April’s first weeks ushered in a Nashville Spring with roller-coaster gusto: sunny days swinging to sweltering 90 degrees, followed by terrific tree-felling storms, a final chilling wintry blast, and moderating now into The Ideal.
Our world has turned new-green. Crumpled masses of peonies are unfurling. Shoots of chives poke up out of barren planters. Dogwoods are in profuse bloom, their white petals glow in the gathering shadows at dusk.
My cousin calls Spring the Optimist’s Season, the one that brings her the most joy.
I have to agree. I relish the promise of the new, and its vibrant energy. And, around our household, it’s been busy-busy with many projects: Preparing garden beds for vegetable and herb planting. Recipe testing for a magazine’s fall issue. Interviewing a chef for another magazine. Writing food-inspired poetry.
In the midst of such busy-ness, it’s been tricky to find time for My Cooking. So, today, in the face of April’s optimism , I want to share something delicious and easy. Something you can make in a blink. Something that holds those simple light flavors of springtime. I promise.
Gougères are savory cream puffs, traditionally made with gruyere, a semi-hard cheese valued for its rich, nutlike flavor. But other cheeses work well into the eggy dough. Soft goat cheese, cracked black pepper, and chives combine to make tangy puffs that have creamy centers under crisp shells.
The recipe comprises a terse list of common kitchen ingredients: flour, butter, eggs, salt and pepper, along with two less common, but readily available: chevre and chives. I found some local Belle Chevre at our market, and chives from a pot on my front porch.
You can add a little lemon zest, if you like, to further scent the paste.
In about 20 minutes, you can have puffs piped onto sheetpans, and into the oven.
The trick to making good gougeres is in the stirring. You will get a good upper arm workout, in the process….
Bring your seasoned water and butter to a boil.
Dump in a cup of flour and stir with vigor. As it cooks, it will form a ball-like mass, coming away from the sides of the saucepan.
Turn off the heat. Make a well in the mass and beat in one egg–quickly. When it is incorporated, beat in the next egg. Continue until 4 eggs are beaten into the dough. It will look a little glossy.
The soft goat cheese crumbles fold and melt into the dough easily.
The dough will be soft, smooth, maleable, not at all runny. It will pipe into pretty ridged rounds on a parchment-lined sheetpan. If you don’t have a pastry bag, you can spoon little mounds instead. If you want, you can brush them with an egg wash for an extra crisp and shiny surface—but this is not essential.
In 25 minutes, they emerge, puffed and golden.
Unlike gruyere-based gougeres, which have a big hollow, the goat cheese ones have light creamy centers. Perfect bites to share with friends, toasting a spring evening, before you put some fish on the grill, some asparagus in the steamer, some fresh greens in the salad bowl…
GOAT CHEESE-CHIVE GOUGERES
1 cup Water
8 T. (one stick) Butter, cut into pieces
1/4 t. Salt
a few grindings of black pepper
1 cup All Purpose Flour
4 Eggs, plus 1 Egg
5 oz. Goat Cheese, crumbled
Fresh Chives, snipped into little pieces
Maldon Salt, for dusting over the gougeres
baking sheet pan lined with parchment
pastry bag (optional)
Preheat oven to 375º.
Place water, butter, salt, and pepper into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and dump in flour. Stir vigorously, until it is well incorporated, pulling away from the bottom and sides of the pan, and becomes a mass. Remove from heat. Using a wooden spoon, beat in eggs–One At A Time– into the flour mass. This will be a terrific upper arm workout!! Then beat in goat cheese crumbles and chives.
The pastry dough–a savory pâte à choux—will be glossy. Scoop it into a pastry bag, and pipe little mounds onto your parchment-lined sheet pan. If you don’t have a pastry bag, simply dollop small spoonfuls on to the pan.
Brush each with egg wash–1 egg beaten with some water. This step is optional.
Sprinkle chives and maldon finishing salt over the tops.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, until puffed and golden. Serve warm.
Once cooled, these can be frozen, and used whenever! Just reheat for a few minutes in a 350º oven.
Makes 30-36 tasty bite-sized puffs.