If you’re like me, you have at least a few “go-to” items in your wardrobe. Mine are simple, neutral pieces that can be dressed up or down depending on the accessories and layers I choose. A fitted white shirt. A great pair of jeans. A sweater dress.
I actually have some staples in the kitchen, too – basic recipes that can easily adapt depending on the accompanying ingredients. Think about crepes, butter cookies or scones. You start with a relatively plain dough or batter but the possibilities are endless. The best of these can go sweet or savory, and extra points for those that can be frozen in advance, for use at a later date.
One of my favorite kitchen “staples” is choux pastry (pronounced “shoo pastry”), or pate a choux. Choux pastry is an easy-to-make, super versatile dough that is the base for many things that you’re probably familiar with. Éclairs, cream puffs and beignets all start with choux pastry, but I’m showcasing it here to make gougeres (I know, what’s with all the French? I promise, this is not hard or complicated at all).
Gougeres are elegant little cheese puffs that are light as air, full of flavor and fly off the plate whenever I serve them. You can pipe them out in advance, freeze them and bake just before your guests arrive. They are so impressive, perfect with drinks and everyone will think you’re a culinary rock star (what, with all the French phrases you’ll be tossing about).
It’s up to you whether you share how insanely easy they are. I wouldn’t.
Except I just did.
Let’s keep this just between us, shall we?
adapted from The New York Times Magazine
1 c. water
4 T. unsalted butter
1/2 t. kosher salt (plus extra for sprinkling)
1/4 t. cayenne pepper
1 c. bread flour
4 large eggs, at room temperature
8 oz. Gruyère, grated and divided into 6 oz. and 2 oz. portions
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
Bring water, butter, salt and cayenne pepper to a boil in a small saucepan.
Place the flour in the bowl of a mixer, add the boiling water mixture and beat till incorporated. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until the dough is smooth. Beat in 6 oz. of Gruyere and mix until the dough is thick and the cheese is almost completely melted. Place the dough in a large ziploc bag and snip the corner.
Pipe the dough in small mounds onto the prepared baking sheets. Sprinkle each with the remaining 2 oz. of cheese and a pinch of kosher salt. Bake 20-25 minutes, until golden brown and puffed to about 3 times their original size. Try not to open the oven door for the first 10-12 minutes to keep them from deflating. Serve immediately.
Note: to prepare the gougeres in advance, follow the recipe above but do not sprinkle with the extra salt. Freeze gougeres on your baking sheets and transfer to a large Ziploc bag. Alternatively, you can roll them up right in the parchment paper and keep the frozen “logs” in a Ziploc bag. You do NOT need to thaw prior to baking but you may need an additional 5-10 minutes of baking time.