All Photos: Wendy Goodfriend
Every Christmas, at least for the last few years, we’ve kicked off our family feast by passing these little puffs around, along with plenty of Prosecco. I was originally inspired to make these by my friend Andrew’s sister Amy, who pulls trays and trays out of the oven during his annual birthday pig roast in Berkeley. As soon as they emerge from the oven, hot and crisp and slightly molten on the inside, they are snapped up. It doesn’t matter that nearly everyone burns their mouth eating them before they cool down. They are just that good.
Even though Amy’s are simple (and simply delicious), they always felt like a treat, so for the holidays, I thought I’d upgrade mine to holiday status with fresh winter herbs and nutty gruyere cheese. Officially called gougères, these puffs are made from a dough called choux paste. When made without savory additions, the basic dough can be used for profiteroles, cream puffs, and éclairs—it just depends how you pipe out the dough (small rounds for profiteroles, bigger rounds for cream puffs, and fat lines of dough for éclairs), and what you fill them with.
Even though these feel fancy and special, they are very quick to make and pop into the oven at a moment’s notice. They are great alongside just about anything: soup, salad, bubbly, or on their own. You can even bake them ahead of time and freeze them in freezer bags, then just warm them in the oven when your guests arrive.
Change them up and use different herbs or cheese, or even pipe a savory filling into them. Say, whipped goat cheese? The possibilities are endless. Just go make them right now. You know you want to.
Recipe: Herb & Gruyere Gougères
Makes about 36 small puffs
- 3 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into pieces
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 large eggs
- 1 tsp minced fresh thyme leaves or 2 tsp minced fresh chives
- 3/4 cup shredded gruyere cheese
In a saucepan, combine 1/2 cup water, butter, salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Bring to a full boil over medium-high heat. When the butter melts, remove the pan from the heat, add the flour all at once, and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until the mixture leaves the sides of the pan and forms a ball. Transfer the dough to a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat on medium speed until the dough cools to 140°F (60°C) on an instant-read thermometer.
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In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs. When the batter has cooled, pour half the egg into the batter and beat until incorporated. Add the remaining egg and beat until incorporated. After each egg is added, the mixture separates and appears shiny, but it returns to a smooth paste with vigorous beating. Add the thyme or chives and gruyere and beat until incorporated. Let the paste cool for 10 minutes.
Position 2 racks evenly in the oven and preheat to 425°F (220°C). Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Fit a pastry bag with a 5⁄8-inch (1.5-cm) plain tip and fill the bag with the paste. For each gougère, pipe about 2 tsp paste onto a prepared pan, forming a mound about 1 inch (2.5 mm) in diameter. Space the mounds at least 2 inches (5 cm) apart. You should have about 36 gougères.
Bake for 8 minutes, then reduce the heat to 375°F (190°C), quickly swap the pans, and continue baking until golden brown, about 13 minutes. Serve at once (they will be a bit more gooey on the inside) or prop the oven door open with a wooden spoon and allow the puffs to dry out a bit more, about 5 minutes.