Don't pass on these puffs
Eating a cream puff is soothing in the way that only pastry can be (same goes for a buttery almond croissant or a sugar-coated cinnamon roll). Like a good parent with several children, I try to love each pastry I make equally, and that includes the savory ones. Savory pastries are just as enjoyable as the sweet and cream-filled ones. Let’s start with gougères. Though sometimes known simply as cheese puffs, gougères are actually just unfilled choux pastry; they’re cream puffs minus the cream. And before you get all “what’s the point of a cream puff without the cream” on me, let me remind you that gougères call for a mountain of Gruyere cheese mixed right into the batter. You may not have pastry cream, but you will have cheese.
Preheat the oven to 425ºF and line a large sheet pan with parchment paper. Place 6 tablespoons butter, ¾ cups water, ¼ cup whole milk, ½ teaspoon Kosher salt, and a pinch of nutmeg (if you want) in a large saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat, stirring with a wooden spoon until the butter is melted.
Take the pan off the heat and stir in 1 cup and 2 tablespoons flour until combined. Place the pan back over medium heat and cook, stirring continuously, until the dough dries out and begins to pull away from the sides of the pan, about 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool slightly (about 2 minutes).
Beat 1 egg into the mixture with a wooden spoon until completely combined, then repeat with 3 more eggs. After all the eggs are fully combined, mix in 1 cup shredded Gruyere cheese. If you’d like, add ¼ teaspoon freshly grated black or white pepper.
Scoop the dough into a large plastic bag with the tip snipped off 1 corner. Pipe 1-inch mounds of batter onto the sheet pan, leaving at least 1 inch of space between each ball (think: balls of chocolate chip cookie dough). Alternatively, scoop out 1 tablespoon balls of batter onto the pan with a spoon or cookie scoop.
Place the sheet pan in the oven and immediately lower the heat to 375ºF. Bake the gougères for 15 minutes, then rotate the pan and bake for another 10-15 minutes, or until the gougères are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped.
Serve gougères with any breakfast foods that look like they need a doughy accompaniment—eggs, smoked salmon, Champagne, and the like. They also go very well with jam. You wouldn’t think so, because of the cheese, but trust me.