Here is an easy cheese puff recipe that goes by the elegant little name of gougères (goo-jair) in French. They make a popular warm appetizer or might be served alongside a green salad for a tasty entree.
French Cheese Puffs
Don't be afraid to get creative with the other ingredients. You can add all sorts of things to gougères with great success. Popular additions are finely diced ham, chopped chives, diced smoked salmon, piment d'Esplette, and even foie gras.
The recipe begins by making a choux pastry dough. Choux has a reputation of being tricky and I have failed a few batches in my time. The cheese puff recipe here though should work every time. Do pay attention to egg size - the recipe calls for four medium eggs. If you use large eggs, three will probably be enough. The final dough should be stiff and sticky.
Don't expect the puffs to get as large as regular choux pastries. The cheese and other ingredients weigh things down a bit, but not to worry, gougères are quite puffy enough.
Be sure to serve these warm. You can make them ahead of time and store them at room temperature for several hours. Just pop them back in a hot oven for a minute or two to reheat. I wouldn't recommend refrigerating them, but you can freeze them quite nicely. To thaw, place the frozen gougères on a tray and place in a preheated oven (400°F should be about right) for several minutes.
1 cup shredded Gruyère, Emmental, Comté or other cheese (4 ounces)
1 beaten egg
Preheat the oven to 425°F (210°C).
Place the water, cut up butter, salt, pepper and nutmeg in a medium sized saucepan and place on low heat. As soon as the water boils and the butter has all melted, remove from heat.
Immediately stir in all of the flour using a wooden spoon. Stir for at least 2 minutes making sure everything gets well blended. The dough will form a single mass and the heat of the pan will dry it out somewhat.
Add one egg and beat the dough for about 1 minute to completely incorporate the egg. The result will be a very sticky dough. Repeat with the other three eggs, making sure you blend in one egg completely before moving to the next.
Add the shredded cheese and all but two tablespoons of the Parmesan. Stir to blend completely.
You can either use a pastry tube or two spoons (one to scoop and one to scrape) to form the balls. Use about a tablespoon of dough for each puff. Pipe or scrape the balls onto a baking tray lined with parchment paper, spacing them about an inch apart.
Brush the tops of the balls with a pastry brush dipped in the beaten egg. Sprinkle the tops with the remaining Parmesan cheese.
Bake at 425°F (210°C) for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and serve warm.
Cheese Puff Recipe Variations
You can add different combinations of the following ingredients. My favorite combination is the above recipe, plus 1 cup diced ham, 1/4 cup chopped chives, and a good pinch of cayenne pepper.
Au roquefort - 1 cup crumbled blue cheese replaces the other cheeses; you can add a couple handfuls of chopped walnuts as well.
Au jambon - 1 cup finely diced ham. This would work with crumbled sausage or finely diced chorizo as well.
The French region of Bourgogne is often given credit with being the birthplace of gougères, although I have heard rumors that it was a visiting Parisian chef that first had the idea to add cheese to choux pastry and serve it as an appetizer.
In Bourgogne, you are likely to find this cheese puff recipe cooked in a ring, called a couronne or crown. It is then sliced into servings and served alongside a green salad. Typically, this cheese puff recipe is made with Comté cheese, a French cheese fabricated in Franche Comté, just to the east of Bourgogne. However, other types of cheese will work just as well.