To make cheese puffs, first you make a pâte a choux dough (pronounced “pat ah shoo”), which, if you’ve never made it before, can seem a little weird. Weird because most of us who bake are used to mixing dough ingredients together and then plopping them in the oven. With a pâte a choux dough, you essentially half cook the dough first, by adding flour to boiling water and butter, and stirring like a madman until you have a ball of dough the consistency of playdough. Then you mix in eggs and then the dough goes in the oven, where it puffs up as the water in the dough turns to steam and expands into air pockets.
The dough is used for making cream puffs, eclairs, cheese puffs (gougères), beignets, and even churros. David Lebovitz has a recipe for making a French tart crust with what looks to me to be essentially a pâte a choux dough, that has been getting raves. So, it’s a useful technique, and pretty easy, though the dough can be a little stiff to work by hand.
These cheese puffs are made with cheddar cheese and a little bit of thyme. You could add crumbled bacon to the mix, or use sage or rosemary. You could use goat cheese instead of cheddar, or Gruyere or Emmenthaler (more traditional for a gougère). Feel free to experiment with the cheeses. By the way, Michael Ruhlman has an excellent chapter on pâte a choux and gougères in his Ratio book.
These cheese puffs? Excellent as dumplings in split pea soup. Use instead of croutons. Or devour them as they were intended, as a savory, addictive appetizer.
Cheddar Cheese Puffs Recipe
- 1 stick butter (8 Tbsp or 4 ounces)
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 4 large eggs
- 1 cup (4 ounces) grated sharp cheddar cheese
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme (or rosemary)
- Freshly ground pepper
1 In a medium sized saucepan, add the water, butter, and salt, and bring to a boil over high heat.
2 Reduce the heat to medium and add the flour all at once. Stir rapidly. The mixture will form a dough ball that will pull away from the sides of the pan. It helps to use a wooden spoon to stir as the dough will be rather thick. Continue to cook for a couple minutes.
3 Remove the pan from the heat and let cool for a couple of minutes. Stir so that the dough cools more evenly. You want the dough to be warm, just not so hot that when you start adding eggs they cook as they hit the dough. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring after each addition until the eggs are incorporated into the dough. (Do this part in a mixer if you want, or by hand with a wooden spoon.) The dough should become rather creamy.
4 Stir in the grated cheese, thyme, and a few grinds of pepper.
5 Preheat oven to 425°F. Spoon out small balls (about a heaping tablespoon) of the dough onto a Silpat or parchment lined baking sheet, with at least an inch separating the spoonfuls. Place in oven and cook for 10 minutes at 425°F. Lower heat to 350°F and cook for another 15-20 minutes, until puffed up and lightly golden.
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