Hello, dear Readers. With the few life-changing events beginning to settle down, I can finally get back to a bit of blogging. We have successfully arrived into the East Bay area in California. It was certainly a challenge as we had a little one with us, but we are happy with the new place. And as with any relocation, it takes some time to adjust. Life here is very different than France, or even Europe. Everything is big: the stores, the products, the portions. It's nearly impossible to find packaging of similar small size. Even if one does, it'd be cheaper to buy the larger packages. Then comes the inventory. Sales and coupons are a big culture here, so a resulting large storage space is needed to accommodate these purchases. I'm also finding myself eating more despite moving less!
One of the biggest challenges for me is the food and cooking. Basic meat and produce themselves taste different. I did not realise how lucky we were with the French chicken, where the most basic free-range tasted miles better than those that you can find in the generic supermarkets here. They don't even have the characteristic long breast and thigh bone structure! Products that are distributed internationally are also different, as the recipes tend to be tailored to the local taste. Coming to a new place is a reason to revamp one's food repertoire, but it can be difficult when nearly everything is different! But it's coming along. And the change has allowed me to explore making various sauces/spices from scratch (recipe to come when more finalised).
Yet one of the pluses is the incredible variety available. We are loving all the leafy greens that can be accessed so easily now. And the special "health foods" (e.g. specialty grains, diary-free alternatives, allergen-specific products, etc) are so readily accessible and fairly affordable that I've begun exploring vegan baking. Chinese/Asian food/restaurants are also easily obtained, which means fewer chances of me needing to recreate them at home. It's a wonderful feeling knowing that we can always grab something quick if time gets the better of me (especially with the surprises a little one can bring).
This relocation has been another milestone in our lives as we (re-)adjust to a new culture and a new phase in life. I'll continue to share my cooking and food-related adventures but now with the added challenge of soon cooking for a little one.
For a start, I bring a little France to the US with a slightly re-vamped old recipe: butter-free chouquettes and gougères. They are essentially dairy-free, except for the cheese in/on the gougères (hence "butter-free" rather than "dairy-free"); so if you manage to use a dairy-alternative cheese, even the gougères can be completely dairy-free.
No Butter Chouquettes and Gougères (makes ~30 one to two bite-sized puffs)
Replacing the butter/vegetable oil spread with vegetable oil, weight-for-weight, was all that was necessary. The final product puffed without difficult and tasted just as nice. Nutritionally, using vegetable oil actually contains more overall fat than the vegetable spread, although the total saturated fat is less. Seeing this, I may try to decrease the amount of vegetable oil next time to see if the recipe will turn out as nicely.
"Pearl sugar" is not as readily availabe here in the US, so I just sprinkled a bit of powdered sugar for the sweetness. It's not the same, as the crunchiness is part of what makes chouquettes special, but it works. Granulated sugar can be used as well.
- 1/2 cup (125ml) water
- 3 tbsp (40g) vegetable oil
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup (70g) all-purpose flour (for gluten structure)
- 2 large eggs
- 2-3 tsp sugar
- Gougères: 3/4 cup grated hard cheese (e.g. parmesan)
- Chouquettes: powdered/granulated sugar
- Combine the oil, salt, sugar, and 1/2 cup (125 ml) water in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat.
- Remove from heat, add the flour all at once, and stir quickly with a wooden spoon until well blended. Return the pan over medium-low heat and keep stirring until the mixture forms a smooth ball that pulls away from the sides of the pan. Continue stirring over the heat for an additional one to two minutes.
- Remove from heat, and let rest 2-3 minutes.
- Add the eggs one by one, stirring quickly and well after each addition (so as not to “cook” the eggs). The batter will first appear lumpy; but after a minute or so, it will smooth out. (A food processor can be used as well). Test to see if the dough is becoming too wet before adding the second egg. This is called "choux pastry".
- Divide the choux pastry into 2 parts. Add about 3/4s of the grated cheese and the chives to one part, and stir until well-mixed to make the gougères.
- Cover both choux pastries and refrigerate for 30 minutes, or up to a day (allows the dough to rest a bit).
- Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
- Remove the batter from the fridge and use two teaspoons – or a piping bag fitted with a plain tip – to form small balls of batter, about the size of a walnut or small cherry tomato with an inch of space between them.
- Chouquettes: Sprinkle with powdered sugar.
- Gougères: Sprinkle with remainder of grated cheese.
- Bake for 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 375°F (190°C) and bake for an additional 20 to 25 minutes, until they’re completely golden brown (make sure NOT to open the oven door during the first 10 minutes of baking). Make sure the puffs are completely browned on top and on the sides to prevent deflating after cooling.
- Turn off the oven, open the door a crack, and leave the chouquettes and gougères in for another 5 minutes to prevent a temperature shock, which would cause them to deflate.
- Transfer to a rack and let cool completely before serving.
- It is helpful to use a smaller pot for the roux. Mixing will be easier and less strenuous on the arms. Tilting the pot at an angle will also speed up egg incorporation.
- For extra-crispy puffs, the sides of each puff can be poked to release the steam and returned to the oven to finish baking.
- Leftovers can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature or refrigerator for up to 3 days at most. Reheat for 5-10 minutes in a 300°F (150°C) oven to restore the original texture. They can be frozen in a zip-top freezer bag for up to one month. Defrost at room temperature, then warm briefly on a baking sheet, until crisp.
Nutrition (out of a batch of 30):
- Chouquette (1 bite-sized) -- 30 calories, 1.7g total fat, 0.2g saturated fat, 24.1mg sodium, 1.6g total carbohydrate, 0.7g sugar, 0.06g fibre, 0.3g protein.
- Gougère (1 bite-sized) -- 49 calories, 3.1g total fat, 1.1g saturated fat, 115mg sodium, 2.5g total carbohydrate, 0.6g sugar, 0.06g fibre, 2.7g protein.