This year, I made many a cup of properly spicy and milky chai. I shared the secret to indulgent, old-school cheese grits, made a vanilla bean panna cotta for Valentine’s Day, posted a guest recipe for addictive, homemade sriracha, and wrote about that beloved Indian restaurant staple: saag paneer.
Jill & I drank our fair share of champagne cocktails, fell in love with an eggplant salad, and joyfully welcomed baby Shiv into our lives. My mom retired, sold the house I grew up in, and moved to a new house less than two miles away from ours.
It’s been a YEAR, friends. Jill & I plan to celebrate it with some homemade pasta and a trip to the movies while Shiv hangs out with his grandmother. On New Year’s Day, we’ll offer the little man his first taste of solid food—sweet potatoes from our dear friends’ garden.
If you’ve got festivities lined up to ring in 2013, allow me to humbly suggest you bring some of these gougères to the party. Light, addictive, and just a little bit fancy, these bites of cheese-filled pastry are easy to make ahead and reheat when you’re ready to serve them (alongside glasses of champagne, of course!)
Recipe from Alain Ducasse as published in Food & Wine, October 2003
To make gougères, you first make pâte à choux, or choux pastry, which is the same pastry dough used to make éclairs, profiteroles, and beignets, among other French desserts.
Pâte à choux is cooked twice—first in a saucepan as you make the dough, and a second time in the oven (or fryer, in the case of beignets), where the large amount of moisture in the dough creates steam that makes the pastry rise.
Though pâte à choux sounds fancy and intimidating, it isn’t really, I promise. The main thing is to make sure you have your mise en place
—ingredients at the ready—and then it’s as simple as following directions and feeling impressed with yourself when the gougères come out of the oven.
½ cup water
½ cup milk
4 oz. unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
large pinch of salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup shredded Gruyère, plus a few pinches more for sprinkling
freshly ground pepper
freshly grated nutmeg
pan: baking sheets lined with parchment
To make the pastry, combine the water, milk, butter, and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the flour and stir with a wooden spoon until a smooth dough forms; turn the heat down to low and continue to stir until the dough pulls away from the pan and looks dry.
Remove the pan from the heat and let it cool for 1-2 minutes. Add the eggs to the dough, one at a time, mixing vigorously and thoroughly between each one. Don’t worry if the dough appears to curdle and separate at first! Keep stirring and it will come together. Once all of the eggs have been added, stir in the cheese and a few generous grinds of pepper and a pinch of grated nutmeg.
Spoon the dough into a pastry bag fitted with a ½-inch round tip (or, if you’re me, into a large Ziploc bag with a small piece cut off of the corner). Piping in a spiral shape, make tablespoon-size rounds on the baking sheets, leaving about an inch of room between each one. Sprinkle with extra cheese and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until puffed and light brown. Serve immediately.
If you are making the gougères ahead, let them cool completely and then refrigerate or freeze them in an airtight container or bag. Reheat in a 350° oven until nice and hot.
We talk a lot about magic this time of year but sometimes forget that this magic is not a given. It’s created.
My awesome and amazing friend Courtney, who came to visit us this week from Oregon, likes to remind me that perfectionism is a tool of the oppressor. To this truth I will also add that comparison is the thief of joy. To go in either of those directions leaves no room for magic to show up.
I am the guiltiest of guilty on this count. I am so very prone to fret, to worry, to feel the need to plan it all out and then feel like the plan is somehow not good enough. I all-too-easily become my very own Grinch.
When my perspective feels three sizes too small, I find that the simple act of saying aloud or writing down the things that are bothering me helps. Often, once I get those things outside of my head, they lose some of their power and I am able to see them for what they are, and get myself back to myself. From there, it’s often making something with my hands, looking at or listening to something beautiful, writing a note or email or even a simple text message of appreciation to a friend that will distract me until I realize that I’m not so worried or fretful anymore and actually able to enjoy this time that can be so magical.
