Versatile choux pastry delightfully completes these gougeres (cheese puffs).
Versatile choux pastry delightfully completes these gougeres (cheese puffs).

Robbie Howard

Italian food packaging always seduces me. It was the packaging that caught my eye as I browsed the cheese counter, and thought I will have to take this home. Taleggio was not a bad choice. Usually I eat taleggio with some quince paste and a bowl of walnuts, but today we need some food to have with drinks and, being winter, I am going to fill the small warm cheese puffs with a bechamel sauce made using the taleggio.

Choux pastry is such a quick and easy pastry to make, and if you have not made it before it is useful to have in your repertoire. It is the most versatile of all doughs, as choux can be served savoury, sweet, baked or fried.

The recipe above for the savoury cheese puffs can be varied. You can swap taleggio for tasty cheddar, or a firm blue cheese such as Stilton.

Profiteroles are the sweet version of a choux pastry ball. They can be filled with whipped cream, pastry cream or ice-cream. The puffs may be left plain or served with a chocolate or caramel sauce.

I have made a quiche using choux pastry, and churros are simply choux pastry fried in oil. Churros are a specialty from Spain, traditionally eaten for breakfast and dipped into hot chocolate.

Cheese puffs - gougeres

Choux pastry

Makes about 50 puffs

100g soft unsalted butter

125ml water

125ml milk

5g caster sugar

3g salt

150g plain flour

4 eggs

1 egg for egg wash

bechamel sauce for filling

grated Parmesan for dusting

Have the electric mixer ready with bowl and paddle attachment.

Place the butter, water, milk, sugar and salt into a saucepan over a medium heat and bring to the boil. Add the flour all at once into the boiling liquid and, using a wooden spoon, beat the mixture just enough to bring the paste away from the sides of the pan, which indicates that the flour is cooked. If beating is continued beyond this point the paste will fail to rise properly and become cake-like in consistency.

Transfer the mixture to the bowl on the electric mixer and mix at medium speed. When there is no more steam rising from the dough - about a minute - gradually add the eggs one by one. Continue mixing until all the eggs have been incorporated and then mix for a minute.

Transfer the dough to a plate and cover with plastic wrap. Make sure the plastic wrap is in direct contact with the surface of the dough otherwise it will form a skin. Refrigerate for 20 minutes until it becomes firm.

Line a baking tray with baking paper. Put the choux pastry in a piping bag and pipe on to the tray in 2.5-centimetre balls, or use a teaspoon. Dip a fork in the egg wash and gently press into the top of the choux - making a criss-cross pattern on the top.

Preheat the oven to 175C. Bake the puffs for 20-25 minutes. Remove from the oven only when the choux are quite firm to touch and then cool. Piece the bottom of each puff with a wooden stick and twist to make a cavity.

Place bechamel sauce in a piping bag and fill each puff. Pipe a little more bechamel on the top of each puff and sprinkle with Parmesan. They can be set aside at room temperature for up to an hour. Reheat the puffs at 175C for five minutes and serve warm.

Bechamel filling

30g unsalted butter

70g plain flour

300ml milk

100g Taleggio cheese

2 egg yolks

4 pinches salt

3 pinches pepper

Melt the butter in a saucepan on the stove top over medium heat and boil until it reaches a golden brown. Add the flour and whisk for a minute, this will cook out the flour (the mixture should look like a crumble). Add half the milk while whisking. Once the mixture is smooth, remove from the heat and whisk in the rest of the milk and the cheese, yolks and seasonings, then remove from the heat and stir until well combined.

Bechamel can be stored in a container - with plastic wrap directly in contact with the surface to prevent a skin forming - in the fridge for up to three days. It cannot be frozen.

>> Robbie Howard is co-owner of Lynwood Preserves.