I first had gougères at Caprice, the 3-star Michelin French restaurant at the Four Seasons hotel in Hong Kong (you can read my review of that meal here). My first bite of hot cheesy puffiness and I was in love...
I tried to recreate the same feelings at home, with some success. It's all about the cheesy puffy holes (like a cheesy savory choux puff). Best served warm.
This Alain Ducasse recipe works wonderfully - my local supermarket doesn't carry Gruyère so I used Parmesan instead, but otherwise I followed the recipe exactly. This type of pastry is called pâte à choux/choux pastry - similar to that used in éclairs, cream puffs, profiterôles, etc.
After making these a few times, I do have a few suggestions if you want to use this recipe:
- Sift the flour before using (actually, do this for EVERY recipe that calls for flour)
- Bring butter and eggs to room temperature before using. It really makes a difference.
- Don't be tempted to use more cheese in the dough than the recipe calls for. (Otherwise your puffs may be a bit too heavy and the holes won't be nice and large and airy.)
- I think any of your favourite semi-dry/firm cheeses would work here, not just Gruyère - I've used both Parmesan and Comté with success.
- When heating the milk, butter and salt in the pan, dice the butter first so it melts quickly and evenly. Don't let the mixture foam up.
- Dump the flour all in at once and stir with brisk motion until you don't see any white bits of flour any more and it becomes a drier dough in the shape of a ball (it comes away from the sides of the pan). There may be a white film on the bottom of the pan - don't scrape it in. The drier the dough, the puffier your gougères will be.
- This cooked dough is called a panade.
- When adding eggs, don't worry if it doesn't combine with the dough at first and looks like it "curdles" - just keep stirring.
- From personal experience: do NOT hold pastry bag in one hand and try to transfer hot dough from bowl using spatula/spoon with other hand. Recipe for disaster: spillage of hot dough on countertop, fingers, etc. guaranteed. After losing a batch of dough this way (and almost breaking out in tears from trying to force the sticky dough into the bag), the magic of Google showed me that you can place the pastry bag upright in a tall glass and then spoon the dough in. Definitely going to try this next time! Also tying the other end of the bag is a MUST..
- Careful cooling of the puffs is important otherwise they might deflate. I would open the oven door to let the moisture escape, then leave it open as you allow the puffs to cool slowly (the point is for any remaining moisture to dry off, otherwise you get an eggy, soggy interior).
- Careful storing. If serving immediately, do NOT store in plastic/ziploc bags (it traps moisture and makes the puffs deflate/go soggy). Put in a paper bag. When completely cooled, you can store in fridge or freezer (plastic bags OK here): reheat before serving.