Cheese Puffs are a busy cook's dream, an easy, make-ahead appetizer. Just mix and bake beforehand, then pop into the oven just before serving. Better yet, make and bake the Cheese Puffs ahead of time and then rewarm to serve all hot and cheesy!
Just before party guests arrive -- goodness, many nights, as supper approaches -- I'm always on the hunt for some quick nibble to stave off hunger before everyone arrives or until the 'real food' reaches the table.
So it's time to get serious about building a collection of easy appetizer recipes. You know, the quick bites that look and taste impressive -- but are also easy to make from pantry ingredients, easy to serve with little fuss, easy on the calories too. Plus, given that this is 2008, inexpensive too.
That's some tall order, yes? Well, good news, this recipe for Cheese Puffs meets all the requirements and then some. I made a batch with blue cheese for my book club recently – a few days ahead, in fact. Then, just before everyone arrived, the puffs went back into the oven. Soon, the house smelled like hot cheesy bread! In just a few minutes, whoosh, the Cheese Puffs were devoured.
Technically, Cheese Puffs are made with a 'choux' [shoo] pastry, the same pastry used for cream puffs except with some cheese added. If made with gruyère cheese, they would be called 'gougère' [goo-ZHAIR] but I use whatever cheese is on hand. The pastry is dead-easy to make in a single saucepan, then is squeezed out of a ziplock bag straight onto a cookie sheet.
BUTTER I know, I know, all the best cooks use unsalted butter when baking, which lets them (us?) add and thus control the actual amount of salt. These days, I keep both unsalted and salted Land O' Lakes butter on hand, unsalted for baking, salted for buttering bread. (Have you tried salted butter on bread recently? Swoon!) Anyway, once in awhile, the unsalted runs out and so I substitute salted butter – and it turns out, especially with older baking recipes, I like the results better!
CHEESE I've made cheese puffs with blue cheese and Imperial Cheese, a cold-pack cheddar a favorite among Canadians whose closest match in the States is Kaukana Sharp Cheddar. Before I was blogging, I made them with gruyère too. The type of cheese seems to affect the relative 'ropiness' of the puffs and of course, color. Blue cheese was used in the photograph, the Imperial cheese puffs were a very pretty orange.
Time-to-table: 50 minutes
Makes 4 dozen tiny bites, 2 - 3 dozen small bites
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/4 cup whole milk (buttermilk works too)
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, salted or unsalted (see TIPS)
- If using unsalted butter, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, fluffed to aerate before measuring
- 2 large eggs
- 2 ounces cheese (see TIPS), broken into rough pieces
- Freshly ground pepper to taste
- Freshly ground nutmeg to taste
- Good salt, such as Maldon, for finishing
PREP Heat the oven to 400F/200C. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone mat.
MAKE THE BATTER In a nonstick saucepan, combine the water, milk and butter; bring to a boil. Stir in the flour with a wooden spoon until a smooth dough forms; stir continuously over low heat for a minute or two. (The dough will begin to pull away from the bowl and become thick and glossy.) Remove from the heat and let the pan and dough cool a minute. One at a time, beat the eggs into the batter until the dough becomes smooth again. Add the cheese, pepper and nutmeg, combine until smooth.
SQUEEZE INTO SMALL PUFFS Transfer the dough into a quart-size freezer bag and clip one corner about 1/2 inch. In a circle motion to create a small puff, pipe the dough onto the parchment, about a tablespoon of dough each. (The puffs 'puff' but do not spread so can be quite close together.) Sprinkle good salt over top.
BAKE Bake for about 20 minutes or until puffed and golden brown. Serve immediately while still piping hot.
TO FREEZE FOR SERVING LATER Let the puffs cool completely. Place in a freezer bag and seal tightly, removing all the air possible. Place that bag in a second bag. (Double-bagging helps prevent ice from forming inside the bag.) Freeze. When ready to serve, transfer still-frozen bites on a baking sheet and reheat in a 350F/175C oven until piping hot, about 10 minutes. Serve immediately.
More Appetizer Recipes - Think "Small Bites" Here
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