1 cup grated Parmesan, Grana Padano, Asiago or Pecorino cheese, divided
- 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon ground black or white pepper
- Pinch of kosher or sea salt
- Pre-heat oven to 400F (200C)
- Over medium heat, bring water (or milk), butter, and salt to a boil in a medium saucepan
- Once boiling, add the flour to the saucepan all at once. Quickly stir with a wooden spoon until all the flour is incorporated. Keep stirring until the dough forms a rough ball and pulls away from the sides of the pan. This should take about 30 seconds
- Transfer the dough to a large mixing bowl (or food processor) and let it cool for a few minutes
- Beat (or process) the dough for about 20 seconds to release more heat. Then, while beating (or processing), add one egg at a time. It will look messy at first, but with enough beating it will come together
- Add 3/4 of the grated cheese to the dough along with the black or white pepper and reserve the remaining 1/4 cup cheese
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat mat and using a heaping teaspoon of dough or a pastry bag with a 1/2-inch (1 cm) tip, form balls. These will expand in the oven so space them 2 inches (5 cm) apart
- Using your finger, gently brush each choux ball with a little milk and sprinkle the remaining grated cheese over each ball
- Bake for 15 minutes at 400F (200C), then reduce the temperature to 350F (180C) and bake for another 30 minutes
- Turn off the oven and pierce the side of each gougère with a sharp knife to let out steam. Leave them in the oven with the oven turned off and the door slightly open until they are completely cool