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Nicolas Sarkozy has banned cheese from the Elysée Palace? Woah.
That, my friends, is trés, trés scandalous. The French meal -such as is my experience with it- revolves around the cheese course. Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin -the French gastronome extraordinaire- is widely quoted as saying, “A dessert without cheese is like a beautiful woman who is missing an eye!” To put it in other words, France runs on cheese.
All politics aside, the man is off his nut.
In a nation so brimming with luscious and unique cheeses, how could he possibly eschew such glory? Such possibilities. Oh, Nicolas, tsk… tsk…
…Because if he has pronounced, “Pas de frommage!” he has tossed out not only cheese plates, but also a list of delights longer than my arms and legs put together: tartiflette, quiche, fondue, tartine, soufflé, and gougères, just to name a few. And it’s that last one that we’re going to talk about today because- Qu’est-ce un miracle!- gougères are perfectly suited to Make Ahead Mondays.
One day last week, my friend, Pamela, sent me the following text:
“I think you should do gougères for a Make Ahead Monday. Freezable comfort food? Yes, please.”
I know a good idea when I hear one, friends. I was on it. What could possibly be better than crispy, airy, chewy, cheesy, versatile gougères within minutes? Nothing, I tell you! Nothing could be better! (Except maybe for eating them while actually sitting -oh, say- IN FRANCE. But I digress.)
Here’s the thing… if you’ve never had a gougère or perhaps never heard of them, I should tell you why you’re going to want these so badly. It’s like a cross between a hand-held souffle but far less delicate, far less difficult to mess up, far more versatile as an accompaniment, and far more fun to say. Try it. Gougère (GOO-zhair!) vs. Soufflé (SOO-flay!) Alright. They’re both fun, but the edge goes to gougére for that fun zhhhhhhh sound in the middle. It just feels so Frahnsh to say it. N’est-ce pas?
It’s time for a little food nerd interlude. Don’t worry! It all applies to the end deliciousness…
Gougères are made from that ubiquitous French building block pâte à choux, or for ease’s sake, Choux pastry. It is a simple concoction to whip together, but somehow manages to pull off as versatile a collection as eclairs, cream puffs, gougères, Paris-Brests, croquembouches, profiteroles, and more… Holy. I’m telling you, if you master choux pastry, the culinary world is yours. A plain choux pastry, unadorned, piped onto parchment and baked can be used filled with ice cream or crab salad. As if that isn’t enough, the choux pastry itself can be dolled up, studded with all manner of sweet or savoury add-ins. Today’s choux pastry adventure is the savoury puff known as (duh) gougères but with a TWEEST. I’ve replaced the the traditional Swiss or Emmental cheese with a good, hearty American extra-sharp Cheddar (yes, I know Cheddar is originally English, but people, we make good Cheddar these days!), some of the water with a pungent Dijon mustard and tossed in a few finely minced scallions for good measure.
While choux pastry must be piped or scooped out immediately after being made, it can be frozen in that form and then transferred to zipper top bags or tightly sealed containers for up to three months before baking. That’s right. Cheesey, pouffy, scallion-studded, crisp-exteriored, crackly, golden brown, moist-in-the-center French comfort food baked straight from the freezer. Can I get an amen?
Is anyone out there wondering what to serve alongside these little beauties? (Because these do rather steal the show…) Any good brothy soup or stew would love to play second fiddle to a plate of fresh, hot gougères. Serve alongside roasts, braises, or a simple salad. Give your kids the best after-school snack of their lives. Serve with a cup of tea for a quick breakfast. But for the non plus ultra, serve with cocktails or a glass of wine: something you know that deep in his French heart, Nicolas Sarkozy desperately wants.
I’ve heard it said that nothing tastes as good as skinny feels, but I disagree violently. Skinny doesn’t taste as good as cheese. C’est vrai. C’est carrément vrai!
Pauvre Président Sarkozy, (Sad violins) we shall have to eat his share. (Insert Gallic laugh here.)
“The pleasure of the table belongs to all ages, to all conditions, to all countries, and to all eras; it mingles with all other pleasures, and remains at last to console us for their departure.”
Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin