Temperatures have been steadily rising in Burgundy. Here, for most of the population, there is a magic number. In centigrade that number is 10˚ – which in Fahrenheit equates to 50˚. Together they make two nice round numbers, for one of the nicest, roundest and most important things all Burgundians live for – grapes.
10/50˚ is the temperature at which grape vines start to wake up from their cold winter slumber. Since the ‘vendange’ (which is the French word for harvest) in late summer and autumn last year they have had a severe haircut and been clipped right back to the old wood. In winter they stand row upon row like gnarled old walking sticks, poking grey above the frosty landscape or snow.
To look at them marching away up the hillsides of the Cote d’Or you could almost think they were dead. Actually in their seasonal slumber they are dead to the world, waiting for spring when they wake with a start and set about life in one enormous rush.
Some claim that if you stand still and look close enough you can see them growing. Certainly an untrained vine can grow 10 or 12 feet in a summer. It’s one of those wonderful feats of nature that happens like clockwork but which never ceases to amaze us. One minute barren stony fields, the next verdant shoots that soon bedeck the landscape with a carpet of colour and hurry on to hang low with swags of fruit.
Of course at this stage there is no such thing as 20:20 vision of what the end product will taste like (hmmm, can you have a vision of a taste?). Every year is hostage to fortune. There are good years and bad years. Years when the rain comes too early or too late, or the sun doesn’t shine quite enough and at quite the right time. But those things are for the oenologist – the wine maker – to worry about. From the decks of Le Papillon, sliding gracefully through the green waters of the Burgundy canal, we cannot fail to be impressed by our vision of Mother Nature in all her majesty.
No more so than when we tie up at a lock for a lunchtime break, take a bottle of super-tasty chilled white Burgundy wine and raise our glasses to fields that have delighted the palate since time immemorial. For the moment that is still a few weeks away – but the expectation of excitement is spine tingling.
This week’s recipe, courtesy of Eleanor Garvin’s book The Papillon Recipes, available on Amazon, may not excite your spine but we reckon it won’t fail to get your taste buds tingling! We’re talking about Gougere, the cheese puffs that, like spring, are the appetising nibble that tells you just how good the main course promises to be.
Burgundian Cheese Puffs
These little cheese puffs are the normal nibble in Burgundy, usually served along with a ‘kir’ – dry white Aligote wine with a dash of crème de cassis. They’re made with pate a choux (choux pastry) that is one of the fundamentals of any French cook – it’s easy to make and extremely versatile. You also find it in dishes like profiteroles and eclairs.
¾ cup of water
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 extra tablespoons of butter for the baking tray
Fine sea salt
¾ cup of flour
4 medium eggs (room temperature)
½ cup finely diced Gruyere or Comte cheese
¼ cup grated Gruyere or Comte cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons milk
¼ cup finely diced Gruyere or Comte cheese
Put the ¾ cup of water into a saucepan with the butter and ½ teaspoon of sea salt. Bring to the boil, remove from the heat and stir in all the flour at once. Mix well until it forms a ball. Put the saucepan back on a low heat and stir vigorously for a minute or two to dry out. Remove from the heat and let it cool for 5 minutes.
Add the eggs to the mixture one at a time, beating well after each addition. The mixture should now be shiny and smooth and hold its shape when dropped from a spoon. If, after the third egg, the mixture holds its shape and is not too stiff then think about adding only half (or none) of the last egg – if the mixture is too soft the gougeres will not ‘puff’ and hold their shape.
Add in the diced cheese, ¼ cup of grated cheese and the cracked black pepper. Form balls with a teaspoon, dropping them onto a lightly buttered baking sheet. Brush them with the milk, sprinkle over the remaining cheese and bake them in the upper third of the oven for 20 minutes until puffed and golden. Serve hot or at room temperature.