Lighter Than Air Parmesan Puffs

These puffs, known as gougères, are a simple riff on cream puff shells. They're easy to make and hard to stay away from when you set them, hot, crisp, and steaming, on the buffet table. Vary the cheese type if you like; Parmesan (or Romano) works well because it's such a dry cheese. Richer, creamier cheeses will work, but may prevent the puffs from popping quite so boisterously. At any rate, don't go so far as runny Brie or St. Andre; their flavors are too subtle, and their consistency isn't right for this recipe.
Prep
10 mins
Bake
35 to 45 mins
Total
45 mins
Yield
2 1/2 dozen 2 1/2" puffs
Lighter Than Air Parmesan Puffs

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In a medium-sized saucepan set over medium heat, bring the water, butter, salt, and pepper to a boil, boiling and stirring until the butter is completely melted.
  3. Add the flour all at once and stir over the heat until the mixture forms a smooth ball; this should only take 20 seconds or so.
  4. Remove the pan from the heat, and transfer the dough to the bowl of your electric mixer. (If you have a hand mixer, you may leave the dough in the saucepan.)
  5. Beat in the Parmesan cheese, then add the eggs to the dough one at a time, beating well after each addition. The dough will become very smooth and shiny. Since eggs, even within a size range, vary quite a bit, check the dough after you've added 3 eggs. If it's smooth, shiny, and has a pudding-like consistency (e.g., if you were to drop a tablespoonful onto a baking sheet, it would be fairly smooth, but would hold its shape nicely and not spread), then don't add the remaining egg.
  6. Using a tablespoon cookie scoop or a spoon, drop large chestnut-sized (1 1/4") balls of dough the baking sheets, leaving about an inch between them. The dough will be very sticky; it helps to dip your scoop or spoon in water every so often.
  7. Wet your finger and smooth the tops of the puffs.
  8. Bake the puffs for 35 to 45 minutes, until they're puffed and golden brown.
  9. Remove them from the oven, pierce the top of each carefully with the tip of a sharp knife, and serve hot, warm, or at room temperature. They'll be crispy-crunchy, with soft insides, hot from the oven; they'll gradually soften all over as they cool.
  10. Freeze for up to a month. To reheat, cover with aluminum foil and bake in a preheated 350°F oven for 8 to 10 minutes.