These are not sweet. Don’t get your hopes too high.
Viens ici, mon petit chou ! No, no, not at all. Wrong story, wrong word.
I was recently admiring the lovely cream puffs made by Ivonne from Cream Puffs in Venice. Looking at this beautiful puff pastry of hers reminded me that I used to make des petits choux quite often, although more in the savoury version as my tooth is more savoury than sweet -although I would totally indulge in Chubby Hubby‘s profiteroles. Don’t they look amazing?
I used to love to make my own little choux, my gougères. Both Ivonne and Gerald from Foodite inspired and convinced me it was time to turn my attention to this lost habit. How do I know whether I can still make gougères if I don’t make them anymore? I decided it was the perfect time to test whether I had lost my hand at making those little choux!
“Mon petit chou, alors!”
This happened in my quest to make gougères.
While at Sur la Table to make a very important purchase for the gougères making, and in view of my ignorance as to how to say decorating bag and decorating tip, I asked a shop assistant the following question :
“- Excuse me, I am looking for a bag to make choux. Do you have any?”
She looked at me with big round eyes. “- Excuse me?”
Well, you see, I really said choux, with the real French accent: “choux” ([∫u])
“- Well, you know, to make choux, choux like in profiteroles“.
“- Proofiteeroll? Ah yes! A decorating bag! So you say chou like in My p’titee chou???”
“- Ah non non! Yes, enfin, well, you pronounce the word the same way, but there are two different things!!! ”
A bit of history about the origin of the word chou(x).
Extract from The Penguin Companion to Food.
The term is of long standing. A street cry in the 16th century was “Choux, petits choux, tout chauds.” Cotgrave (1611) in his French-English dictionary gave the term as “tichous” and translated this as “Little cakes mades of egges and flower (sic), with a little butter (and sometimes cheese among) eaten ordinarily with sugar and Rosewater”. The author of the Thrésor de santé (1607) regarded cheese, and cheese of a certain kind not just any cheese, as obligatory rather than optional.
My gougères discovery
Like many young students willing to get good pocket money quickly, I did les vendanges in early fall for a few years. When I was about 20, I drove to the Champagne area close to my native Lorraine and worked at the René Jolly vineyard to pick grapes to make champagne. Anyone who has done this kind of adventure can speak about this type of work. It is hard, as it requires a lot of physical back strength but in the end, it is totally rewarding (yes, yes ,you drink champagne often, so this is a real good plan, pickers and tasters!) Imagine a room full of slap happy people at night, exhausted after a day in the fields, eating ferociously the meal prepared for them. Like in many of those places, les vendanges usually last for 2 full weeks (in my case it was 10 days), without a break, and you usually stay on the vineyard with full board, because of course, the grapes do not wait, and you need to be there to take good care of them ! Typical of me, while there, I started wandering around in the kitchen and soon enough, was hired to help as the cook assistant. The owner realized I had a strong interest in food, and since they needed help in the kitchen to feed all those famished mouths, I was appointed. No more back pain!
This vineyard is family owned like many, de père en fils, and I became very quickly a good friend of the grand-mother’s. She loved to tell me about her cooking tricks and recipes, and I just loved to listen to her. Amongst her secrets, there was a recipe for gougères, which she passed to me before I left on my way back to Lorraine, with my pockets full of hardly earned pocket money (ok, I confess, it was easier to be in the kitchen, especially when you are tall like me).
Gougères are made following the same steps for the preparation of little choux. Instead of the sweet flavour though, you have savoury since the sugar added to choux is replaced by cheese, and any other flavor you like. Some gougères have ham, smoked salmon, fresh goat cheese or blue cheese, nuts and seeds. You can totally be creative. It is the base that stays pretty much the same, any additions will vary according to your preferences. The dough is created by combining butter, water and salt first, then by adding the flour at once, then the eggs. The consistency of the pastry is sticky, like a thick paste.
I am suggesting here a series with basil/parsley and fennel seeds. You usually serve them as part of the apéritif, before a meal as an appetizer. They are typical of the food eaten during wine-tasting events and are usually known as amuse-bouche.
So please, “amusez votre bouche” (Please your mouth!)
- 4 eggs + 1 extra egg yolk
- 125 g flour
- 65 g butter
- 250 ml water (1 cup)
- Pinch of salt
- Fennel or cumin seeds
- 100 g cheese (I used pecorino here but you can use gruyère, comté, gouda or cheddar)
- 1 tbsp fresh basil or parsley
- Place the butter, salt and water in a pot and after the butter is melted, bring to a boil.
- When this is done, keep your pot on the heat and add the flour at once, stirring quickly with a wooden spoon. The dough should be very elastic and detach from the pot.
- Away from heat, add the first 2 eggs at once and mix very quickly, then add the last 2, one after the other. The dough should be sticky, pastelike.
- Chop the herbs and grate the cheese.
- Separate your dough batch in 2 halves and add half of the cheese and fennel seeds to one, the herbs and cheese to the other.
- Preheat your oven at 400 F (200 C)
- With 2 small teaspoons, place small amounts of dough on an oiled baking sheet, making sure you keep them sufficiently apart as your choux will rise (or use your decorating bag for more original shapes).
- Brush some egg yolk on each choux.
- Place in oven to bake for about 25 mns, or until golden. Half way through the completion of the baking time, open your oven a little. This way, your gougères will remain airy and light adn will not fall (which could happen).
- Take out and serve immediately or keep for later uses. Those gougères are a good idea to cook in advance and freeze, for times when you have spontaneous guests.
I was pleased to see that I had not lost my hand at making them.