So whether it’s ice skating and hot chocolate, crafting and baking, taking a trip to see Santa and driving around the neighborhood looking at lights, watching goofy or bad or classic movies while planted firmly on the couch, consuming a parade of food and drink, tree trimming, carol-singing, church going, present-opening, old-photo-viewing, storytelling, or something else altogether that occupies your next few days, I hope very sincerely that they are joyful and bright, and that you are able to spend them with people that you love.
From our family to yours, Merry Christmas!
The danger of blogging about cookies is that you end up…eating cookies. More cookies than you can justify with the “quality control” excuse.
But you know what? To heck with it. I ATE SOME COOKIES. SO THERE. This is what December is about, right? Cookies on the counter and potatoes in my pantry destined to become latkes next week…mmmm, latkes.
If you are feeling unabashedly gluttonous like me, or perhaps just want to bake up some homemade love in the form of butter and sugar to share with friends, family, colleagues, and the like, I’ve rounded up of all the cookie recipes I’ve ever posted on this site, plus a new one, into a list below. That’s a grand total of eighteen recipes: not too shabby, eh?
holiday cookie ideas:
–CARDAMOM SHORTBREAD COOKIES
—CHERRY PISTACHIO COOKIES
–CHEWY AMARETTI COOKIES
—CHOCOLATE-ESPRESSO MINI CAKES
—GINGER-MACADAMIA NUT COOKIES
–LEMON LIME-BASIL SHORTBREAD COOKIES
–MEYER LEMON THUMBPRINTS
–PEANUT BUTTER/ALMOND BUTTER COOKIES
–SALTED PEANUT COOKIES WITH WHITE CHOCOLATE
Next week I’ll post another round-up of homemade holiday gift ideas that don’t fall into the “cookie” category, plus a new one.
I’m fond of the baked goods posted here, of course, but also love trying new ones each year. If you have favorites or suggestions, please link to a recipe in the comments!
CHOCOLATE-DIPPED ORANGE SHORTBREAD COOKIES
adapted from this recipe by Eileen Troxel, as printed in the Minneapolis StarTribune
One of Jill’s favorite combinations is orange and dark chocolate, so this cookie is for her <3
As written, the cookie is a hybrid shortbread/thumbprint, but you can also skip the marmalade and just make orange shortbreads that are half dipped in chocolate. I love the look of them either way.
1 cup butter, at room temperature, plus a few tablespoons extra
¾ cup sugar
1 egg yolk
zest from 2 navel oranges
1 ¾ cups flour, plus extra for rolling dough
½ cup almond meal (optional—you can go with an all-flour cookie, too)
approximately ¼ cup of kumquat* or orange marmalade
6 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
equipment: baking sheets lined with parchment, wax paper
Lay the sugar out on a large cutting board. Sprinkle the orange zest on top (better yet, zest the oranges directly onto the sugar). Using a bench scraper or knife, cut the zest into the sugar, scraping and chopping to combine. This will help distribute the orange flavor into your sugar evenly.
Cream the orange sugar and the butter at medium-high speed for two minutes. Add the egg yolk and beat until combined. Turn the mixer down to low and add the flour, mixing until just incorporated.
I found this dough easier to work with after it sat in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes, but you can skip that step and go straight to rolling out the dough on a generously floured surface. Aim for a ¼” thickness and use the cookie cutter of your choice to cut rounds or shapes from the dough.
Place the cookies on the prepared baking sheets (they won’t spread, so you can set them fairly close together) and use your thumb to make an indentation in the center of each cookie. Fill with a small amount (from ¼ to ½ teaspoon) of marmalade.
Bake until the edges just begin to brown, 10-12 minutes. Cool completely on wire racks.
When you are ready to dip the cookies, melt the chocolate in either a double boiler or the microwave, then whisk in a few tablespoons of butter to achieve the desired consistency for dipping (I used 4 T).
Dip half of each cookie into the chocolate and place on wax paper to set. If your kitchen is warm or you want to speed up the setting process, slide the dipped cookies into the refrigerator for a bit.
*I had a jar of homemade kumquat marmalade on hand that I made using this recipe.