Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Cheese Puffs and Potato Gratin

I wrote about good winter cheeses a couple months ago, and I was going to post this article immediately after that, but unfortunately I forgot. Well, the weather is still cold, so today I would like to introduce a couple very simple and tasty warm dishes using those delicious cheeses.
Cheese Puff - Gougères are small, bite-sized puffs (just like the shape of cream puffs, but using cheeses instead of pastry cream). They are easy to make and you can create your own Gougères with a single kind of cheese or two or three (e.g., mozzarella, Cheddar, etc.) and add minced chives, parsley, even chopped ham, to create your own. Serve with a "casual" sparkling wine (French Crémante, Italian Prosecco, or Spanish Cava), or a light-bodied still white wine (Pinot Gris/Grigio, Gewürztraminer if using chili powder, or Chenin Blanc).

Gratin Dauphinois is a popular potato gratin served at almost every bistro and home in France (see the origin of the name Dauphin here). The basic ingredients are just potato, cream and cheese. You may substitute milk instead of cream, or omit cream/milk all together and use some butter if you prefer. They may also be spiced up with something you like. Whatever you do, it's tough to flub this, and the irresistible smell will fill up the entire room before you even taste it.

Cheese Puffs - Gougères
Makes about 20 Gourères

1/2 cup (125ml) water
4 tablespoons (55g) butter, salted or unsalted, cut into cubes
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (75g) flour
2 large eggs   
1 cup (about 3 ounces or 85g) grated Comté or Gruyere cheese
2-3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese for topping (optional)
1/4 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
1 pinch of freshly-grated nutmeg or chili powder (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 375 F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a medium saucepan, combine the water, butter and salt until the butter is melted. Add the flour all at once and stir it vigorously with a wooden spoon until the mixture pulls away from the sides into a smooth ball. Remove from heat and let rest a couple minutes.
2. Add the eggs, one at a time, stirring quickly and mixing thoroughly between each one. The batter will first look lumpy, but after a couple minutes it will smooth out.
3. Add about 3/4 of the grated cheeses, and stir until well-mixed. Mix in the pepper and nutmeg if using them.
4. Transfer the dough into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch round tip, and pipe the dough into mounds (you may use a small ice cream scoop instead), evenly-spaced apart about 2-inches, making each about the size of a cherry tomato.
5. Top each puff with a bit of the remaining cheeses and Parmesan cheese.
7. Bake for 20-22 minutes or until puffed and golden brown. Serve warm, or let cool and reheat in 350 F oven until warm  -- about a few minutes.

Gratin Dauphinois (French Potato Gratin)
One shallow, 6-cup (1.5 qt) gratin dish

1 clove of garlic
2 pounds baking potatoes, such as russet, peeled and very thinly sliced
1 cup (about 3 oz) freshly grated Comté or Gruyère cheese
1 cup heavy cream
freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.

2. Thoroughly rub a gratin dish with the garlic. Layer half of potatoes in the dish. Sprinkle with half of cheese and then half of cream. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add another layer, using the rest of the cheese and cream. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

3. Bake, uncovered, until the gratin is crisp and golden on the top, about 40-45 minutes.

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