The first time I tried gougères—a French puff pastry made with cheese —was while visiting a friend who’s an expert at whipping up baked goods with whatever’s in his pantry. I could smell onion and toasted Gruyère as I walked through the door and knew something delicious was taking place in his kitchen. As I love anything with cheese, it took a lot of will power not to eat all of the delicate, bite-sized puffs.
It was several years later before I tried to make gougères (pronounced goo-j’air, with a soft j). The first attempt was not good. They were too dense and had the texture of biscuits. Gougères should have an airy, delicate texture similar to éclairs and profiteroles because they’re made of pâte à choux, a light pastry dough that has a high moisture content.
Choux pastry is surprisingly simple to make. The main ingredients are eggs, water, milk, butter and flour. The best thing is that it doesn’t require yeast. The high moisture content in the batter causes it to steam during cooking, which creates the puff effect.
I’m not sure what went wrong in my first gougères attempt. They definitely did not have that puff effect. I had lost the recipe David gave me and couldn’t reach him so I used a different one. When I compared recipes online, I noticed a lot of variation in the ingredients, which wasn’t helpful. Some recipes required four eggs while others required six. Milk varied from 2 tablespoons to 1 cup.
So for my second attempt, I chose a gougères recipe from one of France’s top Michelin-starred chefs, Alain Ducasse. His recipe is rated #1 in Google search and got excellent reviews.
Before starting, I set out all my ingredients on the counter to make sure I wouldn’t forget anything, as I always forget something. I also included 2 tablespoons of finely chopped chives, which is not part of recipe.
The first step requires heating the water, butter, milk and salt over the stovetop. Then you stir in the flour with a wooden spoon until a smooth mixture forms. You continue stirring until the dough dries out and pulls away from the pan. This is where it gets tricky. If you’re not paying attention, you can burn the batter. But if you take it off too soon, it may not reach the right consistency.
Next, I added the dough to a Kenwood stand mixer bowl and blended the eggs with the mixture. This time I made sure each egg was fully incorporated before adding the next.
When the batter was ready, I cut a one-inch hole in a plastic pastry bag and piped the dough onto the bakesheets. Each gougère requires a tablespoon of dough. Making gougères look pretty is no easy task. It took a bit of practice to get consistently shaped circles. I piped some bigger ones because, what the hell, think big!
The moment of truth:
The second attempt yielded much better results. The gougères were golden brown on the outside, yet had an airy texture associated with choux pastry. However, they should have been puffier…a lot puffier. Then I realized I forgot the water. There’s always something! Wouldn’t it be nice to have a top-rated chef to call on for advice…, like Alain Ducasse?
- Use parchment paper with steel or aluminum pans for better release.
- Make sure to fully incorporate each egg before adding the next.
- Try different cheeses like feta and Emmental, or even cream cheese and smoked salmon.
- Serve warm with a pot of strong French roast coffee.
- Gougères can be stored in the freezer after they have cooled.
Have you tried making gougères or a dessert with choux pastry? What was your experience? Do you have a favorite restaurant that serves a puff pastry dessert you can’t live without?