In the 1960s, a salad recipe didn't necessarily equate to lettuce and veggies—sometimes, they were all about the cheese. Cheese squares, to be exact. For this episode of Then & Now, a video series celebrating our 100th anniversary, chef Alexis deBoschnek references a vintage Better Homes & Gardens® New Cook Book recipe to make Blue Cheese Salad Squares topped with fruit. She then invents her own modern interpretation that highlights blue cheese and taste-tests it against the classic version. (Hint: It involves a French pastry dough.) Find out which she names the cheesy champion, and try out the recipes at home to decide your own winner.
Then: Blue Cheese Squares
Making the blue cheese squares only takes a few simple steps. Alexis combines softened cream cheese, mayonnaise, and lemon juice, beating it with a hand mixer until light and fluffy. Next, she stirs in the blue cheese, chopped celery (which Alexis approvingly acknowledges as "salad-y"), and salt. The final step calls for folding in whipped heavy cream and transferring the mixture to a tray and freezing until firm.
"I'm anticipating that this is gonna be pretty intensely flavored," Alexis says. "I know there were a lot of companies in the '50s that were really pushing mayonnaise-forward recipes, which this definitely is."
After letting it set, Alexis removes the tray from the freezer and turns it out. She cuts the brick-like cheese mixture into 1-inch cubes and begins assembling. The recipe calls for serving with fruit, and Alexis places a slice of pineapple at the bottom of each ramekin to add a "fun and retro" element. She then adds the cheese cubes and tops with more fruit.
While the end result is "cute and charming," Alexis says she'd think anyone would be surprised to find out it's supposed to be a salad. She takes a bite and decides the crunch of the celery and semi-frozen texture make it a satisfying snack. "It has a really nice balance," Alexis concludes. "I think the cream cheese, the mayonnaise, and the whipped cream takes down the intensity of the blue cheese." She wishes it was paired with an actual salad, but overall the recipe is a success.
Now: Blue Cheese Gougères
When it comes to brainstorming the modern dish, Alexis decides it has to put blue cheese front and center (and leave the fruit behind). Ultimately, she lands on blue cheese gougères, which she describes as a French version of a cheese puff. The recipe uses pâte à choux pastry, the same dough in desserts like churros and éclairs.
She begins by adding butter, salt, and water to a pot on the stovetop and bringing it to a boil. "The fun thing about knowing how to make pâte à choux is that once you do, you can make all these different variations," Alexis says. Gougères are also versatile, she points out, and you can try out any cheese that melts easily (like Parmesan and Gruyère).
Once the mixture is boiling, Alexis removes the pan from the heat and adds flour and black pepper. To make the dough come together, she stirs the mixture until it becomes a lumpy paste. It forms into a ball then briefly goes back on the heat to cook off the raw flour.
The dough ball then goes into a stand mixer bowl. If you don't mix it while adding eggs, they'll scramble, Alexis cautions. She drops in the eggs one at a time until they're incorporated, and then mixes in the blue cheese to finish it off. For piping onto a baking sheet, she opts for a piping bag with a round tip for precision and ease.
"Pâte à choux feels somewhere between dough and batter," Alexis explains. "It can hold shape, but still be light and airy at the same time." To smooth out the piped dough, she simply dips her finger in water and lightly taps the curls on top.
The gougères then go in the oven until they're golden brown. They come out puffed up, and you can see the meltiness of the cheese inside. "These are really great if you're having a party—they come together so quickly," she says. "People walking into the smell of a warm, cheesy, bready situation is always a good thing."
Alexis displays them on a three-tier tower, and moves on to the taste-test. She describes the inside as light and airy, and the blue cheese gives a subtle yet sharp flavor. "I think both the blue cheese squares and the gougères are both really great examples of how to use blue cheese," Alexis says. Because she suspects you serve the blue cheese squares as an appetizer, there's a "nice nod to the past" there, but with a modern spin. "I feel pretty inspired by both."