by Caroline

There is something so 1950s about this recipe that I almost feel like I should wait until Mad Men starts airing again before posting it. But this time of year, with winter dragging on and spring not quite here, I need something new and fun (and yes, always quick) to get out of these cold weather doldrums. So I present to you:

Here’s what I love about puffs:
they’re versatile: the puffs can be round or oblong, big or small, sweet or savory
they’re easy to make ahead and keep until you want them
they’re fun to make
they require no special ingredients

Technically, these are pâte à choux, or choux pastry, but don’t let the French put you off. If you can boil water, you can make these.

Once they are baked and cooled, you can fill them with sweetened ricotta cheese, whipped cream, or jam; you can slice them in half and make ice cream sandwiches; you can dip them in chocolate syrup; spread them with Nutella; or sprinkle them with chopped, toasted nuts.

You can also make them a savory snack or appetizer by adding half a cup of grated cheese (Gruyere is traditional) to the batter, and/or a bit of lemon zest or chopped fresh herbs. Brush the unbaked puffs with egg wash and sprinkle them with sesame seeds, poppy seeds, grated Parmesan and/or ground pepper. Fill the baked, cooled puffs with herbed cream or goat cheese, or slice and spread them with a bit of cheese, a dab of roasted red pepper, smoked salmon… the possibilities are really endless.
Obviously the guests at your next cocktail party would be delighted to see these, but (and let’s be honest about where the bulk of our cooking energy is directed) so would your kids when they get home from school. Puffs can be fancy or familiar, depending simply on your imagination and presentation.

The recipe couldn’t be simpler:

½ cup butter
1 cup water
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 eggs

Preheat the oven to 400 and line a couple baking sheets with parchment.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter in the water. Add salt and flour, and stir until the batter starts to pull away from the sides of the pan. Remove from the heat and beat in the eggs, one at a time, until the batter is smooth.

Pour the batter into a piping bag fitted with a large tip, or into a large ziploc from which you then snip open one corner. Pipe the pastry onto the baking sheets into whatever shape you like: small puffs, big puffs, or oblongs. If you like, smooth the tops with a fingertip dipped in cold water. Bake for 20-25 minutes (smaller puffs will bake more quickly), until golden brown, crisp and dry. Let cool before filling.

To fill, slice in half and spread with filling, or put the filling into a pastry bag fitted with a large tip (or a ziploc bag with its corner cut), poke a small hole into the bottom of the puff, and simply squirt in the filling.

If you want to keep some for later, let cool and then freeze (unfilled) in a ziploc bag; they’ll thaw and reheat quickly in a hot oven.