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Gougères and Champagne for New Year's Eve


The perfect cheesy nibbles to serve at New Year's Eve parties large and small

Modern life means there’s nonstop activity between Halloween and the end of the year. I also have a birthday squished between Christmas and New Year’s Day. This means there is a whole lot of celebrating in a short period of time and honestly, by the time New Year’s Eve rolls around, I am pretty much over it. More than anything, I want than to stay at home on New Year’s Eve. No packed parties, no festive gatherings, no dressing up, cleaning up, or going out. All I want is a quiet evening at home in front of a toasty, roaring fire.

However, I still make it a celebration! We have a tradition of making a fancy dinner for just the two of us, something a bit more elaborate than normal. We’ll certainly pop open a bottle of bubbly or maybe try some of these cocktails. The main course for this year is still TBD, but some delightful nibbles that are guaranteed to be on our menu are gougères.

Gougères are a classic Burgundian treat commonly served with apéritifs at parties, bistros and wine bars. Most often known here in the U.S. as cheese puffs, they are made from a dough called pâte à choux or choux paste. This dough is a kitchen workhorse. It’s used sweet dishes like rich, creamy chocolate drenched profiteroles, light-as-air éclairs, and towering croquembouche, as well as savory dishes like gnocchi Parisienne, a French hybrid dumpling-slash-noodle, and this delectable cheese puff.  
Before you click away to another page, assuming pâte à choux is hard simply because it’s French, know that this dough is one of the easiest things to make in the French pasty kitchen. It’s simply a matter of bringing water and butter to a boil, adding flour to make a dough, letting it cool for a just a moment, then beat in a few eggs. C’est facile! For gougères, grated cheese is added to the mixture; this is traditionally Gruyère, Comté, or Emmentaler, but other semi-hard cheeses, such as cheddar or gouda, can be used as well. (Softer, wet cheeses can be used if you'd like, but keep in mind the fact that the gougères won’t puff quite as much.)

An additional note of encouragement: When making the choux pastry, it is important to be sure that each egg is fully incorporated into the batter before adding the next. Don't panic when you are adding the eggs and the dough starts to look curdled and awful. Just keep stirring and it will come together. Lastly, these can be made ahead and freeze beautifully. Once baked, remove them to a rack to cool completely and then freeze in an airtight container. To reheat, pop them in a 350-degree oven until warm and crisp, which takes about 5 to 7 minutes.

Bon Appétit, Y’all! Happy New Year!
– Virginia Willis
Classic Gougères
Note: You can increase the recipe, but do not double it, as it does not multiply well. To make 30 to 35 gougères, adjust the ingredient amounts as follows: 1 1/4 cups flour, 1 cup water, 3/4 teaspoon salt, 6 1/2 tablespoons butter, 6 large eggs (5 for the dough and 1 for the wash), and 1 cup cheese.

Makes: 2 cups of dough for 32 small or 16 large gougères
Hands-on time: 45 minutes
Total time: About 2 hours

5 large eggs, at room temperature
3/4 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
3/4 cup water
1/3 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup grated Gruyère cheese (about 2 1/2 ounces)

Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.

In a small bowl, whisk 1 of the eggs in a small bowl with 1/4 teaspoon salt until well-combined.

In a medium saucepan, bring the water, butter and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of the salt to a boil over high heat.
Immediately remove the pan from the heat, add the flour all at once, and beat vigorously with a wooden spoon until the mixture is smooth and pulls away from the sides of the pan to form a ball, 30 to 60 seconds. (This mixture is called the panade.)
Return the pot to low heat and continue to beat for an additional 30 to 60 seconds to dry the mixture. Remove from the heat.

With a wooden spoon, beat the remaining 4 eggs into the dough, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. (It will come together, I promise.) Continue to beat until the dough is shiny and slides from the spoon.

Stir in the grated cheese until well-combined.
If you're using parchment paper to line the baking sheet, “glue” down the paper at this point with a few dabs of the dough at the corners. Using a spoon, scoop 16 two-tablespoon or 32 one-tablespoon mounds of dough onto the baking sheet, spacing them about 2 inches apart. Brush the puffs with the reserved egg wash.
Bake until puffed and golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. To test for doneness, remove one puff from the baking sheet and let it cool for 45 to 60 seconds. If it remains crisp and doesn’t deflate, it is done. If not, return it to the oven and continue baking 5 to 10 minutes more. Remove to a rack to cool. Let the puffs cool slightly on the sheet, then transfer to a cooling rack. Repeat with the remaining dough. 

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Author image

Georgia-born, French-trained chef and food writer Virginia Willis has made cookies with Dwanye “The Rock” Johnson, catered a bowling party for Jane Fonda, foraged for herbs in the Alps, and harvested capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily — but it all started in her grandmother’s country kitchen. Her legion of fans loves her knack for giving classic French cooking a down-home feel and re-imagining Southern recipes en Français. Virginia's newest cookbook, "Secrets of the Southern Table," is currently available for here. Her previous book, "Lighten Up, Y’all: Classic Southern Recipes Made Healthy and Wholesome," received a 2016 James Beard Foundation Award of Excellence. Learn more about Virginia and follow her culinary exploits at VirginiaWillis.com.