There's no question the French know how to cook with cheese. Take gougeres, for instance - crisp, golden, cheese-infused puffs - a masterful recipe, both because of the easy preparation and the fantastic results. Based on the simple choux pastry mixture that's used for eclairs, cream puffs, and profiteroles, they're perfect with drinks at a holiday gathering - and convenient too, since you can make (and bake) them well in advance, and reheat them just before serving.
MAKES ABOUT 50 PUFFS
1 large egg, separated, plus 2 large eggs
1/2 cup plus 1 teaspoon water
1/4 cup milk
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Pinch cayenne pepper
3/4 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
1 cup grated Gruyere cheese
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
Set an oven rack in the middle position and heat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a large (18 by 13 inches, or similar) baking sheet with a nonstick liner such as parchment paper, and set aside. Fit a large pastry bag with a 1/2-inch plain tip or prepare a plastic bag as described in "Kitchen Aide" and set aside. In a small bowl, beat the yolk from the separated egg with 1 teaspoon of water, and set aside. In a second small bowl, beat the white from the separated egg with the remaining 2 eggs, and set aside.
In a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat, combine 1/2 cup water, milk, butter, salt, black pepper, and cayenne. When the butter has melted and the mixture is on the verge of boiling, remove the pan from the heat, pour in all the flour at once, and beat the mixture with a wooden spoon until a cohesive ball of dough forms. Return the pan to low heat and continue beating the dough, using a smearing motion, for 3 minutes, until the dough is very smooth and slightly drier.
In a food processor with the feed tube open, process the dough for about 10 seconds to cool it slightly and then, with the motor running, slowly pour in the 2 eggs beaten with 1 white through the feed tube and process until the eggs are absorbed into the dough, about 10 seconds. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the sides of the food processor bowl, add both cheeses, and process until the dough is smooth, thick, and sticky, about 15 seconds more.
Using a rubber spatula, scrape the dough from the food processor bowl and fill the prepared pastry bag. Pipe the dough onto the prepared baking sheet in 1 1/4- to 1-inch mounds, leaving at least 1/2 inch between them. Dip a dinner spoon into cold water and use the back of the spoon to even out the shape and smooth the surface of the mounds. Using a pastry brush, brush each mound with a small portion of the reserved egg yolk-and-water mixture.
Bake for about 30 minutes, rotating the pan after 15, until the gougeres are puffed and golden, and serve at once (or, if serving later, follow the step below). Repeat to finish baking the remaining dough.
If serving will be delayed, use the tip of a paring knife to make a small slit near the base of each gougere to release the steam. Return the baking sheet to the turned-off oven, prop open the oven door with a wooden spoon, and allow the gougeres to dry for 40 minutes. In an airtight container, store the gougeres at room temperature for up to 2 days or in the freezer for up to a month. Before serving, heat the gougeres in a 325-degree oven for 5 to 10 minutes, until they are warmed through and crisp.
Blue cheese Substitute 2/3 cup crumbled blue cheese for the Gruyere and omit the cayenne.
Smoked paprika and black pepper To the water and milk mixture, add 1 1/4 teaspoons sweet smoked paprika and increase the black pepper to 1 1/4 teaspoons.
Toasted garlic and rosemary In a small dry skillet set over medium heat, toast 4 large, unpeeled garlic cloves, shaking the pan occasionally, until the garlic is fragrant and its color deepens slightly, 10 to 15 minutes. When it is cool enough to handle, skin and press or mince the garlic into a fine paste. Add the garlic paste and 3/4 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary to the dough along with the cheese.
CRISP CORNMEAL-CHEESE WAFERS
MAKES ABOUT 90 WAFERS
Adapted from Vegetable Harvest, by Patricia Wells (William Morrow).
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for sprinkling
3/4 cup cornmeal
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup finely grated Romano cheese
3 tablespoons very cold unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk
Set oven racks in the upper- and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 large (18 by 13 inches, or similar) baking sheets with a nonstick liner such as parchment paper, and set aside. In a food processor, pulse the flour, cornmeal, salt, pepper, and baking soda to combine. Add the Parmesan and Romano cheeses and pulse to combine. Add the butter and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal. With the motor running and the feed tube open, pour the buttermilk through the feed tube and process until the dough forms a ball, about 20 seconds. Transfer the dough to a floured surface, knead it a few times until it is smooth and uniform, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside to rest for 15 minutes.
Working with a quarter of the dough at a time, roll it out evenly to about 1/8 inch thick. Use a 2-inch cookie cutter to make rounds from the dough, then arrange them (with 1/4 inch between rounds) on the baking sheets. Once the sheets are filled, bake the crackers until crisp and golden, 9 to 12 minutes, rotating the sheets front to back and top to bottom about 5 minutes into the baking time. Remove the crackers to a rack and cool thoroughly; repeat to finish baking the remaining dough. Store the wafers in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week.
Send comments to Adam Ried at email@example.com.