Monday 20 December 2021

Cheddar and Black Pepper Cheese Puffs


Aside from family gatherings, my mom and dad didn't do a lot of entertaining.  Every New Year's Eve, though, they and several other couples from our neighbourhood would go dancing at the Legion hall.  After last call, they'd adjourn to one house or another, taking it in turn in a casual sort of way.  On the years when they came to our house my mom would serve an assortment of food, always including cheese puffs. She'd make them in advance, re-crisp them in the oven, then serve them warm.

With the coming of the Food Network and a general broadening of our knowledge of foods from many cultures, people started calling cheese puffs gougères but, whatever the name, they're still the same tasty, easy-to-make pastry.  Since French gougères are made with Gruyère cheese and the French are very particular about accuracy in food names and I baked mine with cheddar, I'm choosing to call mine cheese puffs just as my mom did.

Gougères are made with pâte à choux (cream puff pastry); a dough entirely leavened by eggs.  The pastry is put into a hot oven 425F to ensure a rapid souffléing of the eggs, causing the dough to rise. After a few minutes the heat is lowered to prevent the puffs from becoming too brown. The process is vulnerable to excess moisture so dry cheeses are preferable in this batter. My cheese puffs work because the cheddar I use (Old Edinburgh) is aged, crumbly and - for a cheddar - quite dry. 

Don‎'t be intimidated by pâte à choux. Provided you follow the instructions carefully, it's easy to make.

You'll need:

  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup flour
  • at least 1 Tablespoon of freshly ground black pepper; a coarse grind
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup butter, cut into Tablespoon sized pieces
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/4 cups finely grated cheddar
Put the eggs in a bowl and cover them with hot tap water.

Measure the flour into a small bowl and use a fork to stir in the pepper

Combine the milk, water, butter, and salt in a saucepan and bring them to a boil.

Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the flour all at once.  Stir until the flour absorbs the water and becomes a thick dough. Continue stirring the dough, breaking it apart with the back of a wooden spoon now and then, until it stops steaming. You want any excess water in the dough to evaporate. The dough cooking process will leave a skim coating of dough on the bottom and sides of the pan.

Remove the pan from the heat and let it rest for about 5 minutes.

Add the eggs one at a time, beating each one thoroughly into the dough before adding the next.

Stir in the cheddar cheese, mixing until it's evenly distributed throughout the dough.

Spoon or pipe the dough onto a parchment lined baking sheet.

Bake the puffs at 425F for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350F and cook them until they're a light golden brown.

Take the baking sheet out of the oven and pierce each puff twice with the sharp tip of a paring knife.

Put the pierced puffs back in the oven and turn off the heat so any excess moisture inside the puffs can evaporate.

If you're making your cheese puffs ahead of time, you can re-crisp them by putting them in a 350F oven for a few minutes.

These cheese puffs can be made in any size from 2 to 4 inches in diameter.  

I serve the small ones warm, with a bowl of pepper jelly for those who wish it.  

Larger puffs can be opened, any moist dough in the middle removed, and then filled with meat or vegetables in a sauce, a little good mustard topped with shaved roast beef or ham and - for the beef - a dollop of horseradish, or an apple pie filling made with diced apples.

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