Puff the Magic Cheese Pastry: How to Make Gougeres

This delicacy can both tempt our palates and teach us something about eternity.

Dan Peretz

The afternoons grow longer and it is light outside until the children’s bedtime. Dinner is eaten slowly, as the last rays of sun glint off the pots and pans hanging on the kitchen wall, refracting onto the ceiling and cabinets in an array of hues. This is the bewitching hour.

At the table, the kids fix their eyes on me and ask for one more story about how things used to be for our family, long ago. I tell them about how it was, in our town in Poland, what we ate, what Grandma looked like when she was young, and even sing a little tune in halting and broken Yiddish. Really, Dad? We once lived in Poland? How old was I? The eldest girl gazes at me in awe. You weren’t actually born yet, and neither was I, I tell her, but maybe Grandpa already knew somehow that one day you’d run around barefoot in our yard here, and that’s why he went to such lengths to cross mountains and forests and sail over stormy seas to bring us here.

My little boy uses the word “yesterday” to refer to everything that has already happened and “tomorrow” to everything that has yet to happen. Dad, tomorrow will I be a soldier too? he asks, and it clutches at my heart. No, not tomorrow, and maybe not ever, I lie. By the time you grow up, there will be peace. Those stories happened a long time ago and now we’re free and no one can hurt us anymore. My son smiles and relaxes. Ah, that was yesterday, he says with a sigh of relief. Yes, my son, just yesterday.

Talking about how life used to be, I don’t yet tell my children about how that life was cut down. They’re too young to understand. I tell them about life itself, about how we lived there for a thousand years and now we live here. I serve them round foods so they will feel with their mouths that there is really no beginning and no end, and that in every place, in every time, a father sits with his young children and tells them nostalgically about the past, with hope for the future yet to come, and feels a wistful pang in his heart.

Gougères

The gougère, or cheese puff, is a traditional appetizer from the Burgundy region of France. It is made from pate au choux dough, but most of the sugar is replaced with hard cheese that is grated right into it. Before baking, more cheese is scattered on top. Serve warm or at room temperature along with sweet summer fruit or slices of fresh goat cheese.

The dough may also be baked into small rolls and afterward filled with cream cheese mixed with olives, or labaneh mixed with diced peaches. When I make gougères at home, most of these delicious, airy rolls never make it all the way from the oven to the table, but are gobbled up right away.

Ingredients:

1 cup water

1 tbsp powdered sugar

200 gr butter, plus a little more for greasing the baking pan

3/4 cup (100 gr) grated Gruyere or Comte cheese

1 level tbsp salt

2 cups (280 gr) white flour

8 eggs

50 gr grated Gruyere or Comte cheese for topping

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees Celsius.

Place the water, powdered sugar and butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat until the butter melts. Add the cheese and salt and stir with a wooden spoon until the cheese melts. Turn off heat and add the flour all at once. Mix vigorously with a wooden spoon until the dough holds together and comes away from the sides of the pot. Now heat the dough for about a minute, until it smooths out and thickens a little. Remove the dough from the heat and let it cool to room temperature.

Beat the eggs in a bowl and gradually add them to the cooled dough, while stirring, until they are absorbed and the dough becomes very thick and smooth. Line a baking sheet with baking paper and grease with butter. Using a spoon or pastry bag, place circles of dough on the baking sheet (the recipe will yield four circles, but just two will cover each baking sheet). Sprinkle the extra grated cheese on top and bake for about 20 minutes, until the dough rises and turns golden brown.

Remove from the oven, let cool a bit and serve as is or with an added filling, accompanied by a glass of chilled Sauvignon Blanc. Another option is to place heaping spoonfuls of the dough on the baking sheet and then serve the gougères with fresh goat cheese, slices of fatty sausage or thin slices of summer fruit on top.

Gougères variations:

• Place a spoonful of thick, fresh yogurt on top, together with sliced peaches or nectarines.

• Slice in half and make a sandwich with thin slices of prosciutto and blue cheese.

• Top with lightly salted sardines, sour cream and chopped dill.

• Serve with a hot pepper sauce and pickled lemons on the side.