Texas is full French adventures. You probably know that France claims one of the “Six Flags Over Texas.” Our cities, of course, offer their share of French restaurants, some receiving excellent reviews from respected critics. Travel outside the major cities, though, and you will be rewarded with hidden French treasures, Texas style. Next time you are in San Antonio, for instance, drive past the western city limits and visit Castroville, where town leaders are preserving a charming historical community. Henri Castro brought families from Alsace (a region claimed by France and bordering Germany) in the 1840s, when Texas was still its own country. These immigrants kept the ways of the old country, speaking Alsatian, building structures inspired by their homeland’s architecture, and cooking traditional Alsatian cuisine.
Travel a bit farther into remote lands and you will discover The Laurel Tree, a delightful culinary destination. This “guest table” restaurant is nestled in the beautiful hill country surrounding the town of Utopia. The chef and owner, trained in France, features seasonal ingredients in an oh-so-French atmosphere. The food is wonderful and she is happy to accommodate a vegetarian diet, providing an interesting and memorable meal for all.
Inspired by Texans who love all things French, I thought you might like an easy hors d’oeuvre to prepare for your New Year’s festivities. Based on the classic French recipe for pâte à choux (cream puff paste), we add a bit of cheese and end up with a gougere (see, I did pay attention in French class). These are incredibly easy to prepare ahead of time, freeze, then pop into the oven right before your guests arrive.
Basically, one cooks flour in some hot water and butter, adds some eggs, then bakes bite-sized little mounds in the oven. I added some onions, spice, and hatch peppers, giving the little puffs a bit of a Texas accent. Easy, tasty, and made ahead of time – who can resist?
1 C water
4 T unsalted butter
1/2 t sea salt
1 C plus 1 T unbleached all-purpose flour (5 ⅛ oz)
4 lg eggs, room temperature
¼ t cayenne pepper
½ C green onions, chopped (about 5 onions, including green tops)
2 T hatch green peppers, chopped
8 oz sharp vegetarian cheddar cheese, grated
coarse sea salt, freshly ground
- Preheat oven to 375⁰. Cover a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
- Boil water, butter, and salt. Remove from heat and add flour. Working quickly and by hand, stir flour into liquid until it is fully combined and dough is shiny, pulling from the sides of the pan.
- Transfer batter to an electric mixer. Allow to cool for a few minutes, then beat to release some additional heat. Mix in eggs, one at a time, allowing each egg to be fully absorbed before adding the next one.
- Add cayenne pepper, mixing until all is well combined. Stir in onion, pepper, and cheese until evenly dispersed.
- Use a very small scoop to transfer dough to parchment paper, about 1 T per puff. Sprinkle with salt.
- Transfer to preheated oven and bake about 25-30 minutes, or until puffs begin to brown.
- Remove from oven and discreetly puncture the sides – this helps them keep the beautiful puff! (This tip is from Julia C.)
- If making puffs for later place puffs in the freezer after step 5. Once frozen, transfer to a plastic baggie for future baking. Allow to thaw slightly before baking, following steps 6 and 7.