Gougères, little puffs of cheesy choux pastry, are a classic French offering before a meal. (In France, you can buy them in a pastry shop and reheat them, but they are easier to make than your guests will know—and once you get the hang of choux, you can make your own éclairs or profiteroles as well!) They are best eaten warm and so present a bit of a challenge as to timing. Save them for dinners at which the first course won’t be served
hot. When I was growing up, we had them at home only when Mamie or someone else in the family could spare the half hour of preparation time before guests arrived. They always appeared when the occasion called for the popping of a cork: Gougéres are judged the perfect accompaniment to Champagne. We had dozens of variations in my family, and one aunt (my least favorite, actually) claimed to make the meanest gougères in town. One day, as a sometimes outspoken if not quite rebellious adolescent, I couldn’t help jumping into the fray as my mother and my aunts debated the matter. Georgia Gouda Gougéres, I declared, were the best! As no one had heard of Georgia, much less her gougéres, they had no answer to that.
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons minced shallots
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons flour
2 ounces Gouda (or half
Gouda, half Comté), diced
1⁄2 teaspoon cumin seeds
Yield: 8 servings
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Warm the oil in a frying pan. Add the shallots, and cook over low heat until golden. Let cool. Warm 2⁄3 cup water in a saucepan, and add the butter and salt. At the boiling point, add the flour all at once, and whisk it with the liquid until a compact, homogenous ball forms. Remove from the heat, and beat in the eggs, one at a time, until the dough is sticky and supple. Add the cooled shallots to dough. Gently incorporate the cheese and cumin seeds. Make small balls of dough with a heaping teaspoon, and place them 1 inch apart on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 to 30 minutes, until the puffs are well puffed and golden. Serve lukewarm.