cheese puffs

— to fill or not to fill, that is the question. 

If you fill them, call them profiteroles —  by definition, miniature cream puffs with a sweet or savory filling. 

These little melt-in-your-mouth appetizers are made from pâté-à-choux, a basic cream puff dough, flavored with gruyère, 
a wonderful Swiss cheese with a slightly nutty flavor.  
Describe them as golf-ball-size popovers if you are serving them to some die-hard golfers. Or most simply, just call them cheese puffs. 

In our family, you cannot call them cheese balls, cause we have that ground covered with Nancy’s famous cheese balls
which are not the light, airy items this recipe produces. 
Whatever the label, cheese puffs are simple to prepare and, as is true of our family favorite cheese balls, 
these little beauties can be frozen for up to six months, a true blessing for busy hosts.  
(Also, see following recipe+, which describes how to prepare and freeze unbaked cheese balls for future use.)

1 cup water
5 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup flour
1 cup grated Gruyère cheese
4 eggs, room temperature
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon water

Deli spread, (chicken, ham, seafood, egg or tuna) — optional filling

In medium saucepan, bring 1 cup water, butter, salt and pepper to a boil over medium-high heat. When butter melts, reduce heat to low.  Add flour and continue cooking over low heat, beating with wooden spoon until mixture pulls away from side of pan (about 1 minute).  Add cheese; beat in until thoroughly combined.  Beat in 4 eggs, one at a time, until completely combined. Continue beating until mixture is smooth, shiny and firm.  Drop batter in small spoonfuls onto lightly greased baking sheets. In small bowl, combine remaining egg and 1 tablespoon water; brush tops of dough.  Bake in a preheated 425 F oven, in upper third of oven, until golden brown and double in size (15-20 minutes); cool on wire racks. 
To Serve:  Slice Gougères in half horizontally; remove soft dough inside, if necessary.  Fill with your choice of Deli meat spread.             

Alternatively, just serve warm as quickly as possible after removing them from the oven.                   

Yield:  about 3 dozen.

Tip:  Gougères can be made ahead and frozen, unfilled. 
To Serve:  Thaw; fill with choice of filling.  Warm, if desired, in a preheated 350 F. oven until heated.

+Alternative directions —

1 cup water
4 tablespoons softened unsalted butter
½  teaspoon kosher salt, plus extra for sprinkling
¼   teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup bread flour
4 large eggs, at room temperature
6 ounces grated Gruyere cheese, plus extra for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 350° F. if baking the gougères right away.* Bring water, butter, ½  teaspoon salt and the cayenne to a boil in a small saucepan.

Place the flour in the bowl of a mixer, add the boiling water mixture and mix in a bowl using a wooden spoon or flat wooden paddle, not a metal whisk,  . Beat in eggs, one at a time, until the dough is smooth. Beat in the cheese and mix until dough is thick and cheese has melted. Place the dough in a pastry bag fitted with a medium plain tip

Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment and pipe the dough in small mounds onto them. Sprinkle each with a pinch of extra grated cheese and kosher salt. Bake at 350° F for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown and puffed about 3 times their original size. Try not to open the oven door for the first 10-12 minutes to keep them from deflating.
Serve and eat IMMEDIATELY! 

*Note — you can prepare in advance, piping but not baking the puffs as follows:   pipes the gougères, sprinkles them with cheese and refrigerates them or freezes them overnight. Let the frozen gougères thaw at room temperature while you preheat the oven to 350° F.  (about 15 minutes). Sprinkle the thawed or refrigerated gougères with salt and bake 25-30 minutes, until golden brown and puffed about 3 times their original size. 

Yield: About 4 1/2 dozen.

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