Monday, December 13, 2010

I Dream of Cheese Puffs

I have not made cheese puffs this week. I am way too sick for making cheese puffs. But I wish I were making cheese puffs. I foresee a baking bender when I get home.

Cheese puffs (or gougères, if one is a francophile) are simple, but also work. Totally worthwhile though, and your friends will be so impressed if you take them to a potluck, or serve them at a party. Further, they are based on what the French would call pâte á choux or cabbage pastry, because of the resemblance of cheese puffs to little heads of cabbage (if you're like me and eschew pastry bags whenever possible). Pâte á choux is a mindbogglingly useful skill if you want to make Swedish Coffee Cake -- and why wouldn't you? It's the best breakfast pastry in the known universe if you are an almond -- ahem -- nut. Or one could make profiterole, eclairs, or cream puffs. I'm a bit too basic and usually stick to cheese puffs.

Cheese Puffs

Read everything, then read it again. No. Really. It won't take long and you'll be prepared for when your arm wants to fall off.

1 c. water
1 stick unsalted butter
1/2 t. salt
scant 1/2 t Dijon mustard
1 c. whole wheat flour (or all purpose, either works)
5 eggs
1 c. grated Swiss cheese
heaping 1/2 c. grated Cheddar
1/4 t. nutmeg
loads of fresh ground black pepper, or to taste

Heat oven to 375
Place racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven.
Butter two large cookie sheets.

Combine water, butter, mustard, and salt in a sauce pan of reasonable size (but not a huge one). A large cast iron skillet is not an awesome idea, trust me on this. Even if it seems like it's deep enough, it won't be.

Bring the mixture to a full boil over high heat. Measure the flour while you are waiting and read ahead in the recipe.
Reduce heat to moderate and dump in the flour all at once.
Stir vigorously. Use a wooden spoon. Vigorous stirring will not be easy, because the flour and water will form a very thick paste. Stir until the mixture pulls away from the sides of the pan -- about 30 seconds.

Keep stirring for another minute and a half to cook off excess moisture. This is not easy because of the cementlike quality of the dough. Persevere. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly -- 3 minutes or so. (I actually skipped this part by accident, which made the next step more harrowing than it need to be, that and the large skillet that I was using had lots of exposed hot surfaces, perfect for quick cooking eggs. I don't know how I didn't end up with the worst scrambled eggs ever -- probably force of will.)

Add the 5 eggs one at a time, beating well with each addition. Your arm will hate you. Just be glad you've got your trusty wooden spoon. It will be worth it. Excelsior.

The batter will appear to separate, but become smooth once beaten. It should be glossy and just stiff enough to hold soft peaks and fall softly from a spoon. Or that's what the Gourmet Cookbook says. My batter was stiffer and more opinionated than that (probably because of the whole wheat -- their recipe calls for all purpose flour).

Stir in the cheeses, nutmeg, and pepper.

At this juncture one could pipe the little darlings on to the cookie sheets. I have no truck with pastry bags, so I used a teaspoon measuring spoon and made little roundish heaps an inch apart on the cookie sheets.

Bake for 30 minutes, switching positions of cookie sheets at the fifteen minute mark. Or just bake them until they are puffed, golden, and crisp. Either way everyone will be very impressed.

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