by Alexandra of Alexandra Cooks
My sister and I like to poke fun at our mother. We adore her — let me make that clear — but she’s an easy target, especially around the holidays.
Every year the files come out, spilling with notes, recipes, time charts, and a list of worries that seems to grow longer by the minute. Still, the older I get, the more I can relate to my mother’s neurosis. I find myself making grocery lists weeks in advance. I split up trips to the market, always stopping at more than one shop, never settling for what’s available if I know I can get it elsewhere. And with only one oven, I find timetables to be a necessity.
I’ve learned a lot from my mother, and I think it’s time to offer her some helpful advice. This year at my holiday party, I am serving one and only one hot hors d’oeuvre – gougères.
Light and airy, flavored with thyme and nutty Wisconsin Gruyère, these classic French bites are perfectly cheesy and delicious. Not only do they accompany wine beautifully, gougères can be prepared weeks in advance. Could there be a more perfect hors d’oeuvre for the hectic holiday season? My freezer is already stocked with dozens.
Mother, if you are reading, I think you should stock yours, too.
If you, too, find yourself stressing weeks before the holidays even begin, just know you can lighten your load by making a batch of gougères today, or tomorrow or anytime you can reserve about 25 minutes. Festive and fun, these Wisconsin are a surefire party hit. Happy Holidays!
Wisconsin Gruyère Gougères
by Alexandra of Alexandra Cooks
1/4 cup nonfat milk
3/4 cup water
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tsp kosher salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs at room temperature
1 heaping cup shredded Wisconsin Gruyère cheese
1 tsp minced fresh thyme leaves
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. (See notes below regarding freezing if you do not wish to bake all of the gougères at once.) If you are baking all of the gougères at once, position racks to divide the oven in thirds.
In saucepan, bring the milk, water, butter and salt to a rapid boil over high heat. Add the flour all at once. Reduce the heat to low and cook, beating constantly, until the batter pulls from the sides of the pan and is very stiff. This will take about 3 minutes.
When the dough comes together and a light crust forms on the bottom of the pot, stir vigorously for another minute or so until the dough is very smooth and almost shiny. Note: This is the most important step. If the batter is not thick and pulling away from the sides, it will be too loose when you start incorporating the eggs, which will be problematic, come baking time; the gougères will not puff up into perfect little rounds. (Experience.)
Turn the dough into the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Let it sit for a minute, then, with the mixer on low, begin adding the eggs one at a time, beating until each is thoroughly incorporated before adding the next egg. (The dough will appear to separate after each egg addition. When the dough comes back together, add the next egg.) Add the grated Gruyère cheese and thyme.
If you are proficient with a piping bag, transfer the batter to a pastry bag and pipe small mounds (about a tablespoon of batter) onto the prepared baking sheet, leaving roughly two inches between each mound. Otherwise, use a tablespoon to drop little dough balls onto the prepared pans. If baking all of the gougères at once, slide the baking sheets into the oven and immediately turn the temperature down to 375 degrees F. Bake for 12 minutes, then rotate the pans top-to-bottom and front-to-back. Continue baking until the gougères are firm, puffed and lightly golden, about another 12 minutes. Serve warm or move to a rack to cool.
Notes: The gougères freeze beautifully. If you wish to save the gougères for a future date, place the baking sheet (with the portioned gougères on it) in the freezer. Leave until the mounds are frozen, then transfer to an airtight container to store. The gougères can be baked straight from the freezer — though they may need 3 to 4 minutes longer in the oven.