With all the news swirling around – from ParisTurkeyRussiaSyria, to the political gauntlet for our next President, and the fact that we had not one, but two mass killings yesterday (just another day in the news in the gun-hugging USA), the question I turn over in my mind is whether we're raising the next generation in a culture of fear.
The way I see it, there are two components to fear: 1) something we're afraid might happen in the future, and 2) our response to it right now today. That response can be skillful, or not so much (the latter is what we usually see in the news). But it doesn't have to be tied to a world or national event.
We catastrophize going to the Dentist out of fear of future pain and don't go for checkups for decades, until someday we find we have tooth decay, and end up with gaps in our bite.
We tell ourselves the plane could crash, so we don't go to the wedding of someone close to us, or we go and are so focused on our near hysteria that we don't enjoy the event.
We tell ourselves we'll fail at a secret dream we have, convinced we'll fail because of something someone said 20 years ago, and we don't even try.
Or, and yes we're finally talking food now, we can tell ourselves we can't bake, and could never make gougère, the savory, cheesy French choux pastry. But you would be wrong. It takes courage to look closely at your fears and your responses to them, but when it comes to gougère, you've come to the right place. I've got your back. I should warn you, these are a little different, what with the jalapeño popper angle, but let's dig in. We may not solve the world's problems, but at least we can comfort ourselves with a plateful of these babies while we watch the news.
And you can cross one fear off your list.
Choux pastry puffs up with heat, leaving a hollow center – think profiteroles and the French doughnuts, beignets. There's no yeast nor chemical leaveners to produce that lift — just water, butter, flour, and eggs. The lift depends instead on the high moisture content of the pastry dough to create enough steam to puff up into round balls. A thorough mixing of all the wet ingredients into the dry is crucial.
Have everything measured out and sitting by the cooking area before starting. Ditto for all the cooking equipment you will need. The following steps must happen quickly once the water and melted butter comes to a boil.
In the first step of melting the butter in the water, make sure the liquid comes to a full boil before removing it from the heat to add the flour. An occasional bubbling simmer isn't enough to bring the flour, when added, into the consistency of dough that you need.
Dump the flour in all at once, don't be timid, and start stirring right away to bring it into a dough as quickly as possible. The eggs must be added only one at a time, and each egg must be completely incorporated before adding the next. Getting the dough as smooth as possible through extra beating is what helps ensure a round, even puffing of the choux dough.
Note: Traditional gougère uses Gruyere cheese instead of the cheddar and cream cheese path I took for the jalapeño popper twist.
Make-Ahead Tip: Pipe the choux onto a baking sheet and freeze. Once frozen, just put them all in a large ziplock baggie. When you're ready to bake them off, bake from a frozen state — just add 1 to 2 minutes to the baking time.
Jalapeño Poppers Gougere
- Preheat the oven to 425˚F, and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Pre-measure all ingredients, and pull out a bowl and set up a mixer if you want to use that to mix in the eggs. I often just beat them in with a wooden spoon, but a mixer is definitely easier.
- In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter in the water with the salt. Increase the heat once the butter is melted and bring the liquid to a full boil. Don't quit at a simmer.
- Remove the pan from the heat and dump in the flour all at once, beating vigorously with a wooden spoon until the mixture comes together into a mass of dough that rolls around the bottom of the pan. Continue for another minute until it's very smooth, and a light crust begins to form on the bottom of the pan.
- Transfer the dough to a bowl. Thoroughly whisk in the eggs one at a time with a wooden spoon and a lot of elbow grease, or with a mixer. The dough should be very smooth once all eggs are incorporated. Thoroughly beat in the Dijon, dry mustard, cheeses (except the 2 Tbsp grated cheddar for the topping), and black pepper. Get the dough as smooth as you can - it helps ensure a round, even puff during baking. Taste and adjust seasoning with additional salt and pepper if desired.
- Using 1 Tablespoon dough for each gougère by either dropping them on a baking sheet from a tablespoon or by piping them. I prefer to pipe them by spooning the choux dough into a ziplock baggie, scraping the dough to the bottom and off to one side towards one of the corners using the back edge of a chef's knife, and snipping off a corner. Don't make too big a snip - it's easier to make it bigger than smaller, obvi.
- Once they're all piped, round off any pointed tops with your finger. To keep the dough from sticking to your finger, first lightly dip your finger in olive oil.
- Rest a jalapeño slice on each gougére, and top with a pinch of grated cheddar.
- Bake for 10 minutes, and rotate the pan from bottom to top and from front to back. Bake for another 8 minutes, or until puffed and golden brown. Some chefs recommend piercing each puff with a small knife after the first 10 minutes, but I haven't found that it makes any difference.
- Remove the puffs from the oven, keep on the baking sheet for one minute, and move to a cooling tray. Serve warm!