Those of you who read here often or who follow me on Instagram will already be familiar with my love for l’heure de l’apéro. Cocktail hour in France is serious business. It’s not just a drink with a few peanuts, it’s quite often something a lot more substantial, signaling the bridge between the workday and the dinner hour.
One of my favourite apéro snacks is gougères – cheesy choux pastry puffs – firstly because they are so tasty but secondly because they look so impressive yet they are actually super easy to make…. (sssh!). We made gougères for Week 1 of French Fridays with Dorie, all the way back in 2010 and I was hooked. Later on, we made savoury, goat cheese-filled puffs, (hey, I’ve even taught three kids how to make those too!) which made me realise the versatility of this fabulous pastry – this past summer, I came up with a summery version of savoury choux that is perfect for l’heure de l’apéro (or, let’s face it – anytime!).
These are savoury puffs where I’ve mixed in a couple of tablespoons of dill into the batter for a subtle flavour that is highlighted by the filling – a cream cheese/ tzatziki.
For this recipe, I’m using volume measures because over the summer I was cooking in a lot of kitchens where there was no scale to weigh ingredients. This recipe is pretty reliable though as long as you measure the flour with the “scoop and sweep” method, you should be fine.
- ½ cup water
- 57g (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 4-6 small pieces
- pinch salt
- ½ cup all-purpose (plain) flour (measured using the scoop and sweep method)
- 2 large eggs at room temperature
- 1-2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill (use your judgement here – if you want a more subtle look, use less dill)
- 1 large egg beaten at room temperature
- 1 tablespoon milk
- For the filling:
- 150g plain cream cheese at room temperature
- 1/3 cup prepared tzatziki (if it is very liquidy, you might like to drain off some of the excess before you measure this out)
- Preheat oven to 375˚F/ 180˚C.
- Prepare a baking tray with parchment paper.
- Bring the water, butter and salt to the boil in a heavy pot.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low and add all the flour at once.
- Stir the dough vigorously with a wooden spoon – it will come together fairly quickly, but keep stirring over the low heat until it forms a smooth, shiny ball of dough. Altogether you will cook this flour mixture for about 2 minutes. There will be a slight crust on the bottom of the pan.
- Place the dough in a clean glass or metal bowl and use a wooden spoon to break up the mixture a little to release the steam. Keep doing this for a couple of minutes so the dough loses some of its heat.
- Add one egg and, using a wooden spoon, stir even more vigorously than before – don’t worry, your dough will separate and look like it’s ruined but have faith and continue to stir until it comes together again into a smooth shiny dough. Add the second egg and mix until the dough has come together again.
- Now add about ½ of the beaten egg to the mixture and mix until the dough is elastic and smooth (the mix needs 2 1/2 eggs in total).
- Fold in the dill.
- Scrape the dough into a piping bag fitted with a plain tip and, piping from the top to form a shape not unlike a Hershey’s Kiss, pipe the dough onto the prepared baking tray (rounds of about 4cm in diameter), leaving about 4cm in between each puff.
- Your dough balls will have peaks on top – use your finger dipped in water to smooth these over.
- Mix the rest of the beaten egg with the milk and brush the tops of the puffs with this egg wash.
- Bake for 25 minutes, checking on the puffs ½ way through the cook time to perhaps turn the trays from front to back to ensure even baking.
- Remove from the oven and transfer the puffs to a cooling rack.
- Meanwhile, use electric beaters to beat the cream cheese so it’s soft and creamy.
- Use a rubber spatula to incorporate the tzatziki. If at this stage you think it’s too thick to pipe into the choux, add more tzatziki a tablespoon at a time until it reaches the desired consistency.
- Place the mixture in a piping bag and refrigerate until ready to use.
- When you are ready to serve the choux, use a serrated knife to cut them in half.
- Pipe some of the filling (around 1-2 tablespoons depending on how much of a “sandwich” you want to make in the bottom half of the choux and top with the empty halves.
A word about the flavours here – they are definitely quite subtle but I like that for an apéritif – not a fan of hugely overpowering flavours before a meal. If you prefer a stronger flavour punch, make sure you use a garlicky tzatziki or even add some more dill to the filling. Completely up to you.