[Aaah if I only knew how to make... – Cayenne pepper and parmesan cheese puffs]

gougeres - cheese puffs

Honestly, I don’t know many cooks who don’t mind when they fail in the kitchen. But somehow, I think that every single person has une bête noire – something they don’t succeed in every time when cooking.
Well, I might just assume this because I have my own anathema. Indeed, it seems I can never find the right balance of texture for a number of batters. It tends to always be on the too-runny side; always!
When I whip egg whites, I get so panicked by the thought of a grainy mass (indicating that the egg whites have been overwhipped), that I just stop too early. And although, I am fully aware of this fact, it remains exactly the same, time after time. As you can imagine, this is a huge problem when making meringues, pavlova, tiramisu or macarons. Luckily, after a quick stay in an egg-whites rehab – otherwise known as Cloud-like Paradise -, I managed to overcome my fears and whipped up egg whites to perfection.
Still, the problem wasn’t solved as the pâte à choux-dilemma was still is the way. And to tell the truth, I had no intention whatsoever to beat that phobia. Having tried and failed in the past, I just decided that choux were simply not for me; I would say to people: ‘Oh you know, we don’t get along very well, that’s life’.

gougeres before baking

However, when I received a copy of Leçon de cuisine about pâte à choux, I took it as a sign, and decided to make some gougères.
Gougères are a classique in the French cook’s repertoire (seems I was/am the only person not to be able to make them – I was jinxed at my birth, I tell you). They are small savoury choux; usually flavoured with gruyère.

Do you have any bête noire in your kitchen? Please, say yes so I don’t feel lonely ;)

gougeres

Gougères au piment de Cayenne et au parmesan
Inspired by Sébastien Serveau’s Leçon de cuisine – pâte à choux

These chilli pepper and parmesan gougères make for a somewhat original nibble and are delicious served with Champagne.
I did twist the recipe a little; first, I preheated my oven to 200°C instead of the suggested 150°C (never seen choux pastry baked at such a low temperature), then I incorporated some parmesan into the dough to give more flavour and added some Cayenne pepper flakes to give a spicy kick.
The end-result was more than satisfactory with the fifty puffs disappearing in less than five minutes (only four people involved there ;))

While I can’t say that I totally master the pâte à choux process, I am proud to have faced this fear. Well, as you can see, the choux are rather flat and not very puffy – maybe I should try using only water next time (although I heard Pierre Hermé saying that it’s the combination of milk and water that gives the best results) as I’ve seen some beautiful choux there and the recipe doesn’t call for milk. Any advice?

Gougères au piment de Cayenne et au parmesan

makes approx. 50

125ml milk
125ml water
125g butter, diced
pinch of salt
140g flour
4 eggs (each weigh approx. 60g)
50g parmesan, grated
1/8 tsp Cayenne pepper (adjust to your own taste)

Preheat the oven to 200°C and line two baking sheets with parchment (do not use a silicon mat as the dough would spread during baking).
Put the milk, water, butter and salt in a pan, and slowly bring to the boil. When fully boiling, take of the heat and add the flour in one go. Mix with a wooden spoon until smooth, put back on the stove (medium/high heat) and mix for one minute.
Transfer to a bowl and beat in three of the eggs, one at a time. Then in a small bowl, beat the remaining egg and incorporate it to the dough spoonfuls at a time until the dough is thick enough to hold its shape but soft enough to be piped. Add 40g of parmesan and the Cayenne pepper and mix well.
Put the dough into a piping bag fitted with a 10mm nozzle and pipe 3cm rounds onto the prepared baking sheets; then sprinkle the remaining parmesan over the piped mounds.
Bake for 15 minutes, then readuce the temperature to 180°C and bake for a further 10 minutes. Turn off the oven, stick a wooden spoon between the oven and its door and leave for another 10 minutes.