I recall making choux pastry in a Home Economics class in the 8th or 9th grade. The teacher, let’s call her Mrs Molly was full bosomed and perfectly coiffed – long red nails, a pillar box red stained mouth and a precise, slightly smug sounding voice that drove shivers of fright up and down my spine. The other girls in the class felt the same, whispering as we baked, cooked or sewed with sweaty palms, whatever the appointed task of the day was.
I doubt I paid much attention, apart from rote learning that a choux pastry contained butter, water, flour and eggs and that instead of using a raising agent, it relied on the high moisture content to create steam during baking to raise or ‘puff’ the pastry.
“Sieves are wiped and never washed”
The sign, in bold black felt-tipped pen was plastered up in class after one of my best friends, let’s call her P had made the grave error of washing a sieve after the we had baked a cake. Or biscuits or something that remains in the vault of blurrish activities that comprised my experience of Home Economics. I should have taken up Economics, the only other valid option, I would sigh. Cooking and sewing, were never in my radar of interests as a teen. I was, after all, going to do something really meaningful with my life. Something that involved suits, a briefcase and a lab or a large study with tomes that stacked up to the ceiling, perhaps. [Insert appropriate giggle.]
Nothing I ever made in those classes, except perhaps ‘A roux- the basis of every white sauce’ or the hypnotic figure-8 stirring of scrambled eggs has ever jolted a stirring of memory in all the years since. And look at me now, cooking (the sewing bridge, we have yet to cross), living and learning in my kitchen with an ever growing collection of cook and travel books. Not the science lab or law library I initially envisioned, but then life is full of unexpected twists and surprising turns.
Oh, and for what it’s worth P, I rinse and wipe my sieves. If I strain gravy or custard, I wash them. The only person who didn’t was Mrs Molly.
I made these gourgères, or cheese puffs rather reluctantly the first time. Tricklings of Home Economics, nervous hands and a dry throat came seeping into the kitchen. I’m happy to report that these are fairly easy to make. I gave this lot a wash of egg yellow, totally not necessary and I would recommend that you allow the puffs to colour in the oven naturally for a more mellow colour.
Makes approx 28
4 T butter
250 ml water
salt, to taste
375 ml cake flour (1.5 cups)
3 whole eggs
375 ml strong cheese (I used a mixture of Porvolone Piccante and Parmesan. Use Gruyere or white Cheddar if you like)
1. Add butter, water and salt to a medium sized saucepan and bring to the boil. Stir until butter melts.
2. Adjust temperature to medium. Add flour and stir continuously for 5-6 minutes with a wooden spoon until the mixture holds together in a ball. Keep stirring until it becomes smooth, a minute or two. Remove dough to the bowl of kitchen mixer. (you can perform next step by hand but preferable in an electric mixer)
3. Preheat oven to 220 degrees Celsius. Grease two baking trays.
4. Add eggs, one at a time to the bowl of the mixer and beat well after each egg is added, medium speed. You want to end up with a glossy mixture.
5. Add cheeses and stir to mix.
6. Use a teaspoon to drop evenly sized balls of sticky dough onto greased trays, with a little space between each.
7. Bake until puffed and slightly browned for 10 minutes or longer.
Serve warm, if possible.