When I was in my early twenties, I went backpacking around Europe for six months. With all of my worldly possessions on my back (let me tell you, those clothes went in the garbage as soon as I arrived home), a Eurail pass, and a penchant for adventure, I set off to explore the continent. Each morning I would wake up, open up my train schedule and say, "Where should I go today?" I had the opportunity to visit some fascinating places across ten countries. And while I was awed by the intricate architecture, the historic art, and the ancient ruins, the people and the food of each region are what make me yearn to return.
You can't talk about European cuisine without mentioning France. France is to food like what Laurel is to Hardy, what Eiffel is to towers, what Brad is to Angelina...sorry about that last one. It is the home to Bérnaise and Hollandaise sauces, the Le Cordon Bleu Institute, and some of the world's most revered chefs. However, there is one word that gets my salivary glands working like none other: Boulangerie.
France's neighborhood boulangeries, or bakeries, seem to grace every block. France does boulangeries like Manhattan does nail salons. Seriously, if I had a dollar for every nail salon in Manhattan...well, I would have enough money to buy my own boulangerie. When you walk inside these delightful little bakeries, prepare to experience pastry overload. How do you possibly choose between croissants, pain au chocolat, and profiteroles? I felt as though someone was asking me to choose between my children. Okay, I didn't have children at the time, but you get my meaning. Many French pastries are made from a classic choux pastry. Think light, airy, and heavenly and you'll have the right idea. One such pastry is the gougère, or the cheese puff.
Gougères are incredibly versatile. They can be made using a variety of cheese, or filled with ingredients, such as mushrooms or ham. Paired with a glass of wine, they are the perfect hors d'oeuvres. The basic recipe I used came from Alice Water's cookbook, The Art of Simple Food. However, I took a departure from her classic recipe by substituting the Gruyère cheese with Gorgonzola cheese and fresh sage. The result? Quite simply - they were amazing!
>In medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat ½ cup water, 3 tablespoons butter (cut into small pieces), and ½ teaspoon salt. Do not boil the mixture.
Once the butter melts, stir in ½ cup flour.
Stir quickly until the mixture binds together. Continue to stir for another minute, while the pot sits on the heat.
Transfer the mixture to a bowl and let the mixture cool slightly. Stir in 2 eggs, one at a time. Ensure that the first egg is fully combined into the mixture before adding the second egg.
Add 1 teaspoon finely minced fresh sage...
...and ¼ cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese. Stir to combine.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Now, I decided to be a little fancy here. I have all sorts of cake decorating supplies and piped the dough onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. If you choose to do this, use a ½-inch plain tip or just use a coupler. You can just as easily spoon the dough onto the parchment paper. Each gougère should be 1 to 2 inches in diameter, and they should be spaced 1 ½ inches apart.
Bake, without opening the door, for 10 minutes and then lower the temperature to 375 degrees F for another 15 minutes, or until the gougère are golden brown and crisp on the outside. Pierce each gougère with a small, sharp knife to release the steam, which will stop them from becoming soft. Serve immediately.
If the gougère lose their crispness, reheat them in a 375 degree F oven for 3 minutes.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. You can either spoon or pipe the dough onto the parchment paper. If you decide to pipe it, use a ½-inch plain tip or just use a coupler. Each gougère should be 1 to 2 inches in diameter, and they should be spaced 1 ½ inches apart.