The French call it the cinq et sept. The lost hours of the afternoon where people sneak off for a quick aperitif and a liaison with a lover.
My French actress friend Julie tells me that the tradition came about because these are the hours when women back in some unspecified olden days changed for dinner. They were half way undressed anyway, so it was a handy moment for a lover to drop by.
A busy city life might seem something of a mood killer for early evening seduction. The psychological shift required might seem too great an effort to make. Yet, imagine how much more filled with joie de vivre life would be if the hours between the end of work and the start of dinner were filled with romance and intrigue rather than hanging around, half watching television or generally mooching. Think of the missed aperitifs and the kisses un-stolen. These are often lost hours anyway, I’m simply suggesting using them to more life-enhancing effect.
Pernod is an aniseed-flavored herbal liquor that’s incredibly popular in France. It’s best mixed with a dash of ice cold water. Once the water hits the spirit the drink metamorphoses from pale lemon to milky white – just like absinthe, but with less potential for blindness.
It’s the perfect herbal, sprightly aperitif, and is built to go with a pre-dinner snack – a couple of cheese straws perhaps, a handful of designer crisps, a bowl of green olives, a few crackers with paté, some celery spread with soft goat cheese. Or these gougères.
Gougères (Cheese puffs) – makes 15ish4tbsp butter (1/2 a stick) ½ cup of water ½ cup of sifted flour 2 large eggs Pinch of salt ½ cup of grated cheese –I mix gruyere and a blue cheese 1 tbsp chopped chives 1 tsp chopped rosemary
- Preheat the oven to 400
- Boil the butter and the water in a pan until the butter melts – make sure the mixture really does come to a boil or the batter never comes together
- Take the pan off the heat and dump in the flour and a pinch of salt. Stir vigorously for about 10 seconds until the pan is clean. You don’t want to overbeat or the glutens in the flour will develop and it will go tough
- Beat in the eggs one at a time – it looks like glue. Don’t worry. Keep stirring briskly. It will come together
- Stir in the cheese and herbs
- Scrape into a piping bag, or a zip lock bag with the corner snipped off, or simply use a tablespoon to dollup blobs onto a tray lined with baking parchment or foil. Allow some room for spreading
- Sprinkle a few drops of water on the tray (to create steam in the oven which helps with the rising)
- Bake for 15 minutes – if they’re big they may need 20 if they’re more teaspoon-sized they may only need 12. I make them about the size of golf balls and they take 18 minutes exactly.
- Take the tray out of the oven, turn the puffs over and prick a hole in the base to let out the steam. Turn the oven off, put the puffs back in and let them dry out in there with the door open
You can make these ahead of time, freeze them and reheat them from frozen in a medium oven. I like to keep a bag of them for impromptu fancy snacks with impromptu guests.
This is a great recipe to use up odd ends of cheese that have accumulated over time in the back of the fridge. You might also think about adding olives and sundried tomatoes, or chopped up Parma ham, or cooked mushrooms.
They’re stand alone snacks, though they’re also good dipped into sour cream laced with mustard, or equal parts of cream cheese and sour cream blended, with pate, with chutney, with olive oil and salt.
I sometimes use garlic butter instead of regular butter, or put softened garlic butter on the side for dipping – both are delicious, but neither is necessarily in the kissing-friendly spirit of the cinq et sept.