I consider gougères the ideal appetizer to serve with drinks. Gougères (or cheese puffs) are light and flavourful (it’s the cheese) and lend themselves to various flavours using herbs, spices and different cheeses (caveat: only dry cheese type). They are made from the same pastry as eclairs but you make it savoury instead. They are easy to make and even if something goes wrong you can still serve them. What can go wrong? the most common mistake is to under-bake them. If you don’t bake the gougères long enough they will deflate when you take them out of the oven and not stay all puffed and fluffy. But hey, who cares? they are presentable even if a little deflated. Don’t be too hard on yourself. To get the nice puffed one all you have to do is let them cook until the sides are steady and cooked through so they can support the structure as they cool.
I was asked to bring some appetizers to a wine tasting at friends’ house (Merlot and Pinot Gris) so I didn’t want to overwhelm the palate with too broad range of flavours. These puffs suited the occasion perfectly and I made two batches to take along. I used Swiss Gruyer cheese, ground into small particles in the food processor and for extra flavour I added chives to one batch, thyme to the other and the cheese of course went into both batches as this is the main flavouring element.
To make the gougeres you bring water, butter and salt to a boil and then add the flour all at once. You mix it with a wooden spoon into a cohesive mass and then add the eggs, one at a time, until fully incorporated. Then you add the cheese and whatever other flavouring your choose. I have made them with chili powder, nutmeg, fennel, thyme, rosemary (of course not all of them at once) and they were lovely with all of these. You can also use different cheeses such as the beautiful French Comte, the Spanish Manchego or other hard cheeses. One caveat is that the cheese should not be too moist as it affects the moisture proportion and sometimes interferes with the baking. To be safe, stick with dry cheeses.
The wine tasting was very interesting and we tasted some interesting versions of merlot and pinot gris. Here is some local wine trivia:
- Merlot and Pinot Gris are the two main grapes growing in the Okanagan. Pinot Gris has over 100 acres under vine and Merlot over 1600 acres.
- The Okanagan has over 8000 acres under vine.
- Calona Vineyards was the first winery to officially open in the Okanagan back in 1931.
- There are over 200 winery currently operating in the Okanagan.
- In 1994 Mission Hill was the first winery to win a major international award for their Chardonnay.
- Last year BC wineries won over 2000 medals in national and international competitions.
- There are over 600 VQA (Vintner Quality Alliance) wines in BC produced by more than 90 wineries (VQA on the label ensures you are buying 100% BC wine of a designated quality of production, content, varietal percentage, appellation and vineyard).
- Okanagan wine tourists are often highly educated and earn relatively high incomes.
- Approximately half of the Okanagan wine customers tend to belong to the baby boomer generation.
- Non-Okanagan residents spend far more per winery visit than do Okanagan residents.
- Wineries with restaurants attract more visitors (who spend more) than those without food services.
We are off today to support the local economy at a paella lunch at a local winery, more on that later. In the meantime, enjoy these gougères at your next party.
1 cup water
1/2 cup butter
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 cup flour
4 oz grated cheese (Gruyer, Comte or another hard cheese)
1 egg yolk for brushing over the pre-baked puffs
Preheat the oven to 425℉.
Line two large baking sheets with silpat and then cover with parchment.
Bring the water, salt and butter to a boil.
When the butter has melted add the flour all at once and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until the mixture binds together and pulls away from the sides of the pan. You should see a thin film forming on the bottom of the pot.
Remove from the heat and continue mixing with a wooden spoon to cool it off. You can transfer the pastry dough into another bowl if it is more convenient for mixing.
When the pastry has cooled somewhat begin adding the eggs, one at a time, beating well until each is completely incorporated into the dough. The dough will first break down and as you add the eggs and will come together again as you continue mixing.
Continue adding the eggs one by one, mixing well after each addition.
Add the cheese and herbs or flavouring of your choice and stir with the wooden spoon to combine.
Spoon the dough into a large pastry bag fitted with a 1/3 inch plain tip.
Pipe the dough onto the parchment lined baking sheets about 1 inch apart. The mounds should be about the size of a walnut. You can wet your hand and smooth the tops of the gougeres with your fingers.
Brush the gougeres with the egg yolk and sprinkle with a little more cheese if you’d like.
Bake in the preheated oven until golden and done. Do not under bake as they may collapse when taken out of the oven.
The gougeres can be reheated briefly in a hot oven before serving, or served at room temperature.