So, new recipes still don’t really count, but new cooking/baking experiences do. We had two of those on Christmas Eve, in preparation for spending the evening with my aunt and uncle and cousins. Most of these relatives are gluten-intolerant, so we always try to plan for foods that they can eat when we celebrate with them. The Christmas Eve menu is appetizers and desserts, always including fondue and shrimp and veggies and cheese. Our go-to contribution is caprese salad on a toothpick, which is simple, fun, and easy to assemble.
We wanted to branch out into sweets this year, so we decided we would make some meringues. I was able to retrieve cream of tartar and food coloring from the storage unit, and then I set off in search of a recipe. The version of Joy of Cooking that we acquired in Canada last year had a very “jumpy” recipe that lacked a “do this, do that” approach that I find most useful in cooking and baking. So I found this adaptation of an America’s Test Kitchen recipe.
Our first batch of egg whites failed to whip up. I’m not sure what happened, it could have been cold eggs, plastic spatula, inaccurate measuring spoons, or just plain bad luck. So we abandoned those egg whites and started over, unscientifically altering several variables for batch 2. But it worked! We used a Ziploc freezer bag in place of a pastry bag and squeezed the first half out as white and vanilla puffs. Then we decided to add some red food coloring. I thought the pink ones should be peppermint flavored, so we dropped in a bit of peppermint extract and squeezed the rest onto the parchment paper-covered cookie sheets (my first box of parchment paper too!) Here are the results:
And they were yummy. We made a little ganache to serve with them, which was by no means necessary, but always a treat.
The real baking adventure of the day–because it was new and novel for both Maureen and me–was making gougères. I agree with this article when they say that the easiest way to describe these is to call them cheese puffs. My cousin Jenni, who really is a pastry chef in Paris (it always sounds like an impossible dream job, but she made it happen!), made gougères for us last fall when we had dinner at their flat in Paris. Hers were puffy and delicious. I mostly decided to make this savory treat because we came across a recipe for a gluten-free version.
It’s basically a choux pastry, so one heats milk (you can go dairy-free if you want, we did not), water and butter to a boil. Dry ingredients–rice flour, cornstarch, xanthan gum, and a little ground ancho pepper–are added to this mixture, which is then stirred over heat to drive off moisture. The hardest part of the recipe is stirring in four eggs to the slightly cooled mixture one at a time. We definitely had to take turns. Dough is dropped onto parchment-covered cookie sheets and topped with lovely grated Gruyère (or cheddar) cheese, then baked. The baking process made the house smell great (if you like Gruyère 🙃). We did choose to reheat the puffs before serving them at our Christmas Eve gathering. They were fluffy, yummy, and a big hit with the fam.
We decided to make these again for another family gathering at my brother’s house a week later in Vancouver. My brother had xanthan gum (by far the hardest to find and most expensive ingredient) and ground ancho pepper in his pantry (we’d purchased the former and substituted for the latter), which was convenient. The sea-level, humid environment did make a difference though. Our Vancouver cheese puffs were more like cheese cookies, though still delicious. We may have needed to drive off more moisture or change proportions, but that would take some experimentation. So, I would say for now that the gluten-free recipe, as written, works better in dry, high-altitude areas–adjust as needed and enjoy!