I think it was January 2019 when Epicurious launched the Cook90 challenge, challenging home cooks to prepare 3 meals a day at home for an entire month. I’m not one for that type of challenge so I never participated. However, this morning, as I updated my kitchen chalkboard where I keep track of the day of the week, date, number of days/weeks/months “safer at home”, and the recently added election countdown, I realized that as a result of the pandemic, I’ve been doing that challenge unexpectedly. As of yesterday, I’ve successfully completed Cook166 and will continue for the foreseeable future.
That’s almost 500 meals! I’ve ordered takeout 5 times (our favorite BBQ restaurant in Boston, the local Thai and Chinese restaurants, lunch from the local Italian place, and a fancy dinner from a place in Cambridge), but Howard or I have prepared the rest. Fortunately, we both enjoy cooking. We started with a well-stocked pantry and freezer, and we haven’t experienced food shortages in our area. Since June, we’ve been well supplied with fresh produce from our CSA share and our backyard garden. Cooking is a great diversion: conversations about what to eat for the next few meals and creative substitutions to avoid shopping, togetherness as we prepare and eat the food, and the satisfaction of being able to take care of ourselves.
Anyone who has followed my blog for a while knows, Howard and I don’t always agree on what to eat. He has lots of rules about what he does and does not consider edible combinations. The zucchini and eggplant in our CSA share present a challenge because I enjoy them and he absolutely will not eat. I’m running out of easy ways to prepare these vegetables that will last a while. Suggestions anyone?
Fruit has its own set of rules that seem to change constantly. Blueberries used to be on the “do not fly” list. That started to relax when we had wild blueberries on our property in Maine. And now that the bushes we planted in the backyard have started to produce, fresh blueberries have become acceptable for breakfast. They also moved up a rung as an acceptable addition to a baked fruit tart, though not when featured as the main event. However, I don’t see cake, such as this week’s Cook the Book Fridays recipe for Blueberry-Buttermilk Bundt Cake, as ever passing muster.
I, on the other hand, enjoy cake with fruit. I don’t make it often because, without an off-site occasion to share, I’d be eating the cake singlehandedly. Some would find it hard to believe, but I like a cake with fruit much more than a chocolate cake.
I considered making a half-batch as mini-Bundts. However, this recipe had an odd number of eggs, which is not an insurmountable problem, but a deterrent. Also, Dorie mentioned that the cake is prone to sticking to the pan. I didn’t really want to multiple that issue by six (for each mini cake). So I made the whole thing.
I’m so glad I did. Blueberry season is over in my yard, so I had to buy the berries, but everything else is always on hand. This cake came together so easily. I greased the pan VERY GENEROUSLY and had no issue with it sliding right out. The crumb is tender and moist, and the underlying flavors (butter, vanilla, and lemon) along with the berries scream of summer. I think this cake would be delicious made with other berries as well: raspberries, blackberries or a combination. I still can’t eat the whole thing myself, but I’ll freeze some in chunks for later.
I also made the Ricotta Spoonable, the selected recipe for Cook the Book Fridays from earlier in the month. I made it on time but didn’t get around to writing about it. I need to remember to use Instagram for weeks like those. This creamy spread reminded me of recipes I’ve made before, maybe even as part of this cooking group. Ricotta is enhanced with lemon juice and zest, shallots, scallions, and fresh herbs. It can be used as a spread for crostini. I intended to dollop most of it on pasta I made with cherry tomatoes and corn and serve the rest as crostini the next day. Unfortunately, the container dropped and cracked (OK, I admit that I dropped it), and I was only able to rescue enough for the pasta. It was nice, but not a definite repeater (though maybe).
If you’d like to try either of these recipes, they can be found in Dorie Greenspan’s book Everyday Dorie. The ricotta is on page 22 and the cake on page 254. You can’t go wrong with either. Impressions on the recipes from my Cook the Book Fridays friends can be found here for the ricotta and here for the cake.
It’s hard to contain my excitement. This week, Dorie Greenspan published her newest cookbook, Lucky #13, called Everyday Dorie: The Way I Cook. It’s not a baking book this time. It’s an all-round cookbook with enticing pictures. As I browse the pages, so many recipes jump out and say “Make me! Make me!” As always, Dorie’s kind and encouraging voice guides you through the headnotes and instructions.
From October 2010 until May 2015, I cooked each and every recipe from Dorie’s previous all-round cookbook Around My French Table. It was an enjoyable and educational journey. Along the way, I met and bonded with a virtual group of cooks who were doing the same. A subset of us have continued to cook together under a group we call Cook the Book Fridays. Sticking with the French theme, we’re currently working our way through David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen. With this week’s new book launch, we’re adding Dorie’s book to the mix. We’ll cook one of Dorie’s recipes each month until we finish up David’s book then continue until we make all the recipes in the new book. Hopefully, more of the original gang will join this new venture.
So, we begin….
The inaugural recipe I made from Everyday Dorie is My Newest Gougères. “My” is Dorie’s voice, not my own. For those not versed in French food words, gougères are best described as savory cheesy cream puffs. They are made with the same pâte à choux dough as cream puffs with the addition of grated cheese, and in this “newest” version, toasted walnuts and some Dijon mustard.
On paper, pâte à choux could seem intimidating, but it’s not that hard. You bring milk, water, butter, and salt to a boil. Then, you add flour, and stir, stir, stir, over low heat to dry out the dough.
Next, you beat in eggs (a stand mixer is best) one at a time, leaving you with a sticky dough. Finally, you add the cheese, mustard, and nuts.
Finally, scoop the dough onto parchment- or silicon-lined baking sheets. I used a small scoop which yielded 6 dozen puffs. We didn’t have any guests, so I baked one dozen to snack on before dinner. The gougères were light and airy. The nuts added a welcome bite.
Dorie suggests keeping frozen unbaked puffs in the freezer, leaving you prepared with appetizers when friends stop by for an impromptu (or planned) visit. That’s where the remainder ended up.
What a fitting start as the first recipe I made from Around My French Table was also gougères. I must admit that I haven’t made them since. I’m not sure why. Hopefully I remember to make these again before Dorie publishes her next book. You should try them too (recipe below or page 8 of Everyday Dorie: The Way I Cook). Or give me a call that you’re stopping by and I’ll pull some from the freezer and bake them for us to share over an aperitif.
Also follow my Cook the Book Fridays friends’ links here to see what they thought of Dorie’s Newest Gougères.
And last, but not least, GO RED SOX!!!!!
excerpted from Everyday Dorie © 2018 by Dorie Greenspan. Photography © 2018 by Ellen Silverman. Reproduced by permission of Rux Martin Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.
MY NEWEST GOUGERES
Makes about 60 gougères
Gougères are French cheese puffs based on a classic dough called pâte à choux (the dough used for cream puffs), and it’s a testament to their goodness that I’m still crazy about them after all these years and after all the thousands that I’ve made. Twenty or so years ago, when my husband and I moved to Paris, I decided that gougères would be the nibble I’d have ready for guests when they visited. Regulars chez moi have come to expect them.
Over the years, I’ve made minor adjustments to the recipe’s ingredients, flirting with different cheeses, different kinds of pepper and different spices.
The recipe is welcoming. This current favorite has a structural tweak: Instead of the usual five eggs in the dough, I use four, plus a white—it makes the puff just a tad sturdier. In addition, I’ve downsized the puffs, shaping them with a small cookie scoop. And I’ve added Dijon mustard to the mix for zip and a surprise—walnuts.
1⁄2 cup (120 grams) whole milk
1⁄2 cup (120 grams) water
1 stick (4 ounces; 113 grams) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
1 1⁄4 teaspoons fine sea salt
1 cup (136 grams) all-purpose flour
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 large egg white, at room temperature
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard (preferably French)
2 cups (170 grams) coarsely grated cheese, such as Comté, Gruyère and/or sharp cheddar
2⁄3 cup (80 grams) walnuts or pecans, lightly toasted and chopped
My secret to being able to serve guests gougères on short notice is to keep them in the freezer, ready to bake. Scoop the puffs, freeze them on a parchment- lined baking sheet or cutting board and then pack them airtight. You can bake them straight from the oven; just give them a couple more minutes of heat.
Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat it to 425 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
Bring the milk, water, butter and salt to a boil over high heat in a medium saucepan. Add the flour all at once, lower the heat and immediately start stirring energetically with a heavy spoon or whisk. The dough will form a ball and there’ll be a light film on the bottom of the pan. Keep stirring for another 2 minutes or so to dry the dough. Dry dough will make puffy puffs.
Turn the dough into the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or work by hand with a wooden spoon and elbow grease). Let the dough sit for a minute, then add the eggs one by one, followed by the white, beating until each egg is incorporated before adding the next. The dough may look as though it’s separating or falling apart but just keep working; by the time the white goes in, the dough will be beautiful. Beat in the mustard, followed by the cheese and the walnuts. Give the dough a last mix-through by hand.
Scoop or spoon out the dough, using a small cookie scoop (11⁄2 teaspoons). If you’d like larger puffs, shape them with a tablespoon or medium-size cookie scoop. Drop the dough onto the lined baking sheets, leaving about 2 inches between each mound. (The dough can be scooped and frozen on baking sheets at this point.)
Slide the baking sheets into the oven and immediately turn the oven temperature down to 375 degrees F.
Bake for 12 minutes, then rotate the pans from front to back and top to bottom. Continue baking until the gougères are puffed, golden and firm enough to pick up, another 15 to 20 minutes. Serve immediately—these are best directly from the oven.
STORING : The puffs are best soon after they come out of the oven and nice (if flatter) at room temperature that same day. If you want to keep baked puffs, freeze them and then reheat them in a 350-degree-F oven for a few minutes.