French cheese puffs (gougères); what’s not to like? These tasty little pastries are a party favorite for a lot of reasons. First, they can be made-ahead and kept in the freezer until you’re ready to party. They’re also versatile and you can make them with just about any soft or fast melting cheese. But mostly, if you think of these as little bite size cheese snacks that can be made to go with sweet or savory fillings, then you’ve got yourself an endless line up of party snacks that will get you through any holiday season.
Continue reading to learn more about making gougères and the many variations available…or click here to be taken to the Apple and Cheddar Gougères recipe!
Despite being a classic French pastry, gougères are easy enough to master on your first attempt. Keep in mind a few things: bring the liquids and butter to a full boil. Add all the flour at once and stir and stir and stir until it is all incorporated into a dough ball, then keep stirring about 30 seconds more to take the raw flour taste out of the dough. You know you’re done when there’s a light ‘crust’ forming on the bottom of your pot while you’re stirring. And while it sounds crazy, just add your first egg to the dough as soon as it comes off the stove and is still hot. It will incorporate even though it looks like a gloopy mess at the start.
We’ve written our recipe to use a stand mixer, but if you’ve got a sturdy wooden spoon and a good bit of stamina you can whip the dough into the choux paste (which is the base for the gougère) with pure muscle. If you use a stand mixer, be sure to mix each egg into the dough for a full 30 seconds before adding the next. The ‘paste’ is ready to use when it pulls from the side of your mixing bowl and forms a slow bending peak. Once ready, though, it must be used immediately. Fortunately, “immediately” means only that you put it into a zip top bag, cut off a corner, and pipe the ‘paste’ onto a parchment lined baking sheet. After you’ve piped out the mounds, dip your fingers in some cold water and gently smooth over any peaks, or reshape any odd or mis-shaped gougères.
From here you can pop them into the freezer or lightly brush with an egg wash and bake. Once frozen, they go straight from the freezer to the oven (with a quick stop on your countertop for a light egg wash). Just add about two minutes more to your baking time. When your gougères are made, or at least formed, the hard part begins…trying to decide whether to fill the light, hollow cheesy pastry or just enjoy them straight from the oven.
Just about any soft or fast melting cheese can be used in place of the grated cheddar that our recipe calls for and by changing up your cheese you can change up your fillings! We’ve used white and yellow cheddar with apples, grated parmesan with chopped tomatoes, onions and basil, goat cheese crumbles with corn and mushrooms, blue cheese crumbles (!) with walnuts, and fontina with hard squashes to name a few. Just fine shred or grate the harder cheeses before mixing them in.
To fill them, your options are limited only by your imagination. Just pop the tops off with fingers or a knife and then spoon in a filling…such as the Pumpkin Pie Spice apples in our recipe, or try mixing room temperature cream cheese with Tuscany Spice Blend (about 1 tablespoon spice blend to 1 cup of whipped cream cheese lightened with a tablespoon or two of cream). We’ve made a butternut squash filling by following the apple pie filling recipe and trading out cheddar cheese for fontina and using Bacon Smoked Sea Salt! We’ve also made the same recipe using Tuscany Spice Blend and Backwoods Hickory Rub too.
If you want an elegant party appetizer try using blue cheese crumbles in your gougère, then top with walnuts glazed in a spicy sweet coating of Earthly Delight Spice Blend. To make the walnuts: combine 1/3 cup water, 1/3 cup sugar and 1 teaspoon ground Earthly Delight Spice Blend in a pan over medium heat. When the mixture is boiling, add about 1 cup of chopped walnuts and cook, stirring almost constantly until the liquid is nearly evaporated and the nuts glazed. Let the mixture cool while the gougères bake, then fill with a bit of the cooled walnut mixture and enjoy with red wine.
In the unlikely case that you have unfilled puffs leftover, you can freeze those too. When you’re ready to use them again, pop them into a 350°F oven for about 6 minutes to defrost and re-crisp.