Cheesy Poofs Kick Ass!

3 06 2009

Airy Interior

The apéro is one of the most fully embraced French institutions in our house.  Paris doesn’t have the preponderance of Happy Hours that you find in most American cities (“Le Happy Hours” usually go from about 5-8pm which is nice, but beers are still 5 euros – not exactly a deal), so Nick and I almost always have an apéro when he gets home from work.  Often the nibbles consist of peanuts or pretzels or something equally simple.  But if we’re having company, or I’m feeling energetic, we’ll do something a little more involved.  The ever-popular bacon-onion dip makes frequent appearances, but the subject of cheesy poofs has been coming up more and more.

Mise en place for savory pâte à choux

Gougères are a French classic: airy puffs of savory pâte à choux flavored with cheese (traditionally Gruyère).  They make perfect little bites for the apèro – bite-size, no plates or forks required, and very very more-ish.  Being a pâtissière, I have made a batch or two of choux in my day, so I really have no excuse not to make these more often.

Steps to perfect pâte à choux
1.Cooking pâte à choux, 2. Savory choux dough, 3. Not mixed in, 4. Mixed in, 5. Testing the pâte à choux, 6. Test Successful!

And yet I don’t.  Pâte à choux, which literally translates to “cabbage paste” (sounds appetizing, doesn’t it?), is named for the way the baked puffs resemble little heads of cabbage, so the story goes.  It is actually a quick dough to put together – I made these while Nick was in the shower – and once baked, the piped choux, be it in the form of puffs, éclairs, wheels, or even swans, freezes very well.  The problem is that the process sounds a bit fussy and complicated when in practice it isn’t.  You start out by explaining that you boil water, milk (choux made without milk will be drier, less tender, less beautifully golden brown, and all around less appetizing), butter salt and sugar.  Then you stir in the flour and any dried spices you may be using and cook it until the dough forms a ball.  And then you have to stir in eggs one at a time until the ideal consistency is reached before folding in grated cheese, piping it out into the desired shapes and baking it.  (And if you leave out the cheese and spices and use a little more sugar, you can make any of the myriad of French sweets based on the ultra-versatile dough.)

Finishing touches for Gougères
1. Choux plus cheese, 2. Piping bag, 3. Piping out cheesy poofs, 4. Piped choux

I know, it all sounds like a bit of a hassle.  You just have to trust me when I say it’s not.  And the payoff – savory, cheese-inflected, French pastries that somehow just beg for a more plebeian name – is way more than you would expect from such a minimal amount of effort.

Freshly baked gougères, aka cheesy poofs

For this particular batch, I used cheddar cheese and seasoned the dough with powdered mustard and ground dried chilis (inspired in part by Jenni’s spicy cheese biscuit recipe) for a distinctly American flavor.  These are definitely cheesy poofs.  If you want to go the bourgeois route, by all means call them gougères and use refined French cheese and maybe some delicate fresh herbs.  But if you ask me, “cheesy poofs” is a whole lot more fun to say.  And nobody should need much convincing that they kick ass.

All ready for the apéro

Spicy Cheddar Gougères
(Cheesy Poofs)

80 ml/ 1/3 cup water
80 ml/ 1/3 cup milk
½ tsp. sugar
¾ tsp. coarse sea salt
65 g/ 5 Tbsp. butter
85 g/ 3 oz. pastry flour (substitute bleached all-purpose flour if you must)
½ tsp. mustard powder
¼ tsp. chili powder or cayenne
3 eggs
70 g/ 2½ oz. sharp cheddar cheese, grated on the smaller holes

  1. Preheat the oven to 190 C/ 375 F.
  2. Combine the water, milk, sugar, salt, and butter in a small saucepan.  Bring to a boil over medium heat and add the flour, mustard, and chili powder all at once.  Stir over heat with a wooden spoon until the dough forms a ball and leaves a thin film on the sides of the pan.  Transfer to a heatproof bowl.
  3. Add the eggs to the dough one by one, stirring until smooth in between each addition.  (This can be done in a standing mixer with a paddle attachment, which I recommend for larger batches.)
  4. Fold in the cheese by hand, using the wooden spoon or a rubber spatula.
  5. Using a pastry bag fitted with a medium round tip, pipe out small bite-size rounds onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Space them out to allow for some puffing.  (You can also just use a couple of spoons or a small cookie scoop to portion out the dough.)
  6. Bake 18-25 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking time, until the gougèresare puffed and golden brown.  The best indication of doneness is the lack of moisture bubbles on the sides.  A few are ok, and will ensure a moist interior, but too much moisture inside will cause the beautiful little puffs to collapse when removed from the oven.
  7. These are best served warm from the oven, but are still entirely appealing at room temperature.  The baked puffs freeze well once cooled, for up to a month – simply reheat in the oven 5-7 minutes before serving.

Makes about 4 dozen cheesy poofs.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.




16 responses

3 06 2009

Oh, Camille! These look great! We’d always keep a couple of trays of frozen gougeres/cheesy poufs in the freezer at the restaurant–for treats for “special guests” and what not. I’ll take credit for the biscuit thing, but now I’m wondering why I didn’t branch out into spiced pate a choux. Thanks for taking off my blinders! 😀

And, for folks who’re reading camille’s post and still think these guys are too fussy: seriously–try it. It’s not hard. Honest. Plus, it’s very tasty.

Oooh, make a thick mornay sauce and squirt a tiny bit of that inside each one….Mmmm…crispy AND creamy cheesy goodness. Cartman would die!

3 06 2009

luckily I have someone coming to my home this weekend who knows exactly how to make these.

3 06 2009

Oh my God, these look sooooooo good! I have to bring appetizers to a party I’m attending in two weeks and these look absolutely perfect! Merci beaucoup, Camille!

4 06 2009

I agree with you on adopting the “apéro”. My francophile parents have totally bought in too and whenever we go to visit them, they always offer one 🙂

4 06 2009

pastrychef – Yes! Who doesn’t love a crispy outside with a creamy center?

Morisseau – Luckily. 😉

Kitten – You’re welcome! I’m sure they’ll be a hit!

Hopie – Now that we’re in the habit, I don’t see any reason to ever stop. 🙂

4 06 2009
Paige at The Spice House

Mmm… I love gougeres no matter what you call them, and can never be trusted not to eat the whole batch before they leave the kitchen! Such a great way to use up the ends of assorted cheeses. Love the “in-process” photos, too!

Oh, and I’ve never used Mornay sauce, but I like them with a little thick tomato sauce in, especially if there’s parmesan in the choux.

4 06 2009

These look wonderful!

4 06 2009

It’s been a long time since I made choux pastry but I’m tempted to try these, they look so good!

5 06 2009

Oh, inserting the mornay sauce into these sounds absolutely divine!! Thank you for the detailed photos. I will be making these very soon.

5 06 2009

Oh, now you’re talking. These little things are positively addictive and your pictures really inspire me to make some. And to introduce the apero hour in this house. You’re a very civilizing influence …

7 06 2009
Weekend Foodie Links : Blisstree - Family, Health, Home and Lifestyles

[…] Home-baked Cheesy Poofs at Croque […]

9 06 2009

Paige – Tomato sauce sounds great! I agree, they’re very hard to stop eating! 🙂

oneordinaryday – Thank you!

Sam – It’s easy to forget how easy and fun choux can be. 🙂

Memoria – You’re welcome.

lickedspoon – Aw, shucks. 🙂

10 06 2009
Its Not You, it's Brie

Do you ever dress them up with herbs, or are they best left pure?
and why IS beer so expensive in France?

11 06 2009
Ann @ Cooking the Books

Mmmm… I love cheesy poofs. Or, er, gougères. My dirty secret: I buy these frozen at Picard. Yes, I have made them from scratch (most notably when living in Beijing), but now that they’re available frozen, in bite-size apéro form, I’m indulging myself. There will come a day when I don’t live in France anymore and my arm will once again get a work out from beating choux pastry dough!

12 08 2009

Being 9+ weeks pregnant, as soon as I saw the pictures of these Cheesy Poofs I started craving them! I can’t seem to find good cheddar down here in Southern France but I used some Garlic and Herb “cream cheese” and (what I think is) Emmental, shredded. I used powdered garlic instead of mustard powder and holy cow Camille, these rock! And will be made a couple times a week from now on I think 😉

13 08 2009

Brie – I think herbs would be a welcome addition. And all I can think of is that they’re trying to promote wine consumption! 😉

Ann – Don’t worry, I won”t tell anyone!

Katelyn – I’m glad you like the recipe! If you’re really craving cheddar, I can almost always find it at Monoprix. That said, Emmenthal or Gruyère are really the classic, traditional cheeses used in Cheesy Poofs… I mean Gougères.

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