Extremism in defense of tastiness is no vice.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Say! I like cheese puffed with air! I do! I like to eat gougères!

I've been going cheese crazy lately.

Don't worry, though. Despite what my Seussian blather might imply, cheese madness isn't a newly discovered spongiform encephalopathy. Instead, it's what happens when a really good cheese shop opens less than a mile from your home. And rather than having one's brain ravaged by rogue, misfolding proteins--that's alcohol's job, damn it!--the major detrimental effects seem to end at spending way, way too much money on deliciousness.

Of course, one can't subsist on cheese alone, as the doctors told me when my bleary-eyed, half naked, mostly dead form was pulled from beneath a seething mound of brie scraps and pecorino romano crumbs. No, astonishing as it may seem, we must sometimes use our cheese with other ingredients.

Over the last few weeks, I've been making old favorites with newly available Wisconsin cheeses, and I've been trying to think of other classics to bring back to the table. That's why I was so excited to see the recent post on pâte à choux at Michael Ruhlman's new Elements of Cooking blog. (I haven't read the book yet, because my birthday is right around the corner. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.) Pâte à choux is the wonder dough behind beignets, éclairs, and profiteroles, and even though it's simple to make, it's also largely neglected by most home cooks, probably because it has a scary French name, as do most of its applications.

Of course, this pâte isn't only for pastry. Among its savory uses is the storied gougère, the king of the cheese poof family, and a convenient opportunity for me to use some great cheese in a not-an-everyday-thing-unless-you-happen-to-live-in-a-bistro style dish.

I used 2/3 a cup of Roth Käse's Gruyère-style Private Reserve with the standard 1 cup water, 1 cup flour, 1 cup eggs, and one stick of butter, and kept the seasoning simple with a little salt and black pepper. They turned out light and airy, but preserved the richness of the cheese. Had I not eaten a dozen, I might even have been able to claim that they were healthy. Next time I'll be a little bolder, upping the cheese content to around 3/4 of a cup, and (cringe, purists) adding some cayenne.

Ruhlman is right on. Pâte à choux is a versatile concoction that should be in every cook's repertoire.

You do not cook it.

So you say.

Try it! Try it!

And you may.

Try it and you may, I say.

If nothing else, it's an excuse to eat more cheese.

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