Welcome to Snacksgiving, where we bring you classic Thanksgiving dishes in the form of poppable, dippable, shareable bites.
Snacks are life. I can make whole meals out of snacks. Think mezes, tapas, dim sum: If you go to a small plates restaurant, you are effectively snacking your way to dinner satisfaction.
When it comes to Thanksgiving, however, I have a conundrum. As much as I love snacks, I have also spent the better part of a month preparing for that dinner, and I want all of my loved ones to get to the buffet with hearty appetites. So too much pre-dinner snacking, while delicious and enjoyable in the moment, is counterproductive in the long run. I have learned over my decades of entertaining that when it comes to a dinner party, if I am in the mood for lots of snacks before the main meal, I keep the actual meal light, and if I’m planning a real feast, I scale way back on the nibbly bits.
For Thanksgiving in particular, I stopped serving my famous pumpkin soup in bowls at the table and started offering it in little espresso cups as a sort of a soup shooter during the cocktail hour. Paired with a tiny one-bite cornbread madeleine, it satisfies without filling you up. A bowl of herbed popcorn, maybe some mixed nuts, and people will have appetites that are whetted but not ruined.
Since I’m always on the lookout for a light bite, gougeres make regular appearances at our parties. These fluffy puffs pack a cheesy wallop while still landing lightly like little clouds. Even better, you can make the dough, freeze it in balls ahead of time, and bake the gougeres straight from the freezer, which is a godsend for someone like me who has a tendency to extend spontaneous invites before checking the larder. I always make double batches so that half get served immediately and half get frozen for future needs.
This sweet potato version was originally something I made the day after Thanksgiving to take to a pal’s leftovers potluck. I only had a small bit of sweet potatoes left over, so I added the smush into my usual gougere batter and loved the result. But they are a great thing to make on purpose for before the Thanksgiving dinner: a perfect festive snack!
My pro tip: If you are making ahead without leftover sweet potatoes on hand, use a jar of baby food. I learned about this hack from my grandmother, who had little time for fussy purees and passing things through fine mesh strainers. Baby food is the smoothest puree imaginable, and most have no added ingredients, so they don’t mess with your seasoning. I like BeechNut Organic. The complete sweet potatoes ingredient list is: sweet potatoes. Plus it comes in a handy four-ounce container, which is precisely what you need for this recipe.
These are terrific on their own, but are also great stuffed with whipped goat cheese or herbed cheese spread, or a piece of prosciutto or crispy bacon and some chutney or fig jam.
Makes about 30 (depending on size)
- 6 oz. whole milk
- 4 oz. mashed sweet potatoes (or sweet potato baby food)
- 2 oz. unsalted butter (European style preferred)
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- ¼ tsp. freshly ground white pepper
- ¾ cup plus 3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
- 3 large eggs at room temperature
- 2 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves (you can substitute chopped fresh sage, chives, or parsley, or leave herbs out altogether)
- 4 oz. gruyere, Emmental, or sharp cheddar cheese, grated fine (Please grate your own: Pre-shredded cheeses are packed with additives to prevent clumping that also affect melting and can give an off texture to the finished product.)
Heat your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit with a rack in the center position. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone baking mats. (Note: If you have a problem with your baking sheets overbrowning or burning the bottoms of things like cookies, double them up to create an insulated protective layer.)
In a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, warm the butter and milk together until the butter is fully melted, then whisk in the sweet potato puree and salt and pepper until well combined. Bring to a gentle boil.
Add all of the flour to the pot at once. With a stiff rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir and mix and cook until it comes together into a fairly stiff dough that pulls away from the sides and leaves a dull film on the surface of the pot. This should take just a few minutes. Put the dough into your stand mixer, fitted with the paddle, and beat on medium speed until the mixture stops steaming. It should be warm but not hot, as you don’t want to cook the eggs when you add them.
With the mixer still going, add the eggs one at a time, letting each fully combine before adding the next. You will know the batter is ready when a spatula dunked in creates a V-shaped sheet of dough when it drops off. Stir in the cheese and thyme until well mixed.
A lot of people pipe their gougeres, and if you are so inclined, feel free. I am lazier, so I just use a small cookie scoop to make mine. You can do these super tiny or fairly large; the only thing that adjusts is cooking time. I like a gougere that I can pop in my mouth whole, so I use a scoop that is about a tablespoon of batter.
Scoop or pipe about two inches apart on the lined baking sheets. (If you want to freeze the dough, scoop it out and flash-freeze it uncovered on the sheet pan until fully frozen, about 2-4 hours. Transfer to a plastic bag in the freezer for up to three months. Bake from frozen according to directions, adding 5-10 minutes to initial baking time depending on size.)
Bake for 18 minutes for small gougeres, 20 for medium, and 25 for large and then reduce the oven heat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and continue to bake for another 5-15 minutes depending on size. You want the gougeres to be crisp and lightly browned on the outside but still tender within. At 8 minutes into the second phase of baking, I usually sacrifice one and break it open to see that the middle is cooked.
Remove the gougeres from the oven and serve warm. If you’re worried about them deflating (especially if you intend to slice them open and stuff them, for example), poke them with a skewer to let out the steam.
You can make and bake up to two days in advance and reheat in a 400-degree oven for 6-8 minutes before serving.