Thursday, 1 January 2009

Appetizers to Rival - Parmesan and Black Pepper Gougères and Blue Cheese, Pear and Walnut Crostini

Over your hangover yet?
The martinis of last night are just a memory now... the food, however, remains a highlight of our night. We had a whole evening of appetizers and nibblies - including these two from Recipes to Rival, Parmesan and Black Pepper Gougères and Blue Cheese, Pear and Walnut Crostini.
Now I am a bread loving girl, add cheese to the menu and I am one happy chick. I loved these recipes. I don't have much fear of pâte á choux anymore, having made eclairs a couple of times. The gougères are made with the same kind of dough, just made savoury instead of sweet. They puff up nice and hollow and would lend themselves nicely to being stuffed. Something creamy, possibly with roasted red peppers in it.... mmmmm...
Where was I? Oh yes, appetizers. The second app, the crostini, is a gift of ease and brevity. Very little work for big flavour - that's my kind of appetizer! A holy trinity of blue cheese, nuts and pear on a toasted baguette slice, spread with mascarpone, what could be better than that?
These will be a hit at your next party, and nobody will know how easy they were to make. At least, I'll never tell...

Parmesan and Black Pepper Gougères
Adapted from 'The French Laundry Cookbook' By Thomas Keller, November, 1999
Makes about 4 dozen gougères
Gougères are a classical preparation often served at wine tastings in France. The puffs are made from a savory pâte á choux, or cream puff dough-flavored here with Gruyère. They are best served hot out of the oven, offering that creamy-dough gratification.

1 cup water
7 tablespoons (3-1/2 ounces) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon kosher salt, or more to taste
Pinch of sugar
1-1/4 cups (5 ounces) all-purpose flour
4 to 5 large eggs
1-1/4 cups grated Parmesan (5 ounces)
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with Silpats or parchment paper.
In a medium saucepan, combine the water, butter, salt, and sugar and bring to a boil.
Add all the flour at once, reduce the heat to medium, and stir with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes, or until the mixture forms a ball and the excess moisture has evaporated (if the ball forms more quickly, continue to cook and stir for a full 2 minutes).
Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle and beat for about 30 seconds at medium speed to cool slightly.
Add 4 eggs and continue to mix until completely combined and the batter has a smooth, silky texture.
Stop the machine and lift up the beater to check the consistency of the batter.
The batter in the mixing bowl should form a peak with a tip that falls over.
If it is too stiff, beat in the white of the remaining egg.
Check again and, if necessary, add the yolk.
Finally, mix in 3/4 cup of the Parmesan and adjust the seasoning with salt and white pepper.
Fill a pastry bag fitted with a 3/8-inch plain pastry tip with the gougère batter.
Pipe the batter into 1-tablespoon mounds on the baking sheets, leaving about 2 inches between the gougères as the mixture will spread during baking.
Sprinkle the top of each gougère with about 1/2 teaspoon of the remaining grated cheese and bake for 7 to 8 minutes, or until they puff and hold their shape.
Reduce the heat to 350 degrees F. And bake for an additional 20 to 25 minutes.
When the gougères are done, they should be a light golden brown color.
When you break one open, it should be hollow; the inside should be cooked but still slightly moist.
Remove the pans from the oven and serve the gougères while hot.
*The original recipe calls for Gruyere and white pepper, my version makes for a sharper, saltier flavour.

Blue Cheese, Pear and Walnut Crostini

a baguette, thinly sliced about ½ inch each
olive oil
mascarpone, for spreading (optional)
any type of bleu cheese (gorgonzola, Roquefort, stilton), thinly sliced, or crumbled
freshly hulled walnuts or pecans
a few pears, peeled and sliced into small cubes

1. Brush your bread slices with olive oil, line on a baking sheet, then toast in a hot oven for a few minutes until browned and crispy. You can broil them as well, if you prefer.
2. Remove from heat and spread each toast with some mascarpone.
3. Lay bleu cheese slices, or spread some crumbles, on each toast and add walnut pieces on top. Return to a 375-400°F oven for a few minutes, just until the cheese is melted.4. When the cheese is nicely melted, take the crostinis out of the oven and top with a few cubes of pear. Serve soon after.

I ended up just tossing the pear, blue cheese and pecans together and heating them through on the crostini. The lightly cooked pear was very nice.