When I moved from the Netherlands to France I had to adopt a whole new set of traditions, habits and rules. I quickly discovered that in France many of the traditions of society involve food in some way or another. One of the traditions that I found easiest to embrace was the tradition of l’apéritif, pre dinner drinks. Daily lunch and dinner in France consist of entrée (starter), plat (main course), fromage (cheese), and dessert. This tradition is respected on all levels and ranks of French society. Gallic toddlers are treated to 4 course lunch in kindergarten. Employees have a 2 hour lunch break to enjoy a 4 course lunch at home. And if the commute is too long they will go to a restaurant or bring a 4 course pick nick from home.
I quickly discovered that in France many of the traditions of society involve food in some way or another.
However sometimes you need more than 4 courses to celebrate, think birthdays, anniversaries, weddings or Sundays. To mark these occasions an extra course is added: l’apéritif, pre dinner drinks.
A traditional French apéritif follows it own set of rules. You can have juice, soft drinks, pastis, whiskey, or port. Never ask for a glass of wine as an apéritif because this faux pas will clearly mark you as a stranger to French culture. The only exception to this rule is a glass of sweet white wine like Sauternes. Personally I prefer to serve Champagne as an apéritif. It’s festive and bubbles always get me in a party mood. And if the occasion is a little less grand I’ll open a bottle of Crémant. This is a very affordable sparkling wine that is produced outside the Champagne region. Look for the words ‘Methode Traditionelle’ on the label. This means the Crémant is produced in the same traditional way as Champagne. Crémant is produced in several regions in France like the Alsace, Burgundy, or… Bordeaux. To accompany l’apéritif I love serving Gougères. These tastefull and airy little cheese puffs go wonderfully well with any fizzy wine. They are easy to make ahead and everybody loves them.
Gougères Cheese puffs
Water 250 ml/1cup
Parmesan cheese grated 40g/1,5oz
Preheat the oven to 200ºC/390ºF/ Mark 7
Bring the water with the butter and the salt to a boil in a large pot. Once the water is boiling add the flower. Mix until the mixture comes together in the middle of the pot. Take of the heat.
Beat the eggs in one by one until you have a smooth and shiny dough. Mix in the cheese and a pinch of chili powder.
Line a baking tray with baking paper. Transfer the dough into a piping bag with a smooth nozzle. Pipe small walnut sized ball of dough on the tray. Leave a 2cm/1inch gap between each one.
You can also use 2 teaspoons to heap the dough onto the tray in walnut sized balls. In this case your Gougères will look a little less smooth but they will taste the same.
Bake 15 to 20 minutes until golden and crisp.