A crunchy exterior giving way to the lightest, most delicate pillows of cheesy indulgence, gougères make fabulous little nibbles/canapés. They are lovely just as they come, ideally served warm, but they are wonderful filled with all manner of goodies (see below).
Gougères are essentially savoury choux pastry into which cheese has been added and are very simple and quick to make!
Gougères can be flavoured just with cheese: a mature cheddar is ideal, but other cheeses with clout work well. A rich blue cheese is another particular flavour of mine.
I have given links to sweet choux pastry at the bottom of this post.
A moveable feast
You can also add extra goodies to the mixture to ring the changes.
Favourite of mine include:
- chopped nuts
- finely chopped spring onions
- caramelised garlic
The gougères are terrific filled and warmed up (so the filling acts as an instance sauce). For filling they can be sliced horizonally and then generously dollop your filling of choice on top.
Alternatively, for a surprise as people bite into the them, make a large enough hole on the base and pipe the filling generously into the choux balls from underneath. This works best with a smooth filling/purée.
Some of my favourite filled gougères include:
Goats’ cheese & walnut gougères:
A very simple mixture of goats’ cheese, crushed walnuts, finely chopped pears and seasoning gets spooned into the split (and cooled) pastry choux: the juicy crunch of the pear works well with the flavour of the cheese. Blue cheese also works excellently here.
You could also add just a little chopped pear and a few crushed walnuts into the pastry mixture before piping it out, but don’t over-do it as you don’t want to risk the choux not rising as they should.
This has to be my favourite filling: fresh white crab meat mixed with either mayonnaise (home-made and with a little crushed garlic makes a world of difference) or cream cheese. You need just enough mayonnaise or cream cheese to bind the crab meat.
A pinch of cayenne, a generous squeeze of lemon and salt and pepper finish this off. A little chopped red chilli also works well with the crab.
I cannot begin to tell you how amazing these crab choux are when slightly warmed up, as the filling takes on a more intense savoury-sauce flavour. Seriously wonderful!
Recipe: basic savoury choux pastry (makes about 50 small gougères)
- 65ml water
- 55ml full-fat milk
- 50g butter, unsalted, cut into cubes
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- very generous pinch of cayenne pepper, optional
- 75g strong plain flour (strong plain gives a crisp, firmer pastry than standard plain flour)
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature: they do not need to be beaten
- 1 heaped teaspoon Dijon or grain mustard
- 60g grated cheese such as Cheddar, Gouda, Parmesan, Gruyère
- egg-wash (beaten egg yolk with a splash of milk)
(1) Preheat the oven to 190C (fan) and line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.
(2) Heat the water, milk, butter, salt in a saucepan gently until the butter is melted. Turn up the heat and bring to the boil.
(3) Once the water has come to the boil add the flour and mix well until the mixture pulls away from the sides into a smooth ball. Turn down the heat and keep beating for another minute or two. Remove from heat and let it cool for a couple of minutes: the mixture needs to be warm but not hot.
(4) Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. It is easiest using a wooden spoon or a hand-mixer. As you beat, the mixture will come together, resulting in a smooth and glossy paste (as in picture below).
NB: the paste will look unsightly once you add each egg (slippery, almost curdled), but trust it: a few moments more beating it will all come together, at which point add the second egg and repeat.
(5) Add the cheese, mustard, cayenne and a good ginding of pepper. Mix well into the choux paste.
(6) Put the choux pastry into a piping bag fitted with a 1cm round nozzle and pipe small mounds of pastry onto the greaseproof, ensuring they are well spaced. If any nipples (!) of pastry are sticking up, gently press a wet finger over the top to flatten it. Sprinkle over the remaining cheese.
Alternatively, instead of piping you can place teaspoons of the pastry onto the greaseproof.
NB: the wet finger trick is great for smoothing off any other rough looking bits.
(7) Bake for about 20 minutes, until well risen and a deep golden brown. You will be able to smell the intoxicating aroma of cheese: quite heavenly!
(8) Transfer the baked gougères to a wire rack. You can pierce them with a skewer to let the steam escape and leave to cool
Sweet choux pastry
For sweet choux pastry (for choux buns and éclairs), omit the pepper, mustard, cheese and cayenne from the mixture and add up to a tablespoon of sugar.
Pipe or spoon larger mounds of pastry (or finger-shaped logs of pastry for éclairs) and bake for up to 25 minutes.