Petite Parmesan Gougeres

by Caterina Borg, Good Food Gourmet on May 29, 2012

During the course of my culinary career, I have had the great fortune of studying and working with some of the giants in the food industry.

In the 1990’s, there were only a handful of really high end hotels in Baltimore City and the Peabody Court Hotel was one of them. The swanky restaurant on the penthouse level was called the Conservatory, and it served up beautiful food to celebrities and other notables who were visiting the area.

In 1993, the hotel was sold to a new group called CapStar who was interested in replacing the Conservatory with a new restaurant concept. The most important requirement was that the replacement had to be an equally high caliber and high profile restaurant. The decision was made to replace the Conservatory with one of Chef Michel Richard’s Citronelle Restaurants. His Bethesda location had been open for a few years and had begun to garner widespread appeal and notoriety in the area, especially with the recent release of his first book.

During the planning phase of the restaurant, Chef Richard decided to bring on Executive Chef Karim Lakhani to run the kitchen. Chef Lakhani was a colleague and a good friend. The duo were also associated with other well known Chefs of that time, most notably  Jean Louis Palladin, another friend and colleague who worked together with both of them at the famed Watergate Hotel.

At the time, I was working with Russell LaGreca at the private Center Club in Baltimore and was looking for a new place to move on to. I contacted Chef Lakhani and got the job as the Pastry Chef of the new Citronelle Restaurant.

Desserts were easy…

On a daily basis, I replicated recipes that were created by Chef Richard. One of the recipes we used often for savory pastries was his recipe for gougere with grated gruyere cheese…it was a tasty recipe but also very temperamental and one that I wanted to improve. He used a combo of milk and water for the liquid and after the addition of the cheese, the dough was just too rich and heavy and didn’t puff up as expected. 

If you’ve never had them before, gougere puffs are seriously delicious. The are made of a savory choux (pronounced shoo) pastry dough and traditionally served as an appetizer. They may include chopped herbs like chives or different types of grated cheese in the batter that is then piped out using a pastry bag. Many times they are served warm right out of the oven and other times the shells are cooled and filled with just about anything you can think of. Choux pastry dough is the same type of dough that is made into éclairs or cream puffs, but without the cheese of course. In France, they are commonly served at wine tastings throughout the Burgundy region.

Over the years, I created my own version which I find is easier to manipulate, especially if you like to play around with different types of cheese. The addition of creamier types of cheese will require you to make an adjustment in the amount of butter…always remember that if the dough is too heavy in fat content, it will not rise and create that lovely hollow pocket inside that is typical of these puffed shells.

This is a very versatile base that can be made into a product that is uniquely yours. You can add any combination of flavorful cheese or an assortment of herbs depending on how they will be served. I prefer to use a flavorful cheese like parmesan with a low fat content and if you choose to use something creamier like gruyere, remember that you may  need to adjust the amount of butter. In these cases, begin modestly…reduce the butter by 1 tablespoon and then go from there… or do yourself a favor and simply add the grated cheese to the piped out batter before baking.

Parmesan Gougere (makes about 27-30 pieces)

1 cup water (8 oz)

7 tablespoons salted butter (1 stick minus 1 tablespoon, will need to be adjusted if you use creamier cheese)

¼ teaspoon salt

1 level tablespoon granulated sugar

1/8 teaspoon white pepper or cayenne

1 cup plus 1 heaping tablespoon flour (6 oz)

4 large eggs (7.2-7.5oz)

¾ cup finely grated parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon dry mustard**optional

Or use finely chopped fresh or dried herbs of your choice

Add water, butter, sugar and salt to a medium sized pot and allow butter to melt over moderate heat. DO NOT boil this or it will change the amount of water in the recipe.

Once all of the butter has melted add the flour all at once and stir well until it comes together in a ball.

Cook this for about 5 minutes to get as much liquid out of the dough as possible so that it takes all of the eggs…especially since the eggs are the only leavening used. Once the dough comes together add it to the bowl of your stand mixer, and using a paddle attachment, beat the dough on low speed until it has cooled.

Once it has cooled, add the eggs one by one until all have been incorporated. Lastly, add all of the grated parmesan cheese and fold in. Add the batter to a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip and pipe out 1” round shells. You should get about 27-30 pieces.

Once you have piped out the shells, you can add more cheese on top if you like before baking.

Then bake in a 375-400°F preheated oven for approximately 12-15 minutes until puffed and golden brown. DO NOT open the oven while baking, it may deflate the puffs. I put a range for temperatures because many ovens may run on the hot side and cook the exterior but the interior will remain raw…so use these temperatures as guidelines. I generally find the temps over 400°F tend to be too hot, unless the batter is very thin. Otherwise, the final product does not benefit from using a higher temperature.

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