The French take their pre-dinner drinks very seriously. Known as the apéro (derived from the word apéritif) it’s a pre-dinner drink with finger food and can encompass everything from olives and cured ham to elaborate bite-sized snacks. The star of any pre-dinner drinks, however, is the gougère, the French cheese puff. Light, fluffy and with a delicious cheese flavor, it feels warm and welcoming at the same time. It’s also the perfect accompaniment to a champagne or wine tasting. No wonder its origins are from the Burgundy district in France, where some of the world’s best wines are made.
This recipe is a classic gougère recipe, which can be made with Gruyère, Comté or Emmental, all hard cow milk cheeses with a slightly nutty flavor, my favorite without a doubt being the Gruyère. Add to that a dash of freshly grated nutmeg and you are in fluffy cheese heaven. The recipe is deceptively simple and the puffs don’t have to look all symmetrical and perfect.
Now, bring on the champagne!
Gougères – French Cheese Puffs
This recipe makes 40 small puffs, which is enough if you serve for pre-dinner drinks to about 8-10 people.
Preparation time: about 20 minutes
Cook time: about 25 minutes
Resting time: none; you can eat them warm or cold, they are great both ways
Total time: 45-50 minutes
100 g (or 3.5 oz) of butter
0.25 L (or 1 cup) of water
150 g (or 5.3 oz) of plain flour
4 medium-sized eggs
1 egg yolk (for glazing)
Salt and pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg
170 g (or 6 oz) of Gruyère cheese (for the pastry)
30 g (or 1 oz) of Gruyère cheese (to sprinkle on top)
- Turn on the oven to 180° Celsius (about 350° Fahrenheit). Line a baking tray with paper.
- Grate the cheese and put the smaller batch to the side.
- Start by adding the butter and the water to a pan and bring to a boil.
- Remove from the heat and add the flour, whisking fast. (I prefer to use a handheld electric mixer on low to medium speed throughout the recipe, but it really only takes a few seconds to mix every time so be careful to not over-mix the pastry). When combined, add the four eggs, one by one, whisking in between. The texture of the pastry will vary, going from thick and a little crumbly to smooth when the last egg is added.
- Add the salt, pepper, and freshly ground nutmeg. Add the bigger batch of the cheese and stir or mix. The cheese will melt into the pastry pretty fast. Taste and decide if you want to add more of the spices.
- Put the pastry into a piping bag. (Tip: put the piping bag into a tall vase or jug before and fold the upper edge of the bag over the top of the vase or jug.) Pipe the batter into about walnut-sized dollops. Leave a little space between the puffs as they will – you guessed it – puff up when baking. (The opening of the piping bag should not be too small because the batter is quite thick and dense. You can also use two spoons instead of the piping bag to make the dollops.) Don’t worry if the tops are too pointy; they will be smoothed down once you glaze with the egg yolk.
- Glaze with the egg yolk and add a tiny amount of the left-over cheese on top of each gougère.
- Bake in the middle of the oven for about 25 minutes. The gougères should have a hint of golden color, but not more.
- Remove the puffs from the baking tray. Ready to serve!
(By the way, if there are any left the next day, warm them in the oven for a few minutes. Delicious with a little bit of salted butter..)