My first date in Paris was memorable not just because it was my premier romantic rendezvous with a French man since arriving in the City of Light, but also because of one of the French recipes I would learn and love afterward.
I met Jean-Claude along the banks of the Seine on a beautiful summer Sunday. We sat on a park bench facing the sun-soaked streets of Saint-Germain while exchanging pleasantries in a cobbled Franglish. He had brought a canvas backpack with him, which he opened with care as he pulled out a bottle of wine, a small bag of ripe red cherry tomatoes just purchased from the marché and, finally, a small brown bag that he handed to me. It was warm on the bottom, and there were a few grease stains shining through the edges.
I opened the warm bag to find what looked like bite-size, light-colored rolls. I popped one in my mouth and realized that it wasn’t a roll, or a biscuit, or even a tiny croissant. I investigated further as Jean-Claude opened the wine, and discovered an airy puff of cheesy pastry that nearly disintegrated in my mouth with almost no effort. I asked where he bought this lovely puff of dough, and he said that he had made them that morning. I sat astounded that this French man whom I barely knew had baked this delectable dose of air for me on our first date.
I would soon learn that making gougères wasn’t quite as hard as dating a French man on foreign soil. Gougères use a dough called pâte à choux, which is like the dough used for a cream puff or an éclair—giving it a light, doughy, eggy texture—but then you add some of your favorite cheese, perhaps Comté or Gruyère, and mix it with a salty cheese, such as Parmesan. Pop them in the oven, and you end up with a nice substitute for dinner rolls, or a great appetizer to serve with bubbly as a start to your evening.
While Jean-Claude and I didn’t make it through a season in Paris, he did give me the gift of the gougère, and that is still with me today.
Makes about 16.
½ cup water
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes
dash of piment d’Espelette or cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup flour
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup grated Comté or Gruyère cheese
1. Preheat the oven to 400˚F.
2. Pour the water, butter, piment d’Espelette and salt into a small but heavy saucepan and bring to a boil while stirring to combine.
3. Turn the heat off but keep the pan on the burner and add all the flour at once. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until a smooth dough forms and pulls from the sides.
4. When the dough forms a ball, remove from the stove and let it rest for 3 minutes.
5. Add the eggs one at a time and quickly stir to combine.
6. Combine the cheese with the dough, reserving one tablespoon for topping the puffs before baking.
7. Line a baking sheet with parchment and drop about one tablespoon of dough every two inches to allow space for the gougères to rise. Place the remaining cheese on top of each puff.
8. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the gougères turn golden. Serve immediately or at room temperature.