Yes, the Fourth of July is behind us. But that doesn't mean you can't find other celebratory themes to help inspire your culinary creativity. If the Fourth was all-American, then July 14, Bastille Day, is all Française.
Our "ooh-la-la" carte for eight, is designed to help us mark French Independence Day. We've tried to do it in the French mode, but "nouveau," of course, which is fitting for the season and for our American approach to things culinary.
Ever had a cream puff? Well, gougeres are actually savory cream puffs. In this case, the pastry contains the French version of Swiss cheese. And you're actually going to make them!
They're best made the day you plan to serve them, preferably warm. You can reheat them gently in a 300 degree oven, if you have made them in the morning. Relatively low humidity on party day is a big plus. But, we can't do much about the weather.
A pastry bag is a big help with the little puffs, but you can use a couple of tablespoons to scoop the dough.
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, well chilled, cut into small pieces
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups water
1 3/4 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
8 large eggs, preferably at room temperature
1 1/2 cups freshly grated imported French or Swiss Gruyere cheese, divided
Prepare 3 baking sheets: Use softened butter, sprinkle with flour and shake off excess flour.
Heat oven to 400 degrees.
In a medium saucepan, over high heat, combine butter, salt and water and bring to a boil, stirring with a wooden spoon. Quickly remove pan from heat and add flour all at once. Beat vigorously with a large wooden spoon to create a smooth dough. Reheat for 1 minute over medium heat, stirring continuously to allow dough to dry out a bit.
Quickly transfer dough to the bowl of an electric mixer. Add all of the eggs and half of the grated cheese and beat at medium speed until eggs and cheese are thoroughly incorporated into dough. Dough should still be warm. It will be the consistency of very thick mayonnaise and rather sticky.
Spoon dough into a pastry bag fitted with a 3/4-inch tip. Squeeze dough into 2 1/2- to 3-inch mounds two inches apart onto prepared baking sheets. If puffs don't fit on the two baking sheets, use a third and bake when the other two sheets are done.
Sprinkle remaining grated Gruyere on puffs. Bake until puffs are an even golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. If the two trays of puffs are not baking evenly, don't switch them on shelves; rather, wait until one tray looks done, remove it to a cooling rack, and continue baking until the second tray until done.
If need be, bake a third tray of puffs when the first two are done.
When you've removed trays from oven to cooling rack(s), use the tip of a very sharp knife to make a couple of slits in each puff, to vent some of the steam that's built up inside them (helps keep them from getting soggy).