Parmesan-cheddar-thyme gougeres

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From Michael Nagrant (with much help from Thomas Keller)

[Says Michael: “After calling the French Laundry for three days and enduring endless busy signals (it was like I was trying to secure tickets to Pearl Jam in 1994 via Ticketmaster), I finally got through and secured a reservation two months from that call.  If you can believe it, two months later, the Laundry messed up. 

‘Well, not really.  Blame it on some long reveling folks overstaying their welcome through the beginning of the second seating, but we were left waiting for a table on the night of our res.  The Laundry isn’t McDonald’s and so they sat us at the bar and plied us with glasses of champagne and little snacks including my first experience with gougeres, aka hot savory cream puffs usually infused with gruyere, to compensate us for our “trouble”. 

“Maybe it was the bubbly talkin’, but the pungent cheese perfume and the salty pastry was a heady combo that I never forgot.  Though I have as much pastry acumen as a garden gnome, these are really easy to make, and I’ve been making them ever since according to this modified Thomas Keller recipe.”]
 
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
¾ cup grated aged cheddar
½ cup grated parm-reggiano
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
Freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with silicone baking matsor 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 (spray paddle with non-stick spray if you have it to avoid sticking) 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 Cheddar and Parm mix, teaspoon of fresh thyme 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. If you don’t have a pastry bag, because other than say Jacques Torres, who does? Just use a plastic Ziplock and cut the tip off one corner.     Pipe the batter into 1-tablespoon mounds on the baking sheets (use a butter knife to cut the batter off from the bag), 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 18-22 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.

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