I first discovered the magic that is Zuni Café after moving to Berkeley in 1998. Their cookbook, which came out a few years after that, has pretty much been open on my counter ever since. I always am drawn back to Judy Rodger’s food. She has an amazing talent at finding the perfect balance of flavors and textures while really honoring the seasonal ingredients. Like she says about her book, “Many recipes call for little active work and require only the skill and will to select excellent ingredients, perhaps the most useful culinary skill of all.” I couldn’t agree with that more.
One recipe in her book that I come back to over and over again is her New Years Eve Gougères. It’s become my go-to dish for any special occasion. Basically a savory, cheese-studded cream puff pastry which here are stuffed with pickled onions, bacon and arugula. There being that perfect balance….rich buttery dough and nutty gruyère cheese balanced with the smoky salty bacon, the bright, sweet tang from the onions and the bitterness of the arugula. It’s perfection. I always add an option for vegetarians where I fry shallots until they are dark and crispy and pair it with frisée dressed in sherry vinegar and olive oil. The crunchy, earthy sweet shallots give that sort of umami element that the bacon has and the vinegary bitter greens balances it all out.
This dish guarantees to impress at your next gathering. You can make the batter ahead of time and then pop them in the oven while guests are arriving. They smell so good while they are baking and everyone will be in awe when you take them out. Serve all of the ingredients in separate little bowls so your guests can split open the warm gougères and make their own little sandwiches. You will be deemed the fanciest person they know, trust me.
Zuni Café’s New Year’s Eve Gougères
makes 20-24 three-bite-sized gougères
- 1 cup water
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 heaping teaspoon kosher salt
- 4oz all-purpose flour (about 1 cup)
- 4 large eggs, cold
- 3/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
- 2oz gruyère cheese, grated
- 10-12 slices bacon cut into 1/2″ lardons
- 2 large shallots, thinly sliced
- 1 heaping cup arugula
- 1 heaping cup frisée
- 1/4 cup sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 10 peppercorns
- 2 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven to 400º In a 2-4 quart saucepan, bring the water, butter and salt to a simmer over medium heat. Add the flour all at once and stir vigorously until the mixture masses and detaches itself from the sides of the pan. reduce the heat to low and cook, beating constantly, until the batter is stiff and almost shiny, usually a few minutes. Transfer the dough to a standing mixer with the paddle attachment and mix on medium-low adding one egg at a time, beating thoroughly to completely incorporate each egg before adding another. The mixture will initially resist but will come together to form a sticky paste. Add the pepper and gruyere after the eggs are all incorporated.
Pan fry the bacon until crispy and drain on paper towels. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a small sauté pan and fry half of the sliced shallots until deep amber brown and crispy. Drain on a paper towel. In a small sauce pan, bring to a boil 1/4 cup water, the vinegar, sugar and peppercorns. Remove from heat and add the remaining sliced shallots, letting them soak for at least 30 minutes, then drain. Finally, dress the frisée with a splash of sherry or red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt & pepper. Serve the gougères warm from the oven split through the middle and stuffed with any combination of fillings you’d like.