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This is a variation of pâte a choux, or cream puff pastry given to us by Anna Coombs, an old Swedish friend from Carlisle, Massachusetts. When these puffs are baked in a ring, it is known as a "gougere."
Cheese puffs are reminiscent of cheese popovers. They can be used as a savory rather than a sweet biscuit at tea time. Try adding some minced green or white onion, ham, prosciutto or whatever excites your taste buds.
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, cut in pieces
1 cup King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/2 teaspoon chili powder, paprika or dry mustard (optional but good)
1 cup (about 4 ounces) Gruyere (traditional), Parmesan, sharp Cheddar, etc., grated
4 large eggs at room temperature
Preheat your oven to 425°F.
Bring the water and salt to a boil in a medium-sized saucepan. Add and melt the butter. When the butter is melted and the mixture is close to a boil again, take the pan off the heat and add the flour, spice and 3/4 cup of the grated cheese, all at once.
Turn the heat way down and put the pan back on the burner. Stir the mixture until it holds together in one mass, the texture is smooth and you can easily pull it away from the sides of the pan with your spoon. This should happen within a minute or two. Stop stirring at this point and remove the pan from the heat to cool for 5 to 10 minutes. This is important because you don't want to cook the eggs prematurely when you add them.
One at a time, beat in the eggs until the dough has completely incorporated them and doesn't look or feel slippery.
Drop the dough by small spoonfuls (or use a small cookie scoop) on a greased baking sheet. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over their tops. Bake the puffs for about 25 minutes.
Or drop them in 8 to 10 larger spoonfuls in a ring (they will expand so give them room), sprinkle with cheese and bake for 10 to 15 minutes longer.
To make them crisper, stab each one in the side with the tip of a sharp knife and leave them in the oven with the heat turned off and the door ajar for a further 5 to 10 minutes. This allows the steam to escape without softening the shell of the puff.
Cheese puffs can be prepared ahead of time. After they're formed, cover the baking sheet with a damp towel or plastic wrap and store them at room temperature until you're ready to pop them into the oven.
This recipe reprinted from The Baking Sheet Newsletter, Vol. III, No. 2, December 1991 issue.