The French pastry dough known as pâte à choux has many uses; cream puffs and churros are only two of them. Gougères, or French cheese puffs, are also made with pâte à choux.
There are two techniques for making French cheese puffs. One is to make a basic pâte à choux, season it with ground pepper, mix in shredded cheese and herbs, then pipe the mixture into rounds and bake them.
A second technique is to make the pâte à choux, optionally season it with pepper, pipe the dough into rounds, top the rounds with shredded cheese and sprinkle them with chopped herbs.
Because I was worried that mixing the cheese and herbs into the pâte à choux before piping would add too much moisture to the dough and make my cheese puffs soggy, I opted for the second technique.
The cheese puffs came out wonderfully light and crisp. The downside was that some of the cheese ran down and melted on the silicone mat. No waste, however, because the melted cheese browned and turned crisp. And because it was easy to peel the delicious mess off the silicone mat, we ended up snacking on crisp cheese chips too.
This recipe for French cheese puffs was a joint effort. Alex made and piped the pâte à choux. I did the cheese and parsley thing, and monitored the baking time and temperatures. Temperatures? Yes, after 20 minutes at 400F, I still wasn’t happy with the color of the cheese puffs. So, I lowered the temperature to 375F and continued baking them for another ten minutes.
See the hollow center? That’s just perfect. If you bake pâte à choux and the center isn’t hollow, you didn’t do it right. The center has to be hollow or, at the very least, with large air pockets, and the surface should be dry to the touch.
Gougères: French Cheese Puffs
The prep time does not include the preparation of the pâte à choux. The actual yield depends on the size of the cheese puffs.
Preheat the oven to 400F.
Line a baking sheet with non-stick paper or a silicone mat.
If using bland cheeses (like mozzarella), you may want to season the pâte à choux with salt and pepper. Just mix them in until incorporated. Spoon the pastry dough into a piping bag fitted with a round tip.
Pipe the dough into rounds about 1 and 1/2" in diameter. Position the piped dough at least two inches apart.
Top the piped dough with shredded cheese or cheeses. Sprinkle with parsley.
Bake at 400F for 20 minutes. Turn the oven temperature down to 375F and bake for another five to ten minutes or until the cheese puffs are golden and dry to the touch.