The trick to picking the right appetizer is choosing something that’s flavorful and substantial enough to be a partner to a glass of wine, but not too filling. You do your guests (and yourself) a disservice by filling them up with rich stuff before they sit down to the real meal. I have an excellent solution: cheese pastry puffs called gougères. I learned this recipe fifteen years ago in cooking school, and it’s become one of my signature dishes. Gougères are easy, delicious, and just a little bit different.
The dough for gougères (pronounced goo-zhairz) is a cream-puff dough, called choux pastry (pronounced shoo), but here we’re making it savory instead of sweet with the addition of cheese, nuts, and a little cayenne.
The method for the dough is very forgiving and actually pretty fun. You bring butter and water to a boil, beat in some flour, and then beat in eggs. The final addition is whatever cheese and nuts you choose.
Beating in the eggs takes a bit of muscle and a stiff wooden spoon, so when I’m feeling lazy, or if I’m making a big batch, I let my stand mixer do the stirring. I just take care not to overmix, which can make the texture of the final gougères a little cardboardy.
You can use a piping bag to shape the gougères, but I prefer to use a trigger-release mini ice-cream scoop or two spoons. Just be sure to keep the puffs all the same size so they bake evenly.
Flour, butter, and water come together in a ball that needs just a few minutes of beating before adding the eggs.
The dough starts out slippery, then gets satiny. After you add an egg, beat the dough until it goes through these two stages before adding the next egg.
When just right, the dough falls from the spoon in a heavy strand, which means it will stay mounded once you spoon it onto the baking sheet.
A scoop (or two spoons) is quick, easier than using a pastry bag, and creates an appealing rustic look.
A good gougère has a deep golden color, which comes from sufficient time in the oven. An underbaked puff will be bland and will collapse too much.
The only trick to baking gougères is to be sure to bake them enough. If they come out too soon, they’ll collapse as they cool because their structure won’t have fully set. They should be nicely browned all over, and the inside should be moist with a few “webs” of dough, but they shouldn’t be too eggy.
Do-ahead tip: Make the dough a day ahead, keep it covered in the refrigerator, and then scoop and bake not more than an hour before serving so they’re really fresh. They’re still delicious when baked further ahead than that, but they tend to soften a bit. Gougères are great to serve with any kind of wine, especially Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.