These bite-sized balls of choux pastry - gougères to give them their French name - make a perfect finger food for children to snack on
Making a choux pastry feels a bit cheffy for some, but it needn't. Simply, it is flour beaten with a hot, buttery, milky emulsion that is further enriched with eggs. You just need to have everything ready to go and be prompt when boiling the milk and water so the liquids don't evaporate too much.
As pastry methods go, it is also versatile. Bake the essentials of a choux pastry (butter, flour, water and milk emulsion, eggs with a spoonful of caster sugar added) into long fingers, leave to cool, fill with whipped cream and cover with dark chocolate for some impressive homemade chocolate eclairs.
For a savoury alternative, and one that's a hit with my children, add some crumbly Lancashire cheese and a few thyme leaves to the choux mix for these cloudlike cheesy morsels. Best eaten while warm.
(Makes about 35 bite-sized gougères)
85g unsalted butter
½ tsp salt
120g plain flour
4 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tbsp chopped herbs (chives, thyme or spring onion)
80g crumbled or grated cheese (Lancashire, cheddar, gruyère)
20g grated parmesan - mixed with other cheese above (optional)
A few grinds of black pepper
A few grates off a whole nutmeg
1 tsp mustard powder
Preheat the oven to 220C/gas mark 7 and line a baking tray with parchment paper.
Heat the water, milk, butter and salt in a pan until the butter is melted.
Add all the flour in one go and, over a moderate heat, stir vigorously until the mixture pulls away from the sides of the pan. Remove from the heat for a few minutes to cool a bit before adding the eggs.
Add the beaten egg mixture a little at a time, stirring briskly. Once the batter becomes smooth again after each addition, add more egg.
Add the herbs and cheese, saving about a fifth of the cheese for sprinkling on top.
Add the pepper, nutmeg and mustard, and check the seasoning.
Using a teaspoon, spoon small walnut-sized mounds on to the parchment paper. Sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top.
Bake for 12-15 minutes until puffed and golden brown.
Serve hot, or allow to cool and freeze (reheat in a 180C/gas mark 4 oven until piping hot).
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Photo: Gougeres, the perfect savoury snack. Photograph: Claire Thomson