Thursday, January 18, 2024

La Gougère: or, The high class cheese pouf!

I've been holding onto this recipe and waiting for winter.

French Yorkshire Pudding or La Gougère Bourguignonne
4⅜ fluid ounces milk (½ cup plus 2¼ tsp)
1 oz butter (2 tbsp)
2 eggs
¾ teaspoon salt,
2½ oz flour (½ cup plus 2 tbsp)
2 eggs
1½ oz diced Gruyere or Emmenthal, divided into 1 and ½ oz
½ oz grated Gruyere or Emmenthal

Before beginning, crack one of the eggs into a small bowl. Then beat it, and set aside a small spoonful to brush onto the top.
Select a small saucepan that can handle using an electric mixer in it. (You can beat this by hand with a whisk, but if you use a mixer you'll be glad.)
Put milk, butter and salt in the saucepan. Heat slowly until butter melts and the milk boils. Toss in flour all at once. Allow to boil for a few seconds until the milk begins to bubble over the flour.
Turn off heat, insert an electric handmixer, and beat on high speed until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, beating each time until mixture is smooth. Stir in 1 oz diced cheese. Spread mixture into buttered shallow cooking dish (mine was about 5" x 7"). Brush with the reserved spoonful of beaten egg, then sprinkle on remaining diced and grated cheese.
Set aside until it gets completely cold (you can refrigerate it to speed this up).
When ready to bake, heat oven to gas mark 8, 450°F, or 230°C. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the top is a deep golden brown.
Allow to cool for a few minutes, and serve warm.
Leftovers can be placed on an uncovered pan and reheated at 350°F (180°C, or gas mark 4).

Note: You can assemble this ahead of time and put it in the refrigerator until ready to bake. If wrapped airtight, it should keep for at least a day before baking. There's no need to bring it back to room temperature. Just take it directly from the refrigerator to the oven.

Source: Fanny Cradock via Keep Calm and Fanny On

When not wrapped in blankets and looking like an ambulatory fabric bale in the house, we at A Book of Cookrye have been recreationally baking. When it was merely freezing, we lit the stove burner and made pizzelles. When the daytime temperature dipped to 12 degrees (that's -11° for our Celsius friends), it was the perfect time to bake in a ridiculously hot oven.

It turns out that this recipe is easy to shop for. There aren't a lot of ingredients, and most of them are cheese.

I first saw this recipe on a TV show about the history of TV cooking. One episode focused on Fanny Cradock and Graham Kerr (aka The Galloping Gourmet). I skipped through all the non-Fanny parts. 

Fanny Cradock got very mixed reviews when they asked other chefs to talk about her. One person said that her cooking style was outdated although "in terms of cooking she was on the money." He gave this recipe a special mention and said he still makes it. This was immediately followed by a demonstration. 

For some reason, they didn't give any ingredient amounts or oven temperatures, but I found the directions on the utterly delightful Keep Calm and Fanny On. At first I didn't read the instructions very closely and therefore didn't know what I was getting into. It turns out that we're basically making choux paste with cheese. I was not daunted by choux paste. If you watch Fanny Cradock make it, choux paste is so easy you wonder why people reserve it for fancy foods.

As aforesaid, I didn't closely examine the recipe when I first decided to make it. It turns out that whatever a gougère is, we're not making very much of it. The beginning of our recipe barely covered the bottom of the smallest pot in the kitchen.

Although choux paste is easy to make, you want to have everything measured and ready before you start. With some things, it's no bother to pause every so often and measure out the next ingredient. But with choux paste, you need everything ready to dump into the pot when its time comes. Perhaps I was a bit excessive to pre-crack my eggs into individual bowls, but that's because I always end up fishing out eggshell fragments. (Also, sometimes I am a bit too excited about having a dishwasher to put all those tiny bowls into.)

Fanny Cradock's original instructions were to toss in the flour all at once and "beat violently." I could have gotten out a whisk, but I was taking full advantage of the power grid's miraculous avoidance of another Texas-sized failure. Even though the trees were crackling with frost and the power could go out at any minute, I let our electric handmixer beat the flour violently for me. 


This could be the mixer that broke Texas.

In short order, we were ready to add the first egg. As soon as our mixer resumed its assault on the Texas power grid, the choux paste entered what Fanny Cradock gracelessly calls "the globule stage."

If you've never made choux paste, I can easily imagine how you might think you failed when it looks like this. But if you keep beating it really hard (or grinding away with the electric mixer), eventually the globules give way to a smooth paste.

Then you add the second egg and it goes back to globules again. But after a long and stubborn beating (or about thirty seconds with an electric mixer), you have what almost looks like somewhat elastic mashed potatoes. Our choux paste was ready to receive the cheese.

Because I didn't know what pan size we would need, I waited until we had our choux paste before getting one out. It turned out that the smallest pan in the kitchen was just a smidge too big. But after lightly spritzing cooking spray onto the top of our cheesy choux, we gently persuaded it to reach the edges of the pan. It later occurred to me that this would probably be really good baked in a (well-greased!) cupcake pan. (Because the oven is hot enough to ignite paper, I would either use foil cupcake liners or none at all.)

In less-than-freezing circumstances, I would have felt singularly stupid to run the oven to 450° (230° for our Celsius friends) for something so small. However, I did not feel compelled to halt production of our cheese pouf as the weather got colder by the minute.

I had been debating what to do about the egg wash that we are directed to put on top. I didn't want to crack open another egg for this and waste most of it (or put the rest of it back in the refrigerator and try not to forget to use it later). But my extravagant use of tiny bowls solved my egg-use problem. Since I did an accidentally terrible job of cracking one of them and broke the yolk, I simply did a deliberately bad job of pouring the egg into our batter. The remaining egg residue was exactly enough for brushing purposes.

As a side note, between our recent pizzelle phase and the increased application of various egg washes, the single brush in the kitchen drawer has been used a lot more in the last month than its entire previous year of existence. It's already falling apart. I sometimes have to remove bristles from food before baking, and a few have stayed hidden long enough to get cooked. If I'm feeling extravagant, I may get one of those silicone brushes that you can can drop into the dishwasher.

Molting brushes aside, our cheese pouf was ready to bake in a very short time. The instructions don't mention cooling our still-warm choux paste before baking, but I watched the the Fanny Cradock episode about petits fours in which she went into a long rant about how it's absolutely essential to get your choux paste completely cold before you cook it. She says it's "the most important point, the really VITAL point" in making choux paste. 

I can also say from experience that if you don't let choux paste get all the way to room temperature (if not colder), it doesn't cook right but instead stays gooey in the middle no matter what you do. I'm going to assume that when Fanny Cradock gave the recipe, she had already introduced us to choux paste in an earlier episode. Therefore, anyone following Fanny Cradock's program (you were following the program and not picking recipes willy-nilly, right?) would know that the choux paste should cool before baking.

I should have waited to heat up the oven until the choux paste had gone completely cold. Even after putting it in the coldest part of the refrigerator, it needed 10 minutes before the last of the warmth had gone out. I felt kind of bad about running an empty oven at 450° for so long, but given the cold I didn't turn it off.

Eventually, we put our cheesy choux into the oven, wondering if it would rise at all. It looked so puny in the pan. But before it was halfway done baking, it almost looked like I'd crammed a tiny chicken into a small dish.

I wasn't prepared for our cheesy pouf to look so good. You'd think I spent hours on it instead of a minute or two with an electric mixer. That beautiful deep golden crust, the gooey puddles of cheese on top, the almost unnatural height to which it rose... I couldn't believe I made this myself.

I know that the underside of bread is rarely worth noting, but look at that beautiful golden dough interspersed with shiny pieces of toasted-brown cheese. It's like a mosaic of deliciousness.

Our entire gougère had risen to an impressive height despite the nearly cracker-thin state of the dough before baking. I really wanted to see what happened under that massive off-center mountain that rose out of the pan. It turns out, the entire thing lifted off from the bottom of the pan and made a bread-tent.

We tasted this and.... it's cheesy bread. It's the best cheesy bread I've ever had. Don't be distracted by the fancy-sounding French name, it's cheesy bread and it's also really easy to make. With that said, I want to branch out with future cheese selections. Some quick internet searching tells me that gruyère is the customary cheese (or as food snobs say, "the classic preparation"), but I want to try this with provolone or really sharp Cheddar.

After my cheese stupor wore off, I had a grim suspicion that as amazing as this was right out of the oven, it turns into a gummy sad mess as soon as it gets cold. But some poking around on the internet said that you can just put it back into the oven and reheat it. I was suspicious of that. Most of the time, when you reheat bread in the oven, it gets dried out and hardened- and no one wants that unless they're making toast. 

But emboldened by the freezing heat and telling myself that I wasn't just making up excuses to stand in front of a hot oven, I unceremoniously threw the last leftover piece of cheese pouf into the oven the next night. Our fancy French bread looked tragically undignified sitting on the baking stone that occasionally makes pita bread but mostly gets used for frozen pizzas.

To my surprise, the cheese pouf reheated really well. I won't say that it was exactly the same as when it was fresh, but it was respectably close. It didn't dry out like I feared (though it was a bit crunchier than the first time). Also, I have to note that since you reheat this at 350° (or 180°C), you can easily put something else in the oven alongside the leftover cheesy bread.

Since you need to make this early enough for the dough to completely (and I do mean completely) cool off before baking, a cheesy choux pouf is a really good choice if you have friends coming over. You can get it ready to bake at your convenience, completely clean away the mess at a leisurely pace, and let the cheesy delight wait in the refrigerator. Instead of cooking when your friends are here, you can simply put pop this into the oven and make sure you can hear the timer from wherever you are. Or, you can make this for yourself and whoever is lucky enough to wander into the kitchen when the cheese smell drifts to them.


  1. It was -12 here. I baked pumpkin cinnamon rolls for a friend, then a roast. I think that there was a little overlap in the baking time, but mostly I just wanted an excuse to run the oven for a while.
    The cheese pouf looks fantastically yummy! You'll have to make it again, and I'm not even there to eat it.

    1. I've done the same thing. And to think that in a few months, I'll be cramming dinner and dessert into the oven just so it's on as little as possible!

    2. And we're definitely making it again. Even the "I don't like toasty brown things on my bread" person in the house snarfed it down.

  2. Gruyere is so good, and I wish it wasn't so expensive! One of my favorite foods in the world is a toasted ham and Gruyere sandwich, but man, such pricey cheese. :(

    1. Yeah, I don't know if I technically got Gruyere or Emmenthal. It was just a brick with "Swiss" on the label. But yeah, ham and cheese is just... well, like ham and cheese!