There are plenty of traditional nibbles that show up during New Year's celebrations: blinis with caviar, smoked salmon canapés, dips aplenty. This winter, I say keep that festivity going and extend the celebrations into the deepest, darkest days of winter. I’d also suggest serving Comté gougères – with an elegant, complex and surprising glass of oxidative white wine on the side.
Record-scratch? Gougères is a highfalutin' way of saying "cheese puffs", and despite the fancy name, they're pretty straightforward to whip up: simply choux pastry mixed with a generous heap of cheese. Gougères are most frequently made with Gruyère, though you can use most hard cheeses to good effect – think Parmigiano Reggiano, Emmental, Beaufort. In this case, the addition of nutty, caramelly Comté makes these gougères a step up from your bog-standard cheesy bites.
Comté also happens to be the most classic and revered food pairing with vin jaune. This translates literally to "yellow wine” and is most associated with France's easterly Jura region. Like fino sherry, vin jaune is aged in oak barrels; because they're not topped up after some of the wine evaporates, a fine layer of yeast – known as voile in France, flor in Spain – settles on its surface. This unique production style means that vin jaune often tastes sherry-like – it can be nutty, honeyed, saline, even a little umami. If you want a white(ish) wine that's still rich and decadent enough for mid-winter, then vin jaune is what to reach for.
That said, though this wine is partially made according to vin jaune principles (with some grapes aged oxidatively), it's not from France. Instead, this bottle hails from the Colchagua Valley in central Chile. Most French vin jaune is made with the Savagnin grape, but this features the beautifully aromatic Torontel and Semillon, popular in Bordeaux and used in Sauternes.
The resulting bottle is both a rarity – only 913 were made in 2017 – and an extraordinary feat. It's dry but still abundant with notes of toffee and citrus, pleasingly nutty and mineral enough to add balance. It's a dream with those gougères – and sure to be a party-pleaser, even in the dead of winter.
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan
Makes approximately 35
125ml whole milk
115g unsalted butter
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
140g plain flour
5 large eggs, room temperature
180g aged Comté, grated
1. Preheat the oven to 220° Celsius (425° Fahrenheit). Line two large baking sheets with baking paper.
2. Add the milk, water, butter and salt to a medium saucepan and place over high heat. Bring to a rolling boil. Add the flour all at once and stir rapidly with a wooden spoon. The dough will form a ball and leave a thin coating on the pan; keep stirring for 1-2 minutes more until it feels smooth and slightly dry.
3. Transfer to a bowl and leave to cool for several minutes. Crack in one egg and, using a hand whisk (or a wooden spoon), beat very well until fully incorporated (the mixture may look crumbly at this point). Continue with the remaining eggs, beating well between additions, until the dough is smooth and glossy. Add the grated cheese and mix to incorporate.
4. Using a spoon, drop roughly tablespoon-sized balls on the baking sheet, roughly 1–2 inches apart. Alternatively, for more even shaping, transfer the dough to a pastry bag (or use a large Ziploc bag with a small hole cut in one corner as an ad-hoc pastry bag) and pipe into even rounds. Dip a finger in cold water to smooth any irregularities.
5. Place both trays in the oven and immediately turn the heat down to 180° Celsius (375° Fahrenheit). Bake for 12 minutes. Rotate the trays from top to bottom and front to back, and bake for another 10–12 minutes, or until the gougères are puffed up, deep golden and sound hollow when tapped.
6. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on the trays for several minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. Eat while still warm to enjoy them at their best.
Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer, a beer and wine hound and an all-around lover of tasty things. Our first book with Claire, The Beer Lover’s Table: Seasonal Recipes and Modern Beer Pairings, is out now and available in all good book stores (and at HB&B). Follow her on Twitter at @clairembullen. Don’t miss out on Claire’s wine and food pairings, which go out every month in our Natural Wine Killers subscription boxes.