… aaaannnnndddd, we’re back!
Honestly, I kinda hit a wall toward the end of December. (You did, too? Whew! Glad it’s not just me.) Between a whole to-do list full of client projects, some very fun promotional opportunities for the cookbook and general life busy-ness, my calendar was jam-packed right up until the 22nd, when I sort of shut down for the rest of the year. I tried (only somewhat successfully) to keep my laptop shut and contain my e-mail and social-media tendencies. We put up the Christmas tree, tuned in some football, opened some really great bottles of wine, had fantastic feasts on Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve, played games and worked puzzles and basically went analog for about 2 weeks. Whew.
Here it is, the first week of January, the first week of 2015. Time to get back on the horse.
With this: a recipe for black pepper gougères. Wait, you don’t know the gougère? That ethereal yet intensely flavorful puff of cheesy French pastry goodness?
My mom (she who has absolutely mastered the art of pulling an assortment of completely delicious little nibblies seemingly out of thin air, or rather out of her freezer, at the drop of the hat) introduced me to these luscious cheese puff pastries years ago. And it’s a rare thing when I don’t have a stash in my freezer. The gougère is made from pâte à choux, a light pastry dough that can be either sweet (as in, profiteroles or eclairs) or savory. With a food processor, the dough is ridiculously easy to make, and the little cheesy puffs are just so fun.
I began with Ina Garten’s recipe from her most excellent “Barefoot in Paris,” and made a couple of adjustments, including topping each puff with a very generous sprinkle of coarsely cracked pepper. These freeze beautifully (up to 6 months in a zip-top plastic bag), and you can just pull a dozen or so out and warm them in a hot oven to wow any drop-in guest. They’re perfect with a glass of wine before dinner.
black pepper gougères
(makes about 4 dozen)
1 cup whole or 2% milk
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Pinch of finely ground black pepper
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
1/2 cup grated Gruyère
1/4 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for sprinkling
1 large egg, whisked with a bit of water
Cracked black pepper for sprinkling
Preheat oven to 400°; line 2 baking sheets with parchment and place the metal blade in your food processor. In a small saucepan, combine the milk and butter; warm the mixture until the butter melts. Whisk in the salt, fine black pepper and nutmeg. Heat the mixture until very fine bubbles form around the perimeter; do not boil. Whisk in the flour until no lumps remain. Cook the milk-flour mixture, whisking constantly, until it's thick and smooth and smells like buttered toast, about 2 minutes. Scoop the mixture into the food processor; add the eggs and both cheeses and process until the mixture is completely smooth and glossy. Use a rubber spatula to transfer the pastry dough — it will be very thick — to a gallon-size plastic bag. Cut about 1/2 inch off one of the bottom corners of the bag, and squeeze the dough out onto the parchment, making mounds about 1 inch in diameter, spacing them about 1–2 inches apart. When you've piped out dough to fill both baking sheets, dip your index finger in water and gently pat down the swirl or glop at the top of each mound of dough. Brush each puff with egg wash, then sprinkle with remaining Parmesan. Grind black pepper generously over the puffs. Bake at 400° for 10 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 350° and bake an additional 15–20 minutes, until puffs are deeply golden brown.