Gougeres - Perfect Last-Minute Appetizer New Year's Eve is happening, and I'm thinking we should keep it simple.

I'm heading out to the Hamptons with a group of friends where I'm going to glue myself to a fireplace while drinking a considerable amount of champagne - in between cooking all of the foods and putting caviar on pretty much everything.

For you, I offer: Gougères! Little French cheese puffs is what they are. And they're so super-easy to make. It's a no-brainer. You're starting with a pastry dough called pâte à choux, which is the same way you go about making éclairs or beignets. It's a really easy recipe to memorize of milk, water, butter, and eggs; it's unique because it cooks on the stovetop, and I think it's fun to watch it come together as you stir it. I've used a stand mixer to add the eggs before in the second step, but this time I used a food processor - which I now prefer because you're already dirtying that to shred your cheese. A healthy does of gruyère is added at the end, where I also add a pinch of cayenne, but you could really play with your additions here. Try adding fresh thyme or grated nutmeg, or even some crispy bacon bits. Drops of dough bake up into cheese puffs - salty, cheesy, delicious. They're best warm and straight from the oven, but they also freeze well. (You can either reheat or bake them frozen for 5 to 10 minutes in a 300-degree oven.)

Gougères go great with champagne, and if you're like me and always looking for an excuse to drink it, I've got some fun pairing tips below.

// the deal with champagne pairings //

Champagne, sparkling wine, cava (Spanish sparkling wine), prosecco (Italian) ... no matter which you're going with, it's actually a very easy drink to pair with food. The bubbles are cleansing on the palate, and the high acidity cuts through richness well.

// fun pairing ideas //

Think salty, rich, and/or buttery - or go the other obvious route, with a delicate seafood.

  • Fried foods -  I love the idea of throwing a "champagne + dumplings" party. Equally love this idea for hosting an eggroll party. Everyone gets together to make a ton of eggrolls; some are eaten there fresh, and the rest go home with guests to freeze.
  • BBQ - Just like they do at the South Beach Food & Wine Festival every year (my personal favorite event of the weekend), you could host your own "BubbleQ." Bookmark this for your next summertime BBQ.
  • Lobster rolls - Lobster is an obvious match but I love the idea of hosting a lobster roll party and serving champagne, which goes perfectly with those buttery rolls and creamy lobster filling.
  • Popcorn, potato chips, and french fries - These all fulfill the salty play, but I like them most because they're all sort of "low-brow" foods. Pair 'em with a high-class bubbly for the ultimate high-low mix. Popcorn and potato chops are perfect for a movie night, and I love the idea of a french fry bar for a party as well.

Keep in mind that we're mostly talking traditional Brut champagnes or sparkling wines, which are on the drier side. Sweeter versions like Asti are typically better for dessert, and rosé is versatile with heavier or richer meats and a wider variety of entrées overall.

My favorite book, The Flavor Bible, offers these pairing suggestions for champagne: Berries (blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, cranberries), caviar, cherries, lemon, lime, mint, and melon.

But ... let's face it. I'll drink champagne with just about anything. Order a pizza and call it a day if that's more your style. ;)

Happy New Year!

Gougères (French Cheese Puffs)

Recipe Type: Starter
Author: Sarah Ashley
Serves: 3 to 4 dozen, depending on size
Guests are coming and you need something quick to make? These are the ticket. Salty and cheesy, light and fluffy - and super-easy to make. (And they freeze well, too.)
Ingredients
  • 8 ounces Gruyère cheese
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 large eggs
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • Maldon sea salt, for sprinkling
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Shred cheese in food processor (you can shred by hand if you prefer, though it makes sense to use the machine since we're going to mix the dough in it). Transfer cheese to a bowl and place the blade in the food processor bowl for later.
  2. Combine milk, water, butter, and salt in a saucepan over medium heat. When it comes to a boil and the butter has melted, remove from heat; add the flour all at once and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until a dough forms and begins to pull away from the sides of the pan. Return pan to low heat and cook for another two minutes, stirring. Transfer to bowl of food processor. Process for 30 seconds and then allow to cool another 10 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, processing for about 10 seconds after each addition. Add cayenne pepper and most of the cheese, reserving about 1/2 cup to sprinkle later. Process until combined.
  3. Spoon tablespoon-sized mounds of dough onto baking sheets, leaving about an inch between each. Sprinkle with remaining cheese and sea salt. Bake 10 minutes, then turn oven down to 375 degrees and bake another 10 to 15 minutes until puffed and golden.