It was a close call between the cheese gougères and the potato gratin, but in the end the potato gratin won out (not that there were so many votes in the first place). Both were amazingly delicious and don't worry, I will definitely be posting the gougères recipe sometime in the future. But on to the gratin...
It is sooooo yummy! Which is not very surprising considering it is made with heavy whipping cream and butter. This particular incarnation uses only regular potatoes and involves cheese between the layers, but you can add sweet potatoes and only put cheese on top and it will still be to die for (dare I say maybe even better?)!
If this cheesy, bubbly picture doesn't make you drool all on its own, try reading on to see if you can handle even more cheesy potato goodness...
Cheesy Potato Gratin
2 1/2 - 3 pounds of Potatoes
1 pint Heavy Cream*
3 sprigs Thyme
6 cloves Garlic crushed
2 Tablespoons Butter
1 Tablespoon Salt
2 teaspoons Pepper
2 teaspoons nutmeg**
1 cup grated or shredded Gruyere cheese***
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
*I have seen many recipes that use milk or half and half in place of some or all of the heavy cream. So if you want to make this dish a little lighter, try switching it up.
**Feel free to leave out the nutmeg or add in a different spice. The flavors can be whatever you like, I just happen to love nutmeg with cream and cheese. Same goes for the thyme.
***I mentioned earlier that this recipe has cheese throughout the layers of the gratin as well as on top. But you can put the cheese only on top or leave it out altogether. This amount of cheese resulted in a lot of extra oil in the pan so feel free to use a lot less (like half or even less than that).
Place cream in a small pot with 2 cloves of crushed garlic, thyme sprigs, 1 teaspoon of the nutmeg, and one teaspoon of the pepper. Turn heat to medium low for about 10 minutes to allow the cream to infuse with the flavors of the garlic and thyme. Stir frequently to prevent a skin from forming and do not boil.
Rinse and peel the potatoes
Slice the potatoes into very thin rounds using a food processor or by hand. If cutting by hand, I recommend keeping the slices in water until you are ready to assemble to help reduce browning.
Mix the potato rounds with salt and remaining pepper and nutmeg (hands are the best tools here). If you kept the potatoes in water, be sure to thoroughly drain and dry them before mixing.
Butter a pan that is about 9x11 inches. Arrange a layer of potatoes in the bottom of the pan. Overlapping the pieces slightly to cover the entire bottom. I like to use the not-so-perfect pieces in the bottom and middle of the gratin. [The smaller the pan, the longer the cooking time because the thicker the layers. You can use a larger pan as well, but try to use one where you will get at least 3 layers.]
Sprinkle about 1/8 cup of the gruyere and a few tablespoons of the parmesan cheeses over the potato layer, dot with a few very thin slices of butter and then cover with another overlapping layer of potatoes. Repeat the process of layering the potatoes and cheese until you have used all of the potatoes, randomly placing garlic cloves throughout the layers as you go. Make sure to save a good amount of cheese for the top, but DO NOT top the gratin with cheese yet! Keep this cheese to the side for later.
(if not using cheese, just continue to layer the potatoes, dotting frequently with butter and garlic cloves)
Take the infused cream and pour it over the potatoes, making sure to let the cream soak through into all of the layers (you can push down on the potatoes). Remove the thyme sprigs but let the garlic cloves sit on top. Depending on the size of your pan you may not need all of the cream. Fill the pan until the cream just reaches the top layer of potatoes but does not cover them.
Cook the gratin in a 375ºF oven for 45 minutes to an hour until potatoes are fork tender. If you are worried about the top burning you can cover with foil at any point during cooking.
Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top of the potatoes and allow to melt in the oven for about 5-10 minutes until crispy orange on top (you can also use the broiler to get it even crispier).
Remove from oven and allow to rest for about 5 minutes before slicing and serving.
When I made this for Thanksgiving I made the gratin through step 8 (just before topping with cheese), then I removed the gratin from the oven, covered it in foil, and kept it on the counter for about 4 hours. I then topped it with cheese and reheated it in the oven about 30 minutes before we were ready to eat it. While probably not considered "safe" because of bacteria and whatnot, I wanted to let you know that you can prepare this mostly in advance and keep it (preferably in the fridge) before topping with cheese and serving. ENJOY! =)