Even on a menu, Gougères are irresistible. When I spotted the little French cheese puffs among the appetizers at Dallas’ Bullion, Bruno Davaillon’s gilded tribute to classical French cooking, I had to order them. And a glass of sparkling wine. Even if it was a weekday afternoon.
But as nice as they were at a restaurant, those gougères reminded me that they are even better made at home. Warm, complex with good aged cheese and black pepper, the puffs have a golden outer shell that gives way to an airy, custardy interior — almost like a one-bite soufflé. They are impressive, and with a glass of something sparkling, an incredibly celebratory way to start an evening.
And yet they’re also one of the simplest things in the host’s bag of tricks. The dough can be mixed together in minutes, and once the gougères are formed, they can even be frozen until you’re ready to start the party.
The wine connection is natural. Gougères (pronounced goo-ZHAIR) are a traditional snack in Burgundy, and there are lots of variations on the recipe. Some use milk, others only water. Some enrich the dough with just a couple of eggs, others add more than half a dozen.
Gruyère is the classic cheese, but Emmental, Comté or even aged cheddar or smoked Gouda will work. Accent the flavor with black pepper, or a pinch of cayenne, nutmeg or whatever strikes you. Essentially, you’re mixing a savory choux dough — the same as for eclairs — and it’s incredibly forgiving and fun to make.
Start the dough in a pan over the stove — you don’t even have to remember to soften the butter, just drop chunks of it into the liquid and bring it to a good simmer. Then add the flour and start stirring. When it dries a bit and comes together, with a slightly shiny surface and a ragged interior, remove it from the heat and beat in the eggs, cheese and whatever else you like. All this stirring will take some muscle. Just think of it as a short upper-body workout that will help offset the final result.
Here’s what you don’t need to do: Don't transfer everything to a bowl and use an electric mixer to beat in the eggs (a completely unnecessary step found in most recipes). Don't use a pastry bag to pipe out the dough (a couple of spoons work just fine). Don't fear that opening the oven will deflate the gougères (rotating the pans evens the browning, and they will not collapse). Don't run out to buy Gruyère if you have good cheese on hand (most any hard or semihard cheese will work). This is actually a great recipe for the holidays, when the fridge tends to collect leftover odds and ends.
As for the wine, a red is most traditional — we’re talking Burgundy, after all — but it’s hard to argue with how well a sparkling wine works here. The broader flavors of a rosé perfectly play off the sweetness and funk of the cheese and heat of the pepper. I’ve even tweaked the recipe to make it lock more firmly in place with the wine.
This time of year, when we’re pouring for a lot of people, a lot more often than we usually do, finding a bottle that’s under $25 is a gift — and we found five wines that not only bring out the best in the gougères but are also engaging enough to drink on their own. Pour them into a white wine or Burgundy glass so you can get your nose in there to appreciate them, and send up a cheer.
½ cup water
½ cup milk
¾ teaspoon salt
½ cup unsalted butter (one stick), cut into four pieces
1 cup flour
4 large eggs
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
5 ounces Gruyère, finely grated (about 2 cups, lightly packed)
Adjust oven racks to the top third and bottom third of the oven, and heat to 425 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.
Place the water, milk, salt and butter in a medium saucepan and bring to a full simmer over medium heat. Add the flour all at once and briskly stir it into the liquid using a wooden spoon or a stiff-wire whisk.
Turn heat to low and continue vigorously stirring the dough. It will be thick and pasty, but will begin to dry out a bit and take on a sheen. When it is smooth and slightly shiny, usually after about 3 to 4 minutes of stirring, remove the pan from the heat.
Using the spoon or the whisk, add the eggs one at a time, incorporating fully after each addition. This will take some muscle. At first, the dough will want to separate into slabs and chunks. Add the next egg only after it has come back together.
Add the black pepper and stir until evenly distributed. Add the grated Gruyère and stir until the dough is uniform.
Drop the dough into rounded mounds onto the baking sheet: Using a teaspoon, slightly dampened with water to prevent sticking, scoop up 1 tablespoon of dough and use a second teaspoon to scrape it off into a mound onto the baking sheet. (Alternatively, you can use a pastry bag to form the mounds.) Leave about 1 1/2 inches between the gougères.
Place the sheets into the oven and immediately reduce the heat to 350 F. Bake for 12 minutes, then rotate the baking sheets: Switch the sheets from top to bottom, and also turn them from front to back. Continue baking for 12 more minutes until the gougères are puffed and golden brown. Break one open to check for doneness: The center should be slightly custardy, like a soufflé. If it’s still wet and doughy, give it another minute in the oven. Serve immediately.
To make in advance: Shape the gougères and place the baking sheets in the freezer until the gougéres are frozen hard. Store in a plastic bag, then bake as directed.
Makes 24 gougères.
Per gougère: 91 calories, 6 g fat (3 g sat fat), 48 mg cholesterol, 3 g protein, 4 g carbohydrates, no fiber, no sugar