Monday, December 17, 2012

White Cheddar Gougères, Apple Pulp, Bacon and Sage




Okay, this is a rambly post, unedited, and filled with a discussion of Christmas, gougères, and Michael Chabon.  Follow along:


I am one of those people.  I put my tree up the day after Thanksgiving and I would leave it up until Epiphany if I could (given that the husband has endured the tree for little over a month, I
cave to the pressure to take it down New Year's Eve Day).  I genuinely love Christmas music.  I love Holiday Parties, Holiday Cards, Holiday DecorationsGiven that I am not Christian, it does seem somewhat bizarre that I embrace this season so fully.  But I think I love the way lights shine through ornaments, the simple joy of keeping in touch with friends and family with a handwritten note, the presentation of tokens of how one feels to another person, the way the house feels warm and cozy once a seven-foot tree has taken up valuable real estate, and the feast of rich foods with family around a crowded table.



I know that this season gets hectic for people (me included!), what with the parties, the ice skating, the dinners, the turns around the carousel, the obligations, the shopping for those aforementioned tokens.  This year, I have been taking good care of myself--lots of yoga, lots of lounging--and I have been trying to keep the hectic sense to a minimum.  Even if there is as much to do, I have been trying to do just that one thing.  I am not always successful, but it's an attempt at least.

So Thursday night, we had book club, and I made these gougères.  I love gougères:  I love their kitschy quality--come on, people, I made cheese puffs!--but I also just love the way they look and taste.  The light dough is called pâte à choux, a method of making dough that contains only flour, water, butter, and eggs, a spin around a stovetop pot, and a half an hour in the oven.  The dough rises because of the high moisture content; the steam makes these fantastic caverns into which one can easily stuff cream (profiteroles!) or, as in this case, apples, bacon, and sage.


I made some adjustments to the recipe.  If you want to see the original, click on the Food Network Magazine link below.  I think this recipe needs a little more work.  I used a smoky bacon, and I think that was the wrong choice.  Go with the prosciutto as in the original recipe or with a not-so-smoky bacon.  However, the original recipe was a little unhelpful in terms of amounts.  I had six gargantuan honey crisp apples, and I ended up using only four.  The "one bunch" of sage was also misleading, so I chopped up some sage and put it in the apple mixture, which was great.


I do think that with some more modifications, these could be fantastic appetizers at any family holiday gathering.  While the peeling and coring of the apples is the most time consuming part of the recipe, it is also oddly satisfying.  You can't rush it.  You have to just be peeling and coring apples.  I like that.  






Finally, a word about book club.  We read Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon.  It was a lovely gathering of readers, but the book was not to my taste.  In fact, Michael Chabon is not to my taste.  Let me digress for a moment:  In late November, in The New York Times Book Review, Jess Row wrote about Sherman Alexie's new collection Blasphemy; in her review, she claimed that "Alexie’s gifts have hardened and become reflexive over time. Alexie began writing in an era dominated by the dirty realists — the unholy trinity of Raymond Carver, Tobias Wolff and Richard Ford — and his work shares with theirs a certain bluntness and rawness, an aversion to sensory description, nuance or context, and an overriding interest in (some might say obsession with) male solitude as a fount of life lessons. There’s a tendency in Alexie’s work to condense experience and biography into two- or three-sentence packages...The effect of all this workmanlike prose is a desire to skim for the funny parts, which show up with great regularity, two or three to a page, like jokes in a sitcom script."


This particular part of the review actually made me want to read the collection.  Row is right; Alexie did come of age among these "dirty realists" and as such, his style is distinctively of a moment.  In fact, Alexie's blunt voice and his summation sentence-packages are some of the things I love most about his writing.  One comes to Alexie's work expecting them, even if they are, as Row suggests, "hardened and ... reflexive." 

That's how I feel about Chabon.  I cannot fault him for his overworked prose chock full of effluvient similes and metaphors that need authorial intrusion to explain them.  That's his style.  Some love his "completionist" prose (a term coined by the father-in-law during the discussion, and I liked that!) that feels the need to detail every bit of minutiae.  And Chabon is not alone in this--Franzen (whom I do love), Pynchon, Eggers join him --and this kind of writing seems to be of the moment now.  However, it is not the writing I long to read.


However, we did have a nice little spread of pita chips, hummus, tapenade, cheese, crackers, pork and leek dumplings, and these little gougères.  There was much joy, as one member revealed her growing belly (a girl!  in May!) and another had to miss because she is in the throes of wedding planning, and much, much laughter regarding, of all things, rocks and sticks as appropriate holiday presents.  I enjoy these Thursday nights once every six weeks or so, and I am looking forward to February's foray into Wolf Hall, a book I have already read and already know that I love.   

In the mean time, I have the holiday season to enjoy, and a gougères recipe to perfect.  One thing at a time.


 

One Year Ago: Braised Duck with Red Wine and Prunes

Two Years Ago: Parsnip Galette with Greens
-------------
White Cheddar Gougères, Apple Pulp, Bacon and Sage
Adapted from  Food Network Magazine


Yield:
35 to 40 gougeres

Ingredients:  

For the gougeres: 
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
1 cup grated sharp white cheddar

For the filling and toppings:  

4-6 honey crisp apples
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
Pinch of ground cloves
1 tablespoon orange blossom water 
Juice of 1 lemon

2 slices bacon

 1/4 cup chopped sage
Olive oil for topping 
Salt and Pepper

Instructions:

1.  To prepare the gougères: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. 

2.  In a large saucepan, combine the butter, salt and 1 cup water. Stir over high heat until the butter melts completely, then remove the pan from the heat and add all the flour at once. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until smooth, then transfer to a large bowl.


3.  Use an electric mixer on medium speed to add the eggs one at a time, ensuring each egg is fully incorporated before adding the next. Stir in the grated cheese.


4.  Transfer the dough to a pastry bag, or use 2 wet spoons to drop neat 1-tablespoon mounds onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing them about 1 inch apart. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden and crisp. When done, turn off the oven and let the gougères dry out in the oven with the door ajar to keep them nice and crisp.


5.   To make apple filling: Peel the apples and discard the core; cut into 1/2-inch dice. Melt the butter in a large saute pan over high heat. When foaming, add the spices. They will toast instantly and become fragrant; add the apples and saute for 3 to 4 minutes, until browned. Add 2 tablespoons water, the orange blossom, water and lemon juice. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the liquid is reduced and the apples are tender. Set aside to cool slightly. 


6.  Set a clean saute pan over medium heat. Crisp the bacon. Drain on paper towels. Tear into small pieces when cool.  Add the bacon and the sage to the apple mixture


7.   To assemble: carefully tear off the top third of each gougère and spoon in some apple filling.  Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and black pepper.





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