A pâte à choux by any other name...

Gourgere Tower Photo …is not a biscuit.

Recipe names and cooking terms, used in my training-wheels 1970’s Betty Crocker Cookbook, were simple, dump ‘n stir recipes, in plain English: Quick Bread, Yeast Bread, Spoon Bread, Muffins, Biscuits, Pancakes, Cakes and Cream Puffs…..

Wait. Now that I think about it, “cream puffs” – real ones, made from pâte à choux [pah-ta-shoo] dough – were not included in this type of cookbook because they did not fit the goal of being easily recreated AND successfully duplicated by 99.999999% of any living, breathing, human being no matter their food interest or cooking skill level.

When I was about 10 years of age, I watched Julia Child prepare a recipe which “required a béchamel foundation”. Scary! French! That’s exactly what Julia wanted to dispel, the myth that French techniques were only for those specially trained, and instead, she encouraged, “Anyone can do this….”. Watching her béchamel (bā‘shə-mĕl’) cooking demonstration, I realized that I had nothing to fear, as it was not food of the kings and royalty, but instead, peasant food for the common man, woman, child and the occasional standard poodle who lost control when one was within tongue-reach of the table edge.

Béchamel, one of the French “mère” sauces, originally four, now five “mother sauces” (espagnole, tomato and béchamel, veloute, and hollandaise ) was the first sauce my mother taught me when I was 7 years of age, telling me, “it is no more difficult than boiling water.”

To their credit, even the basic dump-‘n-stir cookbooks always include a basic “white sauce” recipe, without which, “Chipped Beef on Toast” or “Macaroni & Cheese” would not be possible.

Béchamel is foundational to creating other gourmet delights, easily turned into a fabulous roux, key to Cajun magic, or, through the addition of egg yolks – voila! pâte à choux – resulting in mouth-watering, delicate pastries – éclairs, cream puffs, profiteroles and gougères [goo-zhair].

Julia Child and James Beard, pioneers and leaders in the movement dedicated to returning cooking back to where it belongs – to the home kitchen – paved the way for today’s teaching chefs featured on PBS and Food TV. Their instruction fills a need for many women (80% of those who do the cooking at home are female) who didn’t grow up learning to cook nutrient-dense, whole-foods from their mothers and grandmothers.

Yet, I wonder, if there isn’t a bit of “professional chef” snobbery in some of the more modern-day teaching chef’s “wisdom”, given Emeril and Alton Brown rating pâte à choux, “Difficult” or requiring “Intermediate” skills, an opinion I don’t share.

Looking at recent comments on Brown’s pâte à choux , rated as difficult, I loved this one:

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Good for her! Interesting how this person had expectations that “difficult” meant “might not turn out”, but she still tried! Perhaps, it is safer for a chef to give the illusion that a recipe is more “difficult” as a way to protect their reputation. “You were warned. I told you it was ‘difficult’.”

For another perspective, Emeril’s viewers seem to be struggling with his dairy-based blue-cheese gougères, a twist on a recipe that is usually water-based.

One of Emeril’s loyal viewer’s enthusiastically votes 5-stars…..

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…while, things aren’t looking very good on the other end of the rating spectrum….

They didn’t really have a big blue cheese flavor like I had hoped. My husband and I each ate one and the rest went in the trash. They weren’t even all that great as far as just plain biscuits go. (1-star rating)

“Biscuits”?

This must be said that I do think that someone who would equate pâte à choux to that of a “biscuit” is lacking some appreciation for major differences between foods, both of which have their place. It would be like complaining about a piece of San Francisco sourdough bread versus a popover.

A biscuit would never be a substitute for a blue-cheese gougères, served with a quality wine as a light appetizer, nor would a gougères be an appropriate substitute on which to serve homemade hash, eggs and robust cheese sauce.

This is a wonderful recipe. If you don’t like blue cheese, use another. If they come out flat, eat them anyway. If you are interrupted, and forget to beat in each egg yolk individually, instead, dumping them all in, get on with it, beating them in to the best of your ability (wooden spoons only!), and bake them anyway. Take notes of what happens. And you never know – you could very well make every slip-up in the world, and still pull a pan of lovely, delicate, flavorful, delicacies out of your oven that your family will enjoy, maybe even more than than any old biscuit.

Baked Gourgere Photo

Blue Cheese (Or Any Other Cheese) Gougeres

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon Essence, recipe follows
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour (or hard winter white if grinding yourself)
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/4 pound blue cheese, or other creamy blue cheese (or your favorite aged big-flavor cheese – Manchego, cheddar, Gruyere, Emmantaller, Parmesan, Asiago, etc.

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or Silpat 11×16 baking sheet
    .
  3. In a large saucepan, combine the milk, butter, salt, black pepper, and Essence over medium-high heat.
  4. Bring to a boil, then remove from the heat.
  5. Add the flour, and stir constantly with a large wooden spoon to incorporate, about 1 minute.
  6. Return to medium-high heat and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute.
  7. Remove from the heat and add the eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.
  8. Add the cheese and beat until mixed well and a slightly soft dough forms.
  9. Drop the dough by the spoonful onto the baking sheet. (Sharon Note: They will not hold their shape, appearing very “soft”.)
  10. Do NOT open the oven once they’re in: Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 350 degrees F, and bake until golden brown, about 20 to 25 minutes.
  11. Remove from the oven and pierce, once, with very sharp knife, allowing steam to escape. Serve immediately, or at room temperature.

Emeril’s ESSENCE Creole Seasoning (also referred to as Bayou Blast):

*If you are in a hurry and don’t have this blend prepared, on hand, go ahead and take a pinch of that and pinch of that, equaling 1/8 tsp for this recipe. My favorite flavors for these gougeres: paprika, salt, garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, and thyme.

  • 2 1/2 tablespoons paprika
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme

Combine all ingredients thoroughly.
Yield: 2/3 cup
Recipe from “New New Orleans Cooking”, by Emeril Lagasse and Jessie Tirsch
Published by William and Morrow, 1993.

Béchamel Sauce, Mario Batali (Difficulty: Easy; way to go, Mario!)

Pate a Choux

Gruyère Cheese Gougères

Food Timeline Sauces – read more about the five sauce mere or “mother sauces”

Pate a choux delicious, no matter how you say it