Monday, December 8, 2008

Gruyere Cheese: The Crowning Glory Of La Gougere

Cheese--glorious cheese. What is not to like about cheese? I have no answer to that question. I adore cheese, so much so, that whether I follow a published recipe, or use an original recipe of my own, I find myself looking for ways to showcase a particular cheese.

With this in mind, I would like to share one of my favorite cheese recipes with you. La Gougere is a cheese pastry ring made with Gruyere cheese. The recipe is adapted from Elizabeth David’s book, French Provincial Cooking. The recipe in her book can be somewhat intimidating when trying it for the first time. Having prepared this incredibly delicious creation many times, I have been able to simplify the recipe, while honoring the integrity of Elizabeth David’s recipe.

Before starting, read the recipe a few times, just to get your rhythm going, then gather the ingredients and equipment needed, this will ensure that things will flow smoothly. Once you begin, this recipe comes together quickly, it only takes a few minutes. To make one 8 inch ring you will need:

1 1/4 cups whole milk
4 tbsp. butter
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1 cup flour, sifted
4 eggs
3/4 cup finely diced Gruyere cheese (3 oz.)

1 sauce pan
1 wooden spoon
1 sheet pan (or cookie sheet) lightly buttered or lined with parchment paper ( I used a silpat )

Preheat the oven to 375 F. and lightly butter the sheet pan.

In the sauce pan, heat the milk, butter, salt and pepper until the butter is melted and the mixture comes to a full boil.
Add the entire cup of flour at once, using the wooden spoon to stir briskly for a minute or two, just until the flour is combined and the mixture forms a ball of dough. Remove the sauce pan from the heat.

Add one egg and stir briskly to completely incorporate the egg (at first it will appear to be separating, just keep stirring for a few seconds and the dough will become smooth). Continue this procedure with the next three eggs, adding one egg at a time. Stir briskly to incorporate each egg before adding the next one.

After the forth egg is incorporated and the dough is smooth, stir in the diced Gruyere cheese.
Place spoonfuls of the dough on the sheet pan, creating an 8 inch ring. When you complete the first layer, use the remaining dough to build the next layer on top of the first layer, until you have created a wall. Continue creating layers until you have used all of the dough.

Brush the completed ring with milk. This will give the finished Gougere a beautiful sheen, as well as a crisp exterior.

Bake in a preheated 375 F oven for 45 minutes. Although the Gougere begins to smell cooked after 20 minutes, do not be taken in; it will have puffed up and turned golden brown, but it is not ready. You must resist, do not open the oven door for you risk collapsing the Gougere, resulting in a very delicious, but very flat pancake. Essentially what you are looking to create is a savory choux pastry, similar to that of an eclair. After 45 minutes, remove the pan from the oven and let it rest for 15 minutes.

If you were able to contain yourself, your reward will be a magnificently puffed, golden brown crown, with a crisp exterior and a light, airy interior with the wonderfully nutty flavor from the Gruyere cheese. There are many ways to serve the Gougere, the most obvious being to slice a wedge and enjoy it with a cold beer, or a glass of champagne. It is delicious served warm or at room temperature. Prefect to pass around at a cocktail party, or to bring to a pot luck party, or to give as a hostess gift.

For an incredibly luscious treat, use the Gougere in place of bread when making a chicken salad sandwich. A great way to dress up a salad is to plate the perfectly dressed greens, then crisscross two thin slices of Gougere on the top. As a first course I have sauteed mushrooms with garlic and onions then deglazed the pan with sherry,I then cut a slit into a wedge of Gougere and filled it with the warm mushroom mixture. A beautiful presentation. I have used the same technique with sauteed shellfish, julienne vegetables and pernod to create a spectacular entree. For an after meal treat, try a slice a Gougere served with fresh fruit and a glass of port. What a relaxing way to end an evening.

This may at first glance appear to be a bit daunting, it really is not. Although I like to cook, I am occasionally apprehensive about baking. Even I can easily prepare Gougere to perfection. This recipe is quite easy if you are organized from the start, and use a little elbow grease to incorporate the eggs.

After just one taste, you will be making your second Gougere immediately after you devour the first one. Then you too will be a pro.

Bon Appetit!

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