Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Jalapeño Cheddar Cheese Puffs

Oh, the Broncos. While I am a Vikings fan by birthright, I do have a certain fondness for the Broncos, having lived in Colorado for over ten years now. On Saturday the Broncos played in got slaughtered in the playoffs against the New England Patriots. Sad day. Except for the food and drinks, those were pretty great.

We watched the game at my friend Elyse's house, and we were invited to bring an appetizer to share. I, of course, planned well ahead, shopped for gourmet ingredients, and made a spectacular show-stopping dish that could have appeared in a magazine. Ummm, no, not really. What actually happened is that by the time I got all my other things done (including watching people throw fruitcakes), I had neither the time nor the motivation to go to the grocery store. Instead, I scoured that great and wonderful cookbook I like to call the internet, and found a nice simple idea that used things I already had in the house.
I found a recipe for these yummy looking little cheese puffs, made with a choux pastry and cheddar cheese. All I needed was water, butter, flour, eggs, cheese, salt, pepper, and thyme. Check. What else could I put in it to kick it up a notch? Jalapeños! A staple in my kitchen. Check. No need to go to the store, and we would have what would hopefully turn out to be a delicious little snack.

I had not made a pâte à choux before, but having seen Ina, Paula, and several of my other Food Network friends do it many times, I felt confident that I could pull it off. As it turns out, it really was simple, and the results were delicious. An added bonus is that these are easily adapted based on what you have in your pantry - no cheddar? No problem. Use gruyère, asiago, parmeson, manchego, or whatever you have on hand. Don't have jalapeños or don't like them? No problem! Omit them or use something else.
Experiment. Let me know what you put in yours in the comments!

The cast of characters...

Jalapeño Cheddar Cheese Puffs
Original recipe by Elise from Simply Recipes, found here, adapted by Katira.
Makes about 2 dozen puffs.

1 stick butter (8 Tbsp)
1 cup water
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
1 cup (4 oz) grated sharp cheddar cheese 
3/4 tsp dried thyme
1 Tbsp chopped pickled jalapeños (I would at least double this next time...)
freshly ground pepper

**A couple notes about the ingredients**
You can substitute another kind of cheese if you don't have or don't want to use cheddar. 
Feel free to add other ingredients, such as bacon or other herbs.
If you do happen to like jalapeños, you may want more than the recipe calls for. The jalapeños were very subtle, and I like a little more kick.

*Preheat oven to 425° F
1. In a medium sized saucepan, add the water, the butter, and the salt. Bring to a boil over a high heat. Watch this carefully, you don't want to boil away too much of the water.

2. Reduce the heat to medium, and add the flour all at once. Stir rapidly - it will thicken very quickly and form a ball of dough that should pull away from the sides of the pan. Continue to cook the flour mixture for a couple minutes, stirring constantly.

3. Remove from the heat and allow to cool, stirring to allow the dough to cool evenly. You want the dough to be warm for the next step, but not hot, as the eggs will cook. At this stage you can add the dough to your mixer if you will be using it to mix in the eggs.

4. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring after each addition until the eggs are incorporated into the dough. At this stage, the dough will become smooth and creamy.

5. Mix in the cheese, a few grinds of pepper, and the thyme.

6. Separate the dough into halves (this is only necessary because I only put jalapeños in half in case people didn't want them. It turns out this wasn't necessary for two reasons: first, they didn't end up spicy with only a tablespoon anyhow, and second, I forgot to keep them separate once they were done, so it was the luck of the draw once they were on the plate). 
Add jalapeños to one half of the mixture.

7. Here you have two options. You can spoon the mixture onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, or you can pipe them, like I did. In the interests of a quick and easy cleanup, I opted to simply snip the corner off a freezer bag rather than use a piping bag and tip. Your call either way. Point is, at this stage, you need to get small, roughly walnut-sized balls of dough onto the baking sheet.
I also used my finger to smooth out the little peak from piping the dough so that it wouldn't burn. You will want to wet your finger slightly to do this so it doesn't stick to the dough.

8. Bake at 425° F for 10 minutes, then lower the temperature to 350° and continue to bake for another 15-20 minutes, until puffed up and lightly golden. Do not open the oven door while baking.


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