My temporary abode in West Virginia has presented me with a number of firsts. I have experienced my first Chili fest, my first ‘shoot & hollar’ competition, (which is a story in itself). Then there was singing karaokee in a real karaokee bar, celebrating Rosh hashana which in turn led to my first time trying Mazo ball soup and Gefilte fish.
Then there have been the less inspiring firsts. I’ve seen how a fast food restaurant operates from product development through service. I’ve met a disturbingly large number of people who actually believe that Kraft Mac & Cheese is home-cooking and I’ve seen first-hand how rubbish the USDA’s guidelines for kids’ school lunches are. Like I said, there have been a lot of firsts for me.
Which is why for the next two weeks things might be a bit quiet around here- there are people to teach how to cook, school lunch ladies to fight with and fast food restaurants to be turned around. It’s all a part of an exciting project that I’m working on- I promise I will give details down the line, but for now I’m signed to secrecy. Anyway, now for something that’s not a first for me- gougeres, or choux-puffs as I prefer to call them.
Gougeres is one of the only French words I don’t like…I guess it reminds me too much of the word goo which in turn reminds me of what a lot of people seem to eat down here in West Virginia. There’s nothing gooey about these little golden puffs. They are crispy on the outside and comfortingly doughy on the inside. You’ll want to eat them straight from the oven before they sink and go squidgy (but even then they still taste rather good). I’ve made these before but this time I added a few spices for a little extra oomph- and I think you’ll be pleased with the result. I like to serve them with a spring onion and chive yogurt dip as a pre-dinner nibble but they are frankly bloody good in place of popcorn whilst watching a film, sandwiched with a wedge of cheese for a snack or for lunch with a salad, in place of a roll. I love a versatile recipe.
This photo was taken by my fabulous photographer friend Dan, who also photographed these. He tells me my food looks blue when I photograph it so I’m rather pleased he stepped in to show me how its done. Thanks, Dan!
Cheese & walnut choux puffs
These choux puffs freeze magnificently- just pop them in a hot oven to re-crispen for 10 minutes before serving. The basic recipe is for choux pastry, and without the spices and cheese can be used to turn into éclairs or “cream puffs”.
Makes about 35
Diet facts: half air, half doughy goodness
85g/3oz cold unsalted butter, cubed
220ml/ 7.5 fl oz water
100g/3/4 cup plain flour, sifted with salt
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cumin
pinch cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
3 eggs, beaten, plus 1 extra to glaze, beaten
55g/2 oz strong cheddar, finely grated
30g/1/3 cup finely chopped walnuts, toasted
1/ Heat the oven to 375F/190C/Gas 5. Make the choux pastry. Place the water and butter in a medium sized saucepan and let the butter slowly melt over a gentle heat before bringing up to a rolling boil.
2/ Meanwhile sift together the flour, salt, cumin, cayenne and pepper. Once the butter and water have come to a rolling boil add the flour mixture all at once and beat into the liquid over a medium heat until it forms a smooth and glistening dough. It will come together. Keep stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan for 2 minutes (this stops the mixture from tasting too floury).
3/ Remove from the pan and into a large bowl and allow to cool for 5 minutes. Add the egg in small batches (you may not need it all), beating it in each time with a wooden spoon (it will look like it has separated, but it will come back together). Add the egg so that when you pick up a spoonful of the mixture and gently tap it down, the mixture will drop into the bowl easily (“dropping consistency”). Stir in the ¾ of the cheddar and all of the walnuts.
4/ Line 2 large baking pans with wax paper or nonstick baking mats and either spoon small balls (2 teaspoons worth for each gougere) onto the sheet or use a piping bag and pipe. Glaze with the beaten egg and dot with remaining cheese. Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes or until puffed up and lightly golden. Serve plain or with crème fraiche mixed with chives and garlic.