Hold on tight, everyone -- this recipe might just change your life forever, at least when it comes to party planning/entertaining. Call them by their fancy French name (Gougères), or just call them cheese puffs -- either way, these little appetizers are a seriously impressive AND really easy to make ahead. You can make a big batch of these guys today, pop them in your freezer, and pull them out as you need them over the next few weeks of holiday festivities.
The ingredients in gougères are really simple: butter, milk, salt, flour, eggs, and cheese. The dough takes about 15 minutes to whip up, and then you can either bake the puffs immediately or portion them out and freeze them to use later. They will keep for at least 6 months in your freezer -- I store mine in a zip-top bag so that they are easy to pull out as needed to bake.
The base of gougères is a savory choux pastry (the sweet kind is used to make cream puffs and eclairs!). I think that some people are a little intimidated by pastry, but this is a fairly straightforward method! The keys to successful choux are properly cooking the moisture out of the dough and then putting a little muscle behind incorporating the eggs (more on both of those things in the recipe below!). The result is a deliciously airy and cheesy pastry puff, which will pretty much make you the most popular person at any party.
Gougères (Cheese Puffs)
Adapted from The Silver Palate Cookbook
Yield: 35 pieces
1 c. + 1 Tbsp. milk
1 stick (8 Tbsp.) butter
1 tsp. salt
1 c. all-purpose flour
5 eggs (at room temperature)
3/4 c. Parmesan cheese
3/4 c. Gruyère cheese
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit if baking gougères immediately. In a large saucepan, heat the 1 c. of milk, butter, and salt on the stove top until the butter melts and the mixture begins to boil. Immediately remove the pan from the heat when it bubbles up and add all of the flour, mixing together with a wire whisk.
Return the pan to the stove top over medium-low heat -- switch to a wooden spoon (it will make your life easier) and stir the dough continuously for 3-5 minutes. Your goal here is to cook some of the excess moisture out of the dough so that your pastry puffs don't get soggy after they bake. You'll know when it's good when the dough pulls away from the edges of the pan and forms a single mound (see photo, above left).
Remove the pan from the heat and allow everything to cool for 2 or 3 minutes -- you just don't want the pan to be too hot when you start adding the eggs. [NOTE: I recommend that you start with room temperature eggs to minimize the chance that the eggs will cook when they hit the warm pan/dough. If you forgot to leave the eggs out, don't worry! Just put them in a bowl and cover with very warm water for a few minutes before using.]
Add 4 eggs (save the last one for your egg wash!), one at a time, to the dough. Mix each egg into the dough completely before adding the next. At first, it might seem like the dough is separating (see photo, above right), but don't panic! Just use a little muscle and everything will come together -- promise! Finally, stir in the cheeses.
I like to let the dough rest for 5 minutes or so before I start portioning it on to my baking sheet. I find that the dough is a little less sticky after it rests. Portion the dough out by the tablespoon onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or sprayed with non-stick spray. If you are baking them immediately, leave about 1 inch of room in between the puffs. If you are freezing them, don't worry about leaving room.
To bake immediately: Beat together the remaining egg and the 1 Tbsp. of milk in a small bowl. Brush the top of each puff with the egg mixture. Bake for 25-30 minutes until puffed and golden brown on top. Serve warm.
To freeze/bake: Do not apply the egg wash before freezing! Put the baking sheet of portioned puffs in the freezer for at least two hours until they are frozen solid. Remove from the sheet and store in a large zip-top bag in the freezer. When ready to bake, place the puffs one inch apart on a baking sheet that is prepared with parchment paper or non-stick spray. Allow to sit at room temperature for 15 minutes, and then brush the tops of the puffs with the egg and milk wash. Bake for 25-30 minutes at 350.