The rise of modern gougère on restaurant menus

Large Sargassum Puff Pastry (Molly Codyre)

It started at Elliot, which I remember was my first getaway in the big wave of cheese puffs. Golden exterior, molten interior, covered with a leaning tower of parmesan shavings; it was perfection. I was interviewing someone at the time and I could clearly hear my ecstatic bursts of cheesy glee when writing the recording the next day.

If you’ve eaten at a semi-trendy Eurocentric restaurant in London over the past few months, you may have noticed a trend brewing. No, it’s not the sparse dining rooms with Scandinavian accents or the entry point to the skyrocketing wine list, it’s something a little tastier and much better; the cheese puff pastry (Gougère, if you sympathize with our friends from across the Channel, or donut if you’ve recently visited New Orleans). Plates of golden balls – stacked like a sort of salty croquembouche and almost always covered with a good pile of grated cheese – have started to permeate Instagram. It seemed like every time I checked an online menu (classic pre-dinner search) or sat down at a table, they were there: like a shining beacon, beckoning me to order.

Whichever name you use, cheese puffs seem united in their difference. The change in texture is a common factor – at Elliot’s, the cheese puffs are almost wet, crunchy on the outside, and oozing with melted cheese on the inside. Among the Sargasso, they seem to hold a little more integrity, a little firmer and with a touch of bite. It is believed that the concept of a cheese puff pastry was first born as a Gougère in Bourgogne. Once referring to a method of cooking, the name probably referred to a dish that looked more like haggis – a stew of herbs, bacon, cheese and meat mixed with blood and giblets and cooked in a stomach – usually that of a sheep. Over time, the modern creation – consisting of choux pastry mixed with cheese – was popularized and firmly associated with the name.

Cheesy Sprouts at Elliot & # x002019; s (Molly Codyre)

Cheese Puff Pastry at Elliot’s (Molly Codyre)

The origins of Gougère we know today are a little uncertain. Choux pastry itself was introduced to France by chefs Catherine de Medici in the 1500s, and some claim the first iteration of a Gougère was on the menu in Sens in 1571. This is however refuted by the inhabitants of the Burgundian village of Flogny-la-Chapelle, who believe that it was invented by a pastry chef residing in the city in the 19th century. It is believed that this iteration may have arisen from ramekin dough, defined by the Oxford English Dictionary (based on its primary definition as a ceramic dish) as a food consisting of cheese, eggs, and butter. . According to The Old Foodie, mentions of this dish date back to the mid-1600s.

While they have inevitably been adapted and modernized over the years, the originals Gougères serve as a model for the cheese puffs we see nowadays. Traditionally made with Comte or Gruyere, these days you’ll see iterations with everything from goat cheese to gorgonzola – and labels ranging from rudimentary to classic and everything in between.

“Donuts fit perfectly into our menu,” says Nicholas Balfe, chef and co-founder of Larry’s in Peckham. “Who doesn’t want melted, oozing cheese in their crunchy, fried ball of dough?” As in most places, cheddar donuts are found in the snack section of the Larry’s menu, between focaccia and mortadella. It’s an appropriate placement – snacks are the dedicated accompaniment to your appetizer as you browse through the most filling items on a menu. “I guess the inspiration behind it was to make a tasty bite [or] a snack that reminded people of cheese and pickles or a packet of cheese and onion crisps, ”says Ollie Templeton, manager of London’s Carousel. “I knew I wanted the vibe of the food to be informal and fun, and also to be very familiar.”

Cheese Puffs at Larry & # x002019; s in Peckham (Molly Codyre)

Cheese Puffs at Larry’s in Peckham (Molly Codyre)

It’s a concept Balfe also touches on: “I guess they have a certain nostalgic feeling,” he tells me. “They refer to childhood snacks like Wotsits and cheese toast. They feel fun, are more greedy, but are also a vehicle for artisan cheeses, so I guess they tick a few boxes for chefs and diners. Artisanal cheese is a key part of the cheese puff movement; Balfe uses smoked Lincolnshire Poacher from Larry’s, Carousel goes for Corra Linn from Neal’s Yard Dairy, The Dusty Knuckle fills theirs from Holbrook – goat cheese from the Lake District. There is an element of locality that ties it all together; well-made British cheeses that sit a cut above the rest, giving these snacks a high touch.

“If we categorize cheesy puffs as any form of breaded and fried cheese, then yes: I’ve definitely seen more cheesy puffs on menus recently,” says Lucas Oakeley, senior content editor at Mob Kitchen. “It’s honestly hard to tell where a sheet of cheese begins and where a stick of mozzarella ends,” he adds. Oakeley says the first time he can remember seeing a puff of cheese on a menu, it was, like me, at Elliot’s.

Angela Hui, Food Editor at Free time, echoes Balfe’s ideas of comfort. “I think in terms of food and why we see more things like cheese puffs, people crave comfort, solace and nostalgia. It’s cold and we are still traumatized by the ongoing pandemic and food is a way to bring joy into our miserable lives, ”she said. “Consider the cheese puff, it’s a craggy, airy piece. When done right, it’s warm, rich, and covered with a thick layer of salty Parmesan cheese. She adds that while she hasn’t found the perfect cheese puff yet, the iteration at Mayfair’s BiBi was “very, very good.”

Cheese Puffs at The Dusty Knuckle (The Dusty Knuckle)

Cheese Puffs at The Dusty Knuckle (The Dusty Knuckle)

The cheesy puffs at Elliot’s arrived by accident. “At first, I can’t remember exactly when our chef and master baker Adam Sellar was trying to do Gougères and I had some leftovers, ”co-owner Brett Redman tells me. “As a small snack, he decided to quenell it and throw it in the fryer. The rest, as they say, is history. “So – not quite a Gougères, not quite a whiff of cheese. Elliot’s recipe incorporates Isle of Mull Cheddar from Neal’s Yard Dairy and The Earl for a detachable texture. It turns out, however, that while the iteration of Elliot could be responsible for this current explosion of menus across London and beyond, Claridge’s was one step ahead of the game. Cheese puffs on the menu of The Painter’s Room are a reimagining of the version that was on the Claridge’s menu more than three decades ago. “Cheese puffs were actually a regular on the canape menu when I started at Claridge’s in 1986,” Executive Chef Martyn Nail tells me.

The notions of familiarity and comfort were mentioned regularly throughout the conversations on this subject, both with chefs and catering professionals. Fat and salty cheese and warming pastry have been happy friends for centuries – maybe even since the 1500s – so it seems fitting that the combination has been tampered with by restaurateurs across the country. What drives food trends can always seem intangible – Hui may be right, and the boom in the cheese puff was spurred by a collective embrace for comfort, or maybe it stemmed from a desire to appear local, to celebrate British cheeses in a new and interesting way. Or maybe it is just the simple pleasure of the innate delight of buttery dough and melted cheese; the tangy flavor and smooth smoothness. As Hui says, “It’s salty, salty and a bit awesome, which whets the appetite before you dig. “

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