Just like in Seinfeld’s “The Muffin Tops” where Elaine sets out to prove that nobody really wants to eat a whole muffin, we’re largely in the camp that believes that nobody really wants to eat a whole bagel. And judging by the range of “bagel-light” hybrids (flagel, crogel, and the like), we’re not alone. Bagels are big. They’re doughy. And even though they’re inevitably filled with something delicious, you still have to bite through an inch of starch to get to the stuff inside. In our opinion, the crust flavor and the filling are the selling points of a bagel. If we can get those flavors in something more delicate, let’s do it. So we turned to the airy cheese puffs known as gougères to see if they could replace our morning favorite.
New Yorkers and Everything Bagels
Look, we’re both New Yorkers (one of us by birth, one by adoption). This is hardcore bagel country. If you spend any time at all in the state, you are legally obliged to pick a favorite bagel: there is a box for your choice on the NY drivers’ license. (It’s just under the bit about organ donation.) An everything bagel with scallion cheese filling has been Emily’s go-to bagel store order for many years. (Matt’s order is a raisin cinnamon with plain cream cheese.) When we were thinking about flavor combinations, that was our natural starting point.
If you’re not familiar with it, an “everything” bagel is encrusted with a medley of salt, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, garlic and onion seasoning. It’s a concoction as full of taste and moxie as New York City itself. You could absolutely recreate your preferred balance of sprinkles by hand, especially if you want to reduce the amount of salt. We took a shortcut and used King Arthur Flour’s Everything Bagel Topping which just makes the whole process a lot easier. (You can also use this topping on things like avocado toast, home-baked bread, and, of course, bagels.) Just a judicious sprinkling on top of the gougères, prior to baking, is all it takes to imbue them with the flavor that gives you that “everything bagel” experience.
The Basics of Gougères
Typically, cheesy gougères are left unfilled, and served simply warm from the oven (which you can absolutely do with ours. They’re delicious unfilled as well). They’re made with a similar choux pastry —pâte à choux — that we’d use to make profiteroles, eclairs, or any number of sweet puffed pastries. For these savory versions, we skip the sugar and add cracked black pepper and gruyere cheese). A plate of hot cheese gougères makes a fantastic party snack by itself, but we wanted to take it a little further by piping whipped scallion cream cheese, mixed with tart goat cheese, into the center of each puff.
So yes, these are piped pastries, and you’ll probably want a piping or cake decorating set. You don’t need to get anything fancy. Like toolsets, they may come with a thousand different attachments for cakes, pastries, and for getting stones out of horses’ hooves. Really, for this recipe, you only need two tips. We used a half-inch round tip to pipe the dough, and a smaller tip (1/4″ or so) to get the cheese into the hollow center of the gougères.
Tip: you can also use a spoon to shape the dough, and a plastic food bag with one of the corners snipped to fill them, if you don’t have a piping bag. It’s a little more finicky but it will work.
Making the dough
The dough is is a cinch to make. Bring the water, milk, butter and salt to a boil, turn the heat down and add the flour all at once. Stir it well to incorporate all the flour into the liquid. The dough will dry a bit and begin to pull away from the sides of the pan. Once that happens, you can transfer the dough to the bowl of a stand mixer — or use a glass bowl and a hand-held mixer. You can even mix the eggs in completely by hand, with a little elbow grease. I like to let the dough cool for just a minute before I add the first egg, to keep it from cooking. Mix each egg in very well, before you add the next. Once all the eggs are incorporated, add the pepper and cheese and give it a mix, add it to the piping bag, and pipe out 1-inch rounds, or use a tablespoon to portion it out onto your baking sheets. Give each round a light egg wash and sprinkle with the everything seasoning. Bake them until they’re puffed and golden brown.
Tip: The easiest way to tell if they’re done is to pick one up (be careful, they’re hot!), if it feels very light for its size, it’s ready. If it feels a little heavy, let it go a few more minutes.
Making the filling
While the gougères are baking, make the filling. Add the cream cheese, goat cheese, a little cream and salt and pepper to a mixing bowl and whip it until it’s light and airy. Mix in the scallions and any herbs you want (we used dill). The gougères will stay crisp when filled for about an hour and a half. If you want to make them further ahead, wait to fill them until closer to serving time. To fill them, poke a little hole in the side of the puff and squeeze some filing in. The quantities in the recipe will give you about 1/2 tablespoon of cheese per puff; double up the filling amount if you want to get a generous tablespoon into each one.
Tip: Gougères freeze extremely well if unfilled. After baking, allow them to cool completely. Spread the gougères out on a baking sheet, cover the sheet with plastic wrap and freeze until they are firm. Then transfer them to sturdy sealable plastic bag for several months. To reheat, preheat the oven to 275ºF and heat, in a single layer on a baking sheet until hot and crisp, about 10 to 15 minutes.
These would be for an elegant brunch gathering, a bridal or baby shower, or even a cocktail party. They certainly get the thumbs up from us New Yorkers, and we think Elaine would approve too.
Everything-Seasoned Gougères with Scallion-Cream Cheese Filling
For the Puffs:
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 10 tablespoons unsalted butter (5 oz )
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup all-purpose flour (5 oz )
- 5 large eggs
- 1 cup gruyere cheese, shredded (4 oz )
- 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
For the topping:
- 1 large egg
- 3 tablespoons everything seasoning
For the filling:
- 4 ounces cream cheese room temperature
- 4 ounces goat cheese room temperature
- 3 tablespoons heavy cream
- 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 4 scallions minced
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped dill optional
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Make the cheese puffs: In a medium saucepan set on medium-high heat, combine the water, milk, butter and salt and bring to a boil. Add the flour all at once and stir it with a wooden spoon until a smooth dough forms. Turn the heat to low and stir until it dries out and pulls away from the pan, about 1 – 2 minutes. Transfer the dough to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. On low speed, add the eggs one at time, making sure each egg is fully incorporated before adding the next. (As you add the eggs, the dough will split, but as you continue to mix, the dough will come back together). The finished dough will be shiny, smooth, and quite thick at this point.
- Add the gruyere cheese and black pepper and fold in with a rubber spatula. Transfer the dough to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2 inch smooth round tip. Pipe 1-inch mounds onto the baking sheets, about 2 inches apart. Alternatively, you can use a tablespoon to make 1-inch rounds. In a small bowl, mix together an egg with one teaspoon water. Lightly brush each mound with the egg wash and top with a sprinkle of everything seasoning. Bake for 20-30 minutes until the gougères have puffed up and turned golden brown. They should feel light in weight for their size. If they feel heavy, put them back in the oven for a couple of minutes.
- Make the filling: While the pastries are baking, make the filling. Add the cream cheese, goat cheese, cream, salt and pepper to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. On low speed, mix until the cheese and cream are combined and smooth. Turn the speed to medium and whip until the mixture becomes lighter in texture, about 2 minutes. Add the scallions and dill and stir on low until just combined. Transfer the cream cheese mixture to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/4 inch smooth round tip.
- Let the baked gougères sit until cool enough to handle, then make a small hole in the side of the choux with a sharp knife and pipe in 1/2 to 1 tablespoon (depending on how filled you want each puff to be) of the cheese filling. Serve warm or at room temperature. The filled puffs will soften after about an hour, so if you’re not serving immediately, store the pastry and whipped cheese separately and fill when ready to serve.