We’re going to make what?

My friend Lisa scared me right out of 2009 and into an epiphany last New Year’s Eve.

We were celebrating the holiday with her in Atlanta and she was having  family and friends over for a small party. She was assigning recipes for everyone. Her niece, Delaney, and I were expecting something like a cheese ball or crab dip for our team.

Lisa turned to us and said, “You are making the gougeres.”

Delaney, wise beyond her 14 years,  just raised her eyebrows. You don’t argue with Lisa.

I panicked. French?  Cheese puffs? That will take hours. I had no clue.  Not to mention we’d be trying a recipe for the first time for a bunch of die-hard foodies and people I had never met.

I hid my fear by taking bracing sips of coffee from a giant mug. Lisa handed us the recipe and we winged it.

And then came the epiphany. Gourgeres are basically a white sauce that you cook until it’s kind of dry. Then you beat in a bunch of eggs and cheese and bake them. Look at us, we were French sous chefs. It was great fun –  and still a little frightening – to watch the dough go through its stages. At one point it looked like it had curdled, but a few stirs later it began to take shape and we breathed a sigh of relief.

And when those hot, tender puffs of cheese and dough came out of the oven, we almost hurt ourselves eating them.

Boosted bythis first success at a purely French recipe, I actually picked up a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking at a book sale this year. I haven’t attempted anything from it yet, but I don’t think epiphanies come with expiration dates.

So go ahead and try this for your next gathering. We’ll call them cheese puffs to take the fear away. And, by the way, they don’t take hours to make. About 30 minutes and a strong arm, then 20 minutes in the oven.

Cheese Puffs

1 cup water

6 Tbsp. butter, cut into pieces

1 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. pepper

pinch of nutmeg

1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted

1 cup Gruyere or sharp chedder cheese

4 large eggs

2 eggs, beaten

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Bring the water, butter, salt, pepper and nutmeg  to a boil over medium high heat in large (1 1/2 quart) heavy bottomed saucepan.

Remove pan from heat and pour in the flour all at once. With a sturdy wooden spoon, beat the mixture just until combined. Return the pan to the burner, add the cheese and continue beating until mixture starts leaving the sides of the pan and a film coats the bottom of the pan. This stuff will be thick, so it’s great to have a partner to share stirring duty.

Transfer the dough to a large mixing bowl and let cool 3-4 minutes. Make a well in the middle of the dough. Add one egg and mix thoroughly. Repeat, adding each of the remaining three eggs, one at a time. It will take longer to mix in the last two eggs. The finished dough will be shiny and stiff. Drop gougeres by teaspoon on a greased baking sheet. Brush tops with egg wash. Don’t let the egg wash touch the pan because it will trap the dough as it cooks and prevent rising.

Place the pans in the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 and bake 10 minutes more until puffs are brown.

Best served fresh from the oven. If they will sit a while, use a cake tester or toothpick to poke a hole in each puff to let interior steam out.









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