If you ever attend a wine tasting in Burgundy, you will likely be offered a plate of these golden cheese puffs to cleanse your palate and line your stomach between two sips. Gougères have a certain air of elegance and old world sophistication, but they are in fact quite easy to make, and it’s a joy to watch them through the oven door, as they puff up and suffuse the kitchen with intoxicating cheese smells. Their thin crust gives way to a soft, pulpy heart, and this texture makes them quite addictive—consider yourself warned.
The classic version calls for cheese as the only flavoring, but I like to use cumin in mine: this compliments the fruitiness of the cheese remarkably well and adds a welcome piquancy. Serve with an apéritif drink, or use the same batter to make large gougères (about 3 inches in diameter) and serves as a first course, with a salad.
1.Measure all the ingredients before you start. Combine the butter, salt, and one cup water in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Remove from heat, add the flour all at once, and stir quickly with a wooden spoon until well blended. Return the pan to medium low heat and keep stirring until the mixture forms a ball and pulls away from the sides of the pan.
2. Let cool for 3 minutes. Add the eggs one by one, stirring well between each addition, until incorporated. (What you have just made is a pâte à choux.) Sprinkle with cumin and pepper and fold in the cheese. The batter will be thick. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes, or up to a day.
3. Preheat the oven to 400° F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove the batter from the fridge, and use two teaspoons to shape small balls of batter (about 1 inch in diameter) that you will plop onto the baking sheet, leaving an inch of space between each. If you have to work in batches, cover the batter and return it to the fridge.
4. Bake for 20 minutes, until puffy and golden – however much you want to peek inside, do not open the oven door during the first 10 minutes of baking, or the gougères will not rise well. Turn off the oven, open the oven door just a crack, and leave the gougères in for another 5 minutes. (This helps prevent an abrupt temperature change, which could cause the gougères to deflate and nobody wants that.) Transfer to a cooling rack for 5 minutes and serve warm, or let cool and serve at room temperature.
Note: You can freeze the gougères for up to a month and reheat them (no thawing necessary) in a 350° F oven for 8 minutes. They won’t be as moist as freshly baked ones, but they are very convenient to have on hand for unexpected guests.
Variations: Replace the cumin with caraway seeds, rosemary, or paprika, or omit the spices all together.
Chilling time: 30 minutes