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Gougères with cumin

gougeres plated

This is a favorite recipe around here. We especially love it as a special appetizer or snack, like for Oscar night or New Year’s Eve. These little guys go very well with a glass or two of bubbly. But lately we’ve been making a batch of these to have as a light dinner, served alongside a big green salad.

Gougères are basically like little soufflés or cheese puffs. I first had them when I was teaching English in France. The principal of the school where I was working invited me over for a Sunday lunch and his wife served champagne and gougères before the main meal. They were absolutely delicious.

gougeres ingredients

I thought they would be difficult to make, but they aren’t! There are just a few tricks to remember: measure out all your ingredients beforehand and do not (!!) open the oven door for the 20 minutes of baking time. Once you’ve got those two tricks down, they are pretty easy to make. Make some the next time you’re feeling like something fancy and French!

gougeres from oven

Gougères with cumin
From Chocolate and Zucchini

6 tablespoons butter (salted or unsalted; if you have salted, use a scant ½ teaspoon salt)
½ teaspoon salt (or just a bit less if using salted butter)
1 cup flour
4 eggs
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 ½ cups freshly grated Gruyère cheese (you can also use a good-quality Swiss)
Method:

1. Measure out all your ingredients. Have everything ready to go.

2. Combine butter, salt, and 1 cup water in a medium saucepan. I use a 3-quart saucepan and there is plenty of room; a 2-quart pan would probably also work. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Then, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the flour all at once. Use a wooden spoon and stir the flour quickly until everything is well combined. Then, return the pan to the heat and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture has formed into a ball and pulls away from the sides of the pan. (When I return the pan to the heat after mixing in the flour, it usually only takes 1-2 more minutes of cooking before it’s pulling away from the sides of the pan).

3. Take the pan off of the heat and let it cool for 3 minutes. I always time this exactly, so that’s what I recommend. Then, add the eggs one at a time, stirring very well after each addition. At first it might seem like the egg isn’t blending in, but don’t worry, they do! Just keep stirring!

Sidenote: I once made a double batch of this recipe for my family at Christmas, which meant I had 8 eggs to incorporate one at a time. It took me forever and my arm was killing me!

4. Once the eggs are stirred in, then add the cumin seeds and black pepper. Give the mixture a stir to incorporate those. Then, fold in the grated cheese. You will have a very thick batter at this point! Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. It can stay in the fridge for longer than 30 minutes, too. In fact, I’ve made the batter up to 48 hours in advance and it worked out just fine.

5. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove the batter from the fridge. Using two small spoons, scoop the batter into small balls (about 1 inch across) and place on the baking sheet. They need a little room between them, but not much. Keep any remaining batter in the fridge for a later batch.

6. Bake the gougères in the oven for 20 minutes. I always time this exactly. Whatever you do, DO NOT open the oven door while they are baking! This will cause them not to rise properly. If you have an oven window, you can peek on them through that. If you don’t, wait at least 10 minutes before you open the oven door to peek. Once the 20 minutes is up, they should be puffy and golden. Turn the oven off and leave the door open just a crack for a few minutes before you take then completely out of the oven. This helps them not deflate! Although, if they do deflate, rest assured that they will still be just as tasty!

Serve warm or at room temperature. Enjoy with a favorite beverage, or serve alongside a big green salad for a light meal. Yum!

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a spring brunch :: spinach and cheese strata

Hello, readers! It has been a few weeks since the last post. I hope spring has sprung where you live. We’re still waiting on it in Chicago. I haven’t retired my winter coat yet for the season, and that is always my barometer around this time of year. I was thinking this morning that maybe, just maybe, I’ll put away the winter hats, gloves and scarves. But I don’t want to jinx it.

Figuring out what to cook is tricky this time of year, isn’t it? My neighborhood farmer’s market is still many weeks away from opening for the season, and I can’t figure out what I’m in the mood to eat.

A few weeks ago, we decided to make ourselves brunch one weekend morning. I can’t remember why we did it, but it was a great idea. Brunch at home is fun.

springtime brunch-for-two

springtime brunch-for-two

For the main dish, we made a strata. My sister introduced me to this recipe (thanks, A!). She made it for Christmas morning a few years ago and it was a big hit. I’m typically not a fan of egg dishes, but this strata isn’t too egg-y, and of course, Gruyère cheese makes everything insanely good.

It takes a bit of planning because you assemble the strata the night before. Then, you leave it in the refrigerator overnight, pressing it down with whatever you have handy. I used some cans and a bag of lentils.

pressing down the strata

pressing down the strata

All you have to do the next morning is pop it in the oven. While it’s baking, you can get the rest of the meal ready. We ate this with a green salad and some fresh fruit. It was delicious! ~Inge

spinach and cheese strata

spinach and cheese strata

Spinach and cheese strata
Adapted just a little from Cook’s Illustrated

Ingredients:

8-10 slices of baguette
3 tablespoons butter
4 shallots, minced (about ½ cup)
10-ounce package of frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
½ cup white wine
1 ½ cups shredded Gruyère cheese (or another good melting cheese)
6 eggs
1 ¾ cup milk

Method:

1. Heat 2 tablespoons of butter in a skillet and sauté shallots about 3 minutes. Add spinach and salt and pepper (to taste). Cook for about 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. Pour the wine into the same skillet and simmer until reduced, for about 2 minutes. Set aside.

2. Butter an 8-inch square baking dish with remaining tablespoon of butter. Arrange half of the bread slices in a single layer in the dish. Sprinkle half of the spinach mixture, then ½ cup of the cheese over the bread. Arrange remaining bread slices in a single layer over the cheese, then sprinkle the rest of the spinach mixture and another ½ cup of cheese evenly over the bread.

3. In a medium bowl, whisk eggs together. Then, whisk in the wine, milk, and a scant 1 teaspoon salt and pepper (to taste).

4. Pour egg mixture evenly over the bread layers. Cover the surface flush with plastic wrap and weigh down. Use whatever you have handy in your kitchen to do this (I used cans and a bag of lentils). Refrigerate the strata overnight. The original recipe indicates that you could also refrigerate it for 1 hour, but I’ve always done it overnight.

5. The next morning (or at least 1 hour later), remove dish from refrigerator and let stand at room temperature for about 20 minutes. Uncover strata and top with remaining ½ cup shredded cheese. Bake at 325 degrees for about 50-55 minutes. It’s done when the edges and center are puffed and the edges have pulled away slightly from the sides of the dish. Cool for about 5 minutes, then enjoy!