[RECIPE] We Fancy Cheese Puffs | Playing the Temperature Game for Perfect Choux Pastry in Gougères

Wednesday’s Rancher Appreciation Supper (tickets and menu here) at Harry’s Pizzeria® is about more than meats the eye.  The occasion is a celebration of delicious product from a source we trust and can stand behind, a commitment that Michael is making long term for our neighborhood American pizzeria as it grows.  Beef and pork raised right, tastes right.  But what happens behind the scenes to make it all happen for the dinner on the culinary end orchestrates resources and talent across our group, from menu development to execution.

This morning we visited our commissary kitchen where much of the heavy lifting for prep happens for our restaurants and special events to zero in on the process through the humble cheese puff or gougère.  A flurry of activity since 5:00 a.m. dances around not skipping a beat from one item, one hot minute, to the next, cooks methodically Sharpie-striking the day’s butcher paper prep list taped to glass racks. MJ keeps her cool “off to get [her] ass kicked” on the next thing.  Jean checks on Michael’s Genuine’s pastrami in the cabinet smoker wafting a peppery sweetness over the range where MJ begins her pâte à choux.  The key throughout the process is use of temperature and its control.

“What I love about the choux dough is it is so rustic. You have to really get in there with your hands to make something beautiful and simple,” she explains, bringing the water, milk, salt and sugar to a boil in a saucepan before adding the butter and then the flour, paddling, turning and whipping with a wooden spoon aggressively. “Instead of a raising agent like yeast or baking soda, we use a mechanical leavener — moisture from fat and the steam that escapes when heated.”

You’re looking for the “V” to form and then it’s ready to pipe.

MJ prefers her base with a little more flavor so she cuts the water with equal parts milk, adjusting the butter accordingly.  Keeping an eye on moisture content and knowing what to look for at the various stages of cooking will yield the right result.  She likes to finish cooking it by drying it as much as she can on the range.  Looking for a film to form on the bottom of the sauce pan, MJ then takes it just a tad longer over the heat.

“I’m looking for it to become dry enough to sustain the structure of the dough when I add the eggs later,” she adds.  They’ll be tempered with the help of the whiz of a gigantic paddle in the smaller (30 quart) of her two Hobart mixers and a paint job she learned back in culinary school — spreading the dough on the sides of the mixing bowl to let just the right amount of steam escape before adding the eggs so they incorporate perfectly.

“When you are trained originally in pastry you start with traditional French patisserie to learn the basics,” MJ reflects.  “I always rely on the foundation of the technique, but it’s the instinct for cues in the behavior of the technique that develop over time and serve to make a recipe really work.”

Gougères

Yields about 3 dozen

1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup whole milk
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
1 scant cup all-purpose flour
5 large eggs, at room temperature
3/4 cups gruyère, shredded
1/4 cup grated parmigiano reggiano

Pre-heat oven to 375° F.

In a saucepan over medium-high heat bring salt, sugar, milk, 1/2 cup of water and butter to a boil, mixing to combine with a wooden spoon.  When a froth begins to form, turn the heat to medium-low and add the flour.  Mix with wooden spoon continuously for 3-4 minutes or until a light film forms on the bottom. Keep stirring vigorously for another minute or two to dry the dough so it easily pulls away from the pan.  It should have a smooth, paste-like texture. Remove from the heat.  Using the wooden spoon, scoop the dough and spread on the sides of bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.  This will allow just enough heat to escape before adding the eggs to ease their tempering.  Add the eggs one by one and beat until the dough is thick and shiny, making sure that each egg is completely incorporated before adding the next.  Don’t worry if the dough looks like spaeztle as the eggs are beaten in, this is normal; the dough will come together again.  Let the dough sit for a minute, then beat in the grated cheese. You’re looking for the dough to form a stiff “V” on the paddle, then you are ready to pipe.  Using a rubber spatula, scoop dough into a pastry bag fitted with a medium round tip for better control when piping.

Line two baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper — if you are using parchment, you can pipe a small bit of dough on the corners and in the center of the sheet to use as glue for the paper.  Pipe about 1 tablespoon of dough for each gougère leaving about 2 inches between the mounds. Sprinkle each with a little parmigiano.

Slide the baking sheets into the oven and immediately turn the oven temperature down to 325 degrees F.  The initial blast of heat will activate the steam and make them rise, then lowering will dry them out without burning them.  Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the gougères are golden and puffed.  You an also pull one from the oven to test for moisture inside and continue to bake accordingly.  Serve warm, or transfer the pans to racks to cool.

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