Once upon a time, we had a little baby, the third and final in our in-house series and the last installment for both families-at-large as well. I had always wanted a summer baby, so with our characteristic meticulousness, this baby ended up being due in early January. January 6th, to be precise, which is the holiday (in a religion not my own) known as Epiphany. My oldest nephew, the first grandchild in our family, started calling his cousin-to-be ‘Piph,” (that rhymes with ‘sniff,’ for those of you playing along at home) and it stuck as the in-process name; our first child's had been 'Sally,' dating from the What To Fear When You're Pregnant progress drawing comparing the little tenant to a salamander, and I think my oldest sister's womb name was "Yitzik," though I kind of wonder what I could be using that brain cell for if it were not devoted to storing such a valuable factoid.
Long about mid-December, when I began to look like the boa constrictor float in a Little Prince parade, and I had separated a rib in a bout of bronchitis, I began to have serious doubts about steering the steamer all the way to early January, which led to some fancy footwork. Clearing Christmas and my mother’s birthday, so the little sprout could at least claim a day unto its sprout self in a jam-packed season, seemed important. If will can make it so, I engaged mine in the project of hanging on a sec.
The baby was born on December 30th, very late at night. So late that I remember my husband saying, perhaps twenty minutes before the baby was born, ‘if you just hold on a little while the baby will have a New Year’s Eve birthday!' I think he was imagining a lovely lifetime of the whole world celebrating the birthday. Have you ever been about to push out a baby human? The notion of fine-tuning the timing at that point in the process is really funny, later on, to think about. Not so funny in the moment, but later on for sure.
One surprising thing about the baby was that he was a boy. Absolutely 100% of our babies up to that point had been girls. I was prepared regardless, or so I thought, with marriage-tested and –approved girl and boy names, but as it happened my husband had been relying on his solid 2 for 2 record of gender prediction and never considered that we’d actually require the boy selection. “I didn’t LIKE that name, I just figured we wouldn’t actually need it,” he said, when I laid it back on the table next to the round fat sweet little dumpling human I thought would be thus known from that point forward.
It only took about six weeks to iron all that out. We did find a nice name for him eventually, but it gets far less air time at home than the many terms of endearment we employed during the waiting period.
This all unfolded about 11 years ago. Fine tuning be dashed, the young lad’s birthday is still smack in the middle of a busy week of general celebration, so it usually involves a nice dinner on the day, and then once school resumes, another celebration. As is the house policy, he calls the dinner menu. This year his main desire was tomato soup (with artichokes in it), and cucumber salad, and what he calls “those hot little cheesy biscuits.”
Some may know them as gougeres, or savory choux. But whatever you call them, they are not only easier to make than you think, but easy as can be to make gluten-free. You can mix up the dough as far ahead as is practical in your life, because the prepared dough freezes (and bakes from frozen) like a dream, and it’s well-suited to doubling (so you can, for example, bake off one half and freeze the other, then wait, as Dorie Greenspan does, for the footfall of guest on doorstep to pop them in the oven).
The flour mix here gives them a nice earthy quality that complements the cheesiness without overburdening the little dears with virtuous heft, and was the most successful mix for me, but these are well-suited to flour variations so use what you can find. They are most easily made in a mixer, but are not much more trouble to mix by hand and knowing this fact can make you the rockstar of a vacation week in a kitchen far from home, since the ingredients are pretty simple. So concludes my ode to the cheese puff. Wear them in good health.
Sayonara to 2015! As its farewell, here is a visual wormhole to beat all compound wormholes for you to fall into in a quiet moment (and can someone please tell me why a person is a self-taught photomicrographer, and not a self-taught microphotographer? You get a bonus close-up look at a bee’s eyelashes for your troubles), and an equivalent compound poetry wormhole for those of you more inclined to verse.
Wishing everyone a peaceful and healthy 2016, and sending my warmest thanks for stopping by here.
those hot little cheesy biscuits
- ½ c Thai white rice flour
- ½ c millet flour
- 2T buckwheat flour
- pinch of cayenne and/or dry mustard powder, or freshly ground pepper
- optionally, a T of fresh minced thyme or other fresh herb that suits your mood
- 1c water
- 8T ( ½ cup) unsalted butter
- ½ t salt
- 4 eggs
- 4 oz grated sharp cheese (about 1 ½ c): I used a mixture of an aged gouda, sharp cheddar and asiago, but any dry-ish, sharp-ish cheese will do nicely
Heat the oven to 425, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Mix the flours and spices and herbs together in a small bowl and reserve. In a heavy medium saucepan, bring the water, butter and salt to a boil over medium heat. Dump in the reserved dry mixture all in one go, and stir to beat the band with a wooden spoon. It should all come together in a lumpy mass. Lower the heat, and stir the lump around for a minute to dry it out a little. Don’t fret over the bit that sticks to the pan.
Remove the lump to your mixer bowl, and beat it for a minute on its own to let some of the steamier heat escape (or just stir it right up in the pan, off the heat, if you are bleary and hungover or choosing for some other good reason of your own to do the thing by hand). Now add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each egg. Despite its cooling off period, the dough is still hot enough to cook the eggs on contact, so you really want to be sure to beat, beat, beat once the egg is released from the shell. That’s the only trick (besides not dropping the shell in with the egg, which you can avoid by cracking each egg into a small glass and dumping from there). It may look dire at various points along the egg-additions, but keep the faith and keep mixing and by the end you should have a thick, shiny mass. Scrape the bowl down after the last egg has been incorporated and beat for thirty seconds more.
Using a spatula, fold in the cheese (you can reserve a little bit to sprinkle on top, if you like). Using two spoons*, plop the dough in little mounds onto the prepared baking sheet. Slide into the hot oven, and bake about 10 minutes or until puffed and all over golden. Now reduce the heat to 375, rotate the sheets in the oven, and bake another 10-15 minutes, until the puffs are deeper golden and firm to the touch. If you will be holding them for someone’s arrival (or departure), and don’t want them to collapse (as waiting often leads to), you can poke a vent hole into the side of each puff, and leave them in the turned-off, door-cracked oven until showtime. If you are baking from frozen there is no need to thaw but you will want to add a few minutes to the baking time.
*You can make teeny little puffs (using teaspoons) or big hungry-person sized puffs (using soup spoons). You can also use a pastry bag and pipe them out, though I don’t find there is much difference in their beauty and the bag is a bear to clean. No harm would come to a person who split these open and made little sandwiches from them, I reckon, and of course it should be noted that minus the cheese and spices, you have a vehicle for sweet fillings too.