With winter holidays and the new year quickly rolling in, I think it’s safe to say, it’s officially party time. Whether you’re hosting or contributing snacks, these occasions require a strong rotation of hors d’oeuvres. For December holidays, and beyond, savory choux puffs are an easy and versatile appetizer, guaranteed to be an absolute hit.
Choux dough, choux paste, or pâte à choux, is a mildly flavored pastry shell made from a few simple ingredients: butter, milk or water, salt, flour, and eggs. (For more info on choux, a recipe, and details on how to make a batch, read here.) From these humble pantry staples you can make the impressive dough that éclairs and cream puffs are made of. But why stop there? Choux makes great savory appetizers too (and excellent linguistic material for silly culinary puns). Since the dough is relatively bland, you can really pair it with anything. It’s a vehicle for flavor in the same way a cracker carries cheese and olive spread to your mouth. Except fancier. The steam pocket that develops in the center is the clutch part. Unlike a flat cracker or slice of baguette, choux puffs are hollow. Crack one open and you have the perfect little food purse to fill with savory morsels.
Make a batch of choux dough that does not include sugar—since this is a savory appetizer, it’s best to leave the sugar out this time. You can always fill the shell with a sweet center if you change your mind later. Prepare the batter with either milk or water as the liquid, making sure to scrape down the mixing bowl as you add eggs. Once you’ve made the batter, line a sheet pan with parchment paper, and shape the dough into little blobs with a spoon (or with a piping bag if you have one). Bake as directed. The pastry expands in the oven to about three times its original size, building the desired air pocket in the center. This air pocket is where the snack magic will reside.
Fill them with anything delectable, like Swedish meatballs, caramelized onions and goat cheese, or bao-style with roast pork and pickled cucumbers and carrots. Try nestling in smoked salmon and cream cheese with dill, chicken caesar salad, or mashed potatoes and bacon. Watch football with a plateful of buffalo-chicken-and-celery-stuffed choux puffs, or serve it alongside a bowl of chili. For holiday parties, crack open each puff, and prepare them for your guests with a piece of cheese and a slice of salami. Or simply serve a bowl of pâte à choux alongside a cheese and charcuterie spread, and allow your guests to make their own combinations.
For a classic, cheesy bite, try the gougère. Simple, delicious, and the same preparation as the plain variety, but with a cup of shredded cheese mixed into the batter at the very end. Spoon gougères onto a parchment lined baking pan and bake in a 350°F oven for about 25 minutes. They will be a lovely golden color, and puffed, although they might be a little flatter than a regular choux. The cheese can weigh down the batter a little, depending on the type you use, but no matter; what it lacks in height, it makes up for in flavor.
Baked, cooled, unfilled choux puffs can be frozen for roughly three months, and revived in a 350°F oven for about 5-10 minutes. Choux’d you want to bake them fresh, you can also make the batter up to four days ahead of time. Keep it in the refrigerator, well-covered. When you need it, scoop, and bake as usual, with 5 to 10 added minutes, or until crisp and brown. Cool them completely before you pack them up if you’re bringing them to a party, or see if the host will let you bake the batter there. They’ll be super fresh for the festivities, and likely the star of the cheese board.
